Colorado, Colorado Hikes

Colorado Day Hikes: Silver Dollar and Murray Lakes

One really nice benefit to living in Denver is that my mom and I are now only a 70-minute, $100 flight away from each other. As a result, we’re able to see each other a lot more often than when I lived across the country. She does plenty of exploring on her own in Montana but she’s also always very eager to come adventuring in Colorado. She spent a little over a week with us this past July, during which time we squeezed in quite a few hikes. The first was to Silver Dollar and Murray Lakes.

We left Denver just before sunrise and headed up to Guanella Pass and the Silver Dollar trailhead. There are two starting points for this hike… the lower trailhead and the upper trailhead. Had we planned ahead better and driven our Subaru we could’ve reached the upper trailhead, but there was no way my Corolla was going to make it. We didn’t mind, though. It’s only about 0.7 miles (1.1 km) between the lower and upper trailheads and it was a pretty walk along the road.

Walking the road to the upper trailhead

Colorado is always prone to summer afternoon thunderstorms and this past summer especially was very volatile. We learned upon arrival that Guanella Pass had gotten quite a lot of hail during the storms the previous evening; it was still coating the ground.

Hail on the ground along the road

Upon reaching the upper trailhead, we continued ascending through the trees to a view of Naylor Lake. The lake is on private property so you can’t reach the shoreline, but past this point you’ll spend most of the hike looking down on it from above. I think I ended up taking photos of it from just about every angle.

First glimpses of Naylor Lake

By now, we were approaching tree line and could see our approximate destination in the distance. Getting there involved quite a bit more walking, including crossing a small bit of snow and a large quantity of mud. We were able to make it through most of it by stepping on conveniently placed rocks, but there were some places where we had no choice but to step in it. The alternative – going around it – would have meant stepping on plants and widening the trail.

Looking ahead toward Silver Dollar & Murray Lakes
Snow on the trail
So much mud
More views of Naylor Lake

And finally, we reached Silver Dollar Lake. The lake is nestled in a bowl at the base of Square Top Mountain, small and clear and, on this particular day, fairly calm. There were a handful of people fishing and in fact we did see a few fish swim by.

Silver Dollar Lake

Many people end their hike here, and it’s a worthwhile destination for sure. But for those willing to climb an additional 0.5 miles (0.8 km) and 250 feet (75 m), you’ll be rewarded with the beautiful Murray Lake as well as more wildflowers and additional views of both Naylor and Silver Dollar Lakes from above. 

Creek crossing en route to the upper lake
Naylor Lake (left) and Silver Dollar Lake (right)
View of Naylor Lake from the trail to Murray Lake

Upon our arrival at Murray Lake, my mom and I both made the same observation: it reminded us quite a lot of Snowbank Lake, which we’d hiked to the previous summer.

A trail encircles the lake. The other group that came up just ahead of us went right, so we went left and found a quiet spot to enjoy the view. Once the others departed we headed around to their spot, which required crossing the outlet stream. It appeared as though there was somewhat of earthen dam here, as well as some metal pieces to hold the dam in place.

Murray Lake

All in all, this was a beautiful hike; three lakes, lots of wildflowers, and a healthy dose of that fresh Colorado mountain air!


The Important Stuff:

  • Getting there: The lower Silver Dollar Trailhead is located on the north side of Guanella Pass, about 2 miles (3.2 km) below the summit. The parking area is unmarked but there’s a larger paved pullout on one side of the road and a small dirt lot on the other. If you have AWD/4WD and clearance, a steep dirt road leads up from the dirt lot 0.7 miles (1.1 km) to the upper trailhead.
  • Fees and passes: none
  • Hiking: From the upper trailhead it’s 4 miles (6.4 km) and about 750 feet (230 m) elevation gain round trip to Silver Dollar Lake. For Murray Lake, add 1 mile (1.6 km) and 275 feet (85 m) round trip. If you park at the lower trailhead add 1.4 miles (2.2 km) and 350 feet (107 m) to the round trip distance. Our total from the lower trailhead to Murray Lake was 6.5 miles and 1390 feet (425 m) elevation gain.
  • Where to stay: There are 5 developed campgrounds along Guanella Pass if you want to make it an overnight trip. Dispersed camping is also an option but is ONLY allowed in established sites… more info here
  • Other: About half of this trail is above tree line with no shelter, and because of the surrounding mountains you may not be able to see approaching weather; keep a very close eye on the sky and be ready to turn around at the first sign of thunderstorms

32 thoughts on “Colorado Day Hikes: Silver Dollar and Murray Lakes”

  1. Thanks for sharing this one. Naylor Lake is a “club” in the sense that several families participate in owning, staying and fishing there. It’s a nice spot. I’ve snowshoed in to the Naylor overlook a few times. Good hike to the higher lakes – you had a perfect day for photos!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. What greenery and blue skies at every turn of the hike! With such perfect weather, it made the photos you took look like something out of a painting! Doing hikes with those close to you is such a great bonding activity (I do hikes with my dad sometimes), and it’s great you’re playing tour guide for your mother in Colorado!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. We are lucky to have such beautiful blue skies here. Lots of green this year too because we got a lot of rain. How fun that you get to hike with your dad! I agree… such a fun family activity!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Haha! It’s strange to me that people can own such beautiful land… but this is not the only place where that’s the case. Even a couple of the 14ers are privately owned, which has actually created a dispute this past year when one of the landowners temporarily rescinded public access to a trailhead.

      Liked by 1 person

        1. That’s the one! The trailhead was closed for 6 months due to issues with liability and people parking off road and trespassing (can’t say I blame the landowners, honestly). It just reopened recently. Culebra is the other privately owned 14er.

          Liked by 1 person

    1. Hmmm… I think it completely depends on what kind of fall we have. Last year, I climbed a 12,000 foot mountain in October and there was no snow to speak of… so it might still be doable.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah, I love that she’s still able to hike all these trails with me…. It’s not an easy feat at this elevation and with all the rocks and roots and such. I hope I’m still hiking trails like this when I’m her age.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Wow, what a wonderful place to explore especially with your mom – I believe that hiking and being outdoors brings families closer together. And, there’s certainly nothing better than putting one foot in front of the other in the glory of nature. Thanks for sharing and have a lovely day 🙂 Aiva xx

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Yes, there are a few very beautiful lakes and mountain peaks here that are privately owned. At least we were able to see this one from afar. Thank you for stopping by!

      Like

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