Colorado, Colorado Hikes

Colorado Day Hikes: Herman Gulch

I first hiked Herman Gulch back in September 2018, a challenging but beautiful outing in the midst of peak fall color season. More recently, Pat, my mom, and I completed this hike in the summer and instead of yellow leaves we found ourselves surrounded by wildflowers. So I decided now would be a good time to update this post and share some way too many of these new photos.

The trailhead for Herman Gulch is right off of I-70 about an hour west of Denver. You will hear traffic noise for the first section of the hike, but the trail quickly climbs up and away from the highway. At the junction with the Watrous Gulch Trail, stay left.

The initial portion of this hike is in the trees but soon reaches an open meadow, where the trail meanders along the creek lined with willow bushes. During my autumn hike, the willows had turned a bright golden color. During the summer, the highlight of this meadow was the thousands and thousands of sunflowers, interspersed with two of my favorite flowers: Colorado Columbines and Indian Paintbrush.

Sunflowers on the Herman Gulch Trail
Herman Gulch, summer
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Herman Gulch, autumn

The remaining sections of trail alternate between forest and meadow, never straying far from the creek. The trail also alternates between gradual and steep, some sections moderate while others are downright brutal. I had an easier time of it this time around now that I’m acclimated, but on my first hike I hadn’t lived in Colorado very long and it was a struggle. My mom struggled a bit too, mostly because of the altitude. The trail begins at around 10,300 feet (3140 m) and tops out just shy of 12,000 feet (3660 m).

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Finally, we reached tree line and found ourselves staring up at the final climb to Herman Lake.

Wildflowers on the final approach to Herman Lake
Herman Lake is up and over that hill
Almost there!
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Approaching Herman Lake in the fall

Located all the way at the back of the gulch, at the base of Pettingell Peak and The Citadel, this is a decently sized lake with crystal clear water. During our summer hike it also happened to be a fairly calm day, making for some beautiful reflections… hence the excessive quantity of photos.

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Herman Lake in autumn
First glimpse of the lake… and the crowds
Summertime at Herman Lake
Herman Lake handstand

Unfortunately, all of Colorado seems to have discovered this hike. There were close to 50 people at the lake with us, and we got one of the last spots in the parking lot upon our 7:30am Sunday arrival. By afternoon, people were parked all along the side of the roads surrounding the parking lot.

In summary: start early and don’t count on solitude for this one. But we enjoyed the wildflowers and the lake nonetheless.  


The Important Stuff

  • Getting there: The Herman Gulch trailhead is off I-70 exit 218; turn right into the dirt lot and park
  • Fees and passes: none
  • Hiking: 7 miles (11 km) roundtrip with about 1750 feet (535 m) of elevation gain; moderate
  • Where to stay: This can be done as a day hike from Denver or the towns along I-70 in Clear Creek County. This is national forest land so backpacking is an option and there are some established campgrounds in the vicinity as well
  • Other: The pit toilets at the trailhead are probably the most disgusting pit toilets I’ve ever seen in my life, and also there are no trash cans. Come prepared with a Kula cloth, poop bags (if you bring your dog), and please pack out all your garbage

25 thoughts on “Colorado Day Hikes: Herman Gulch”

  1. Looks like the perfect day for this hike! And love the wildflowers on the way 🌸 … it reminded me of our recently 2-day hiking trail between wildflowers with a lagoon on one side and the ocean on the other side – one of our best hikes with the most scenic views.
    It seems you had the same amazing views here as well!

    Liked by 1 person

      1. There’s no shortage of trees – I guess we just have the wrong sort (more conifers than deciduous trees?!). I’ve never seen swathes of fiery orange like you get in the US and Canada!

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Ah that would do it. It’s the aspen trees here in Rocky Mtns that do the yellow and bright orange. Lots of other deciduous trees in the East that change color. There are very few pine trees out east, almost entirely deciduous.

          Liked by 1 person

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