Colorado, Colorado Hikes

Colorado Day Hikes: Lost Man Lake

Last week, I wrote all about our mid-September drive over Independence Pass and mentioned our stop at Lost Man Trailhead to hike to three alpine lakes. This week, it’s time to talk about this hike in more detail and share photos (lots of photos… maybe too many photos) of the lakes and the views and the colorful autumn tundra.

Lost Man Trailhead is about 1 mile (1.6 km) west of the Independence Pass summit, right at the first hairpin turn. There are parking areas on both sides of the road and there is a restroom. After departing from Denver that morning, we reached the trailhead around 10:00am and set off on our hike. During the summer, this would be far too late of a starting time; the trail is almost entirely above tree line and thunderstorms generally roll in as early as noon. However, the likelihood of such storms is greatly decreased by September and the forecast was for a clear, sunny day!

An old building across the road from the Lost Man Trailhead

About 0.4 miles (0.7 km) up the trail is the turnoff to Linkins Lake. This is the easiest of the three lakes to reach, with a roundtrip distance of only 1.6 miles (2.6 km) and 500 feet (150 m) elevation gain; a majority of the hikers went this way. We bypassed it for now and continued on the Lost Man Trail. The trail runs along the Roaring Fork River – which is more of a small creek at this point – up to its headwaters at Independence Lake. The autumn tundra was glowing golden beneath the sunlight; the beauty was a nice distraction from the 1000 feet (305 m) of elevation gain in just under 2 miles (3.2 km) to reach the lake.

Roaring Fork River

Independence Lake is clear and cold, a somewhat long and skinny body of water situated at the base of Twining Peak. It’s shaped a little bit like a hand that’s pointing at something with its index finger

Independence Lake

The trail continues 0.4 miles (0.6 km) and 300 vertical feet (90 m) beyond Independence Lake up to a high point overlooking Lost Man Lake. As we climbed, we stopped frequently to look back at Independence Lake and the small turquoise tarn that was now visible behind it.  

Looking back at Independence Lake

As we crested the ridge, the deep blue waters of Lost Man Lake came into view, nestled in a basin over 300 feet (90 m) below. The trail continues down to the lake but we decided to stop here. The view was stellar and, to be completely honest, we didn’t feel like hiking down and then climbing back up again. So we enjoyed a snack from up here before heading back toward the car.

Lost Man Lake
Lost Man handstand
Beautiful views on the descent

On the way back, we detoured up to Linkins Lake. I found myself wishing we hadn’t skipped it earlier; my legs didn’t enjoy so much climbing after hiking so many miles. But we made it and enjoyed the contrast between the water, the yellow and red plants, the grey rocks, and the beautiful blue Colorado sky.

Linkins Lake Trail
Linkins Lake
Descending the Linkins Lake Trail

This hike can also be done as a 9 mile (14.5 km) loop. Kind of. The trail continues beyond Lost Man Lake, curves around, and comes out at the Lost Man Reservoir trailhead which is about 4 miles (6.4 km) down the road. If you have two cars you can park one at each trailhead. Some people simply hitchhike between the trailheads. Or, you can do as we did and skip the middle few miles of the trail and do two separate hikes; it’s a 1 mile (1.6 km) fairly flat round-trip to Lost Man Reservoir from the trailhead. I have no idea what we missed by cutting out the middle few miles, so I can’t recommend one over the other.

Lost Man Reservoir

But I highly recommend starting at the Lost Man Lake trailhead and hiking at least as far as the overlook of Lost Man Lake as we did; in my opinion, it’s one of the highlights of Independence Pass!

The Important Stuff:

  • Getting there: the Lost Man Lake trailhead is located about 2 miles north of the Independence Pass summit, right at the first hairpin turn as you descend on Highway 82 westbound
  • Fees and passes: none
  • Hiking: to visit all 3 lakes (including dropping down to Lost Man, which we didn’t do), it’s about a 6.8 mile (10.9 km) out-and-back hike with about 1900 feet (580 m) of elevation gain; to just hike to the viewpoint as we did, subtract about 1 mile (1.6 km) and 300 feet (90 m) from the round trip distance
  • Where to stay: this trail isn’t conducive to backpacking due to the lack of shelter and suitable tent spots, but there are numerous established and dispersed camping spots along Independence Pass as well as lodging on either end of the pass in Twin Lakes and Aspen
  • Other: this is a high elevation hike with a lot of exposure to the elements and essentially nowhere to take shelter if a thunderstorm rolls in. I know I sound like a broken record, but be sure to keep an eye on the sky and turn around if inclement weather approaches

32 thoughts on “Colorado Day Hikes: Lost Man Lake”

  1. What a treat to join you, Diana, on this spectacular hike. You did a great job of describing the hike and options, and your gentle reminders of the safety aspects is also appreciated. Your photos are wonderful. Those mtn lakes with crystal clear water, the vibrant blue sky, the vast and breathtaking mtn vistas. Truly gorgeous…thank you. Oh and I always love your handstands.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I too would have stopped for the view over Lost Man Lake rather than hiking down and back up. It looks brutal and I’m sure the view from your perch was far nicer than further down. The deep blue is amazing, especially contrasting with the barren, rocky slopes.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. There can never be too many photos especially if you are hiking through such stunning and varied landscapes – it can bring out the inner photographer in anyone. And with millions of acres of public lands, Colorado really gives you lots of options and lots of room to play, can’t wait to visit one day. Thanks for sharing and have a nice day 🙂 Aiva xx

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Beautiful scenery all around; if such views don’t embody the essence of the rugged, western US terrains, then I don’t know what would! Again, you got lucky with such beautiful weather, especially that crisp-blue sky. The Lost Man Lake hike looks like for the lake-lover’s dream!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Looks like a great September hike. Not so sure I’d like to be on such an exposed trail in the summer months, with nowhere to take shelter. The lake views were worth it though. Thanks for sharing. Allan

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Wow, you had such amazing views of those beautiful mountains (and the lakes are gorgeous – love that one of you doing your handstand in front of the Lost Man Lake)! And more beautiful pictures on your way down – looks like quite an enjoyable day out in nature.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Such stirring landscapes Diana, and with such an abundance of water along the route. Love the names of the various locales too, I wouldn’t mind being temporarily unsure of my bearings at ‘Lost Man Reservoir’. The views from the descent of Linkin Lakes trail are the pick of the bunch for me.

    Liked by 1 person

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