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!
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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