Colorado, Colorado Hikes

Colorado Day Hikes: Chicago Lakes (the winter version)

I started a new job last August and I love it for many reasons, one of which is my coworkers. I work with wonderful people, including quite a few who like to hike… which means I now have some new hiking buddies! This past April, Pat and I spent a lovely spring Saturday hiking to Chicago Lakes with one of them.

Actually, while it was starting to feel like spring in Denver, it was still very much winter in the mountains. The trail was almost entirely snow-covered and there was quite a lot of slipping and post-holing (and a little bit of falling as well). But it was also a beautiful sunny day in the mountains, so we persevered and were rewarded for our efforts.

The Chicago Lakes are two alpine lakes nestled on the eastern slope of Mount Evans, one of Colorado’s 14ers. Pat and I had actually hiked to Chicago Lakes once before in summer conditions, but never in the snow. The hike begins at Echo Lake, which is an extremely popular and crowded place in the summer, but somewhat lesser used in the winter. We easily secured a parking space, put on our microspikes, and headed off.

Echo Lake

The one annoying thing about this hike is that the first mile is downhill, meaning the final mile of the hike is uphill. That’s never a fun way to end. But for two lakes that are as pretty as Chicago Lakes, I’d say it’s probably worth the struggle.

The lovely view helped distract me from the thought of having to climb back up this section at the end of the hike

After the downhill section, the hike continues on a wide dirt road. The land on either side of the road is private property, so be sure to stay on the road through this section. After reaching Idaho Springs Reservoir (which is a pretty destination on its own, if you’re looking for a shorter and less challenging hike), the road ends and the hike proceeds on the Chicago Lakes Trail and enters the Mount Evans Wilderness. From this point on, it’s a fairly steady uphill climb to Lower Chicago Lake.

Mount Evans Wilderness
Pat on the approach to the lower lake
Lower Chicago Lake

We stopped for a snack at the lower lake and assessed our energy levels and the weather, making the decision to continue to the upper lake. We had some difficulty locating the trail, as various sets of footprints meandered off in the general direction of the upper lake but ultimately petered out. At one point, we (embarrassingly) started following the trail back down to the lower lake for a couple minutes before realizing we were heading in the complete wrong direction.

Eventually, we located the actual trail and began the steep snowy climb up to the upper lake. The snow was slippery and it was slow going. But we made it! If you’re able, I definitely recommend expending the time and effort to reach the upper lake. It’s my favorite of the two.

Climbing to the upper lake
Lower Chicago Lake as seen from the climb to the upper lake
Upper Chicago Lake

If we’d thought climbing up was challenging, descending was even worse. The sun was out and the temperature was warming, which made the snow soft and slick. But we took it slow and we all made it safely back to the lower lake and, ultimately, back to the trailhead.

As usual, I’ve had trouble deciding if Chicago Lakes is prettier in the summer or the winter. Here is the post from our summer hike a couple years back; I’ll let you all be the judge.

The Important Stuff

  • Getting there: the trail begins at Echo Lake Park on Highway 103 at the base of Mount Evans; parking isn’t too terrible in the winter so arriving at the crack of dawn isn’t necessary
  • Fees and passes: none
  • Hiking: 10.1 miles (16.2 km) round trip with 1975 feet (602 m) elevation gain; moderate-to-difficult in winter conditions
  • Where to stay: in the winter, this hike is probably best done as a day hike from areas in and around Denver or Clear Creek County
  • Other: this is a relatively safe winter hike in terms of avalanche risk (low, except for one section between the lower and upper lakes), and there will probably always be at least a few other parties on the trail with you in case something happens; nevertheless, be prepared for deep snow, fierce winds, cold temperatures, and sudden changes in weather (which you won’t be able to see coming due to the surrounding mountains)

36 thoughts on “Colorado Day Hikes: Chicago Lakes (the winter version)”

  1. As always, your snowy pictures are lovely. I like the one of the bristlecone pines – how amazing that they can grow to be that old! I suppose a hiking trail can be beautiful in any season (maybe a bit more challenging depending on the weather conditions). Beautiful photos of the two lakes.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Bristlecones are such amazing trees! And not only do they live thousands of years, but they do so in harsh alpine environments where it’s cold and windy most of the year.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Here’s to new hiking buddies! May they be plentiful and adventurous!
    Did you have as much snow as we did? We are still no where close to be snow-free this year. It was a banner year, breaking snow records from 1952. People are chomping at the bit to get out, but so much snow has yet to avalanche down that it’ll be a slow start to our season, at least at the higher elevations.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Nope, we had the opposite unfortunately. Below average snow and now it’s so hot that it’s melting fast. I’m afraid it’s going to be a bad season for forest fires.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Ugh… Not another year of fires. I think we’ve had smoke every year since 2014… Not all from North America as Russian fires smoked us out one year. It would just be nice to have one summer without smoke.

        We just had another massive snowfall. One of our passes that was supposed to open June 15th is still closed due to … avalanche danger! What a year.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Glad to hear that you like your coworkers and have similar interests when it comes to hiking. That’s one of the drawbacks to hiking in the snow is that navigation can be a bit tricky, but it seems like you managed. Your pictures of the snowy scenery look beautiful.


  4. Hanging out with coworkers is one thing, but to hike with them is another– definitely a great bonding activity to get to know each other better! You definitely meant business wearing microspikes for the hike: especially in still-wintry conditions, it was a smart decision! Truly a winter wonderland, even in non-winter months, and Chicago Lakes look to be a great hike overall!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Colorado is such a wonderful place for those that love hiking – it seems like the whole state is awash with incredible mountain ranges, ridges and a heap of trails that crisscross the state. Thanks for sharing and have a good day 🙂 Aiva xx

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I love the picture of lower lake from above it. Maybe it’s also the blue sky above because at upper lake it looks like the storm clouds are coming in. When I look back at your summer post I remembered the similar view from above with someone sitting on the rocks. It’s pretty in both seasons. Maggie

    Liked by 1 person

  7. You had a beautiful day for the hike Diana. I’m with you. If I know I have to hike up to something, I resent any downslope leading to more uphill. I think it is is just as pretty any any season, but having smaller numbers of hikers in the winter may be the bonus. Thanks for sharing. Allan

    Liked by 1 person

  8. How beautiful!! I am with you on not liking to end the hike with a challenge. I have never hiked in the snow or ice so I imagine it’s so hard to follow that trial and times. I also am so cautious going down regular trails so I don’t lose my footing, so I can only imagine snow and ice too.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Fortunately we have microspikes, which make it so much less treacherous to walk on snow and ice. It basically makes it so you never slip on ice… they’re one of those pieces of gear that was a game changer!

      Liked by 1 person

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