Colorado, Colorado Hikes

Colorado Day Hikes: Tuhare Lakes

Two years ago, Savannah and I made plans to hike to Tuhare Lakes with our husbands. Two years ago was also an absolutely awful summer for wildfires in Colorado; forest closures, evacuation zones, and suffocating smoke thwarted many plans… including this one. The original plan was to reschedule for summer 2021 instead, but we just never got around to it. Fast forward to August 2022, and we were finally able to put this one on the calendar. It had been a long time coming, and we were excited.

The hike begins at Halfmoon Campground at the end of Tigiwon Road near Minturn, Colorado. Tigiwon Road – marked by a misspelled sign pointing you to “Tigwon” Road – is dirt but pretty well-maintained. All the potholes are easily dodgeable (spellcheck tells me that’s not a word but I’m going to use it anyway). We had no trouble driving it in our Subaru and saw plenty of sedans at the trailhead as well.

The view from Tigiwon Road was nice

What I failed to realize until we arrived, however, is that Halfmoon Campground is also the starting point for the Mount of the Holy Cross hike. This is one of Colorado’s 14ers, meaning the trailhead is pretty much always crowded, especially on weekends. Despite our 7:30am arrival, we found ourselves parking 0.2 miles (0.3 km) down the road.

Once you reach the campground, be sure you take the correct path. For Tuhare Lakes, follow signs to Fall Creek Trail and Lake Constantine. The hike to Lake Constantine is nothing spectacular. We were in the trees the entire way as the trail wove up and down through the forest. In my opinion, Lake Constantine wasn’t that great either. I personally wouldn’t drive all the way from Denver (2.5 hours) and hike all this way (3.5 miles/5.6 km) just to see Lake Constantine.

Lake Constantine

Fortunately, the best was yet to come. But first, we had to get through the mud. And the water crossings. And the scrambling. The trail continues through marshy terrain along the shore, paralleling Lake Constantine for its entire length. It’s a long, skinny lake. Once reaching the far end, the trail follows the creek for a short distance before curving up and to the right. Apparently the trail forks and the other branch continues left toward Fall Creek Pass, but I never saw the fork. There are no signs beyond this point, so I recommend having a GPS app or some other type of navigation to be sure you’re headed toward the lakes and not the pass.

After turning right, the trail begins to climb. Steeply. When we weren’t navigating mud puddles, we were scrambling over giant boulders. As we crested one set of boulders, we suddenly found ourselves staring at a lovely waterfall. The trail continues alongside it, eventually ascending the headwall and dropping down to Lower Tuhare Lake.

First glimpse of Lower Tuhare Lake
Lower Tuhare Lake

Upper Tuhare Lake sits in a cirque about 300 feet (90 m) above the lower lake. We followed the trail along the shore of Lower Tuhare and up toward a second waterfall, this one between the lakes. At times, the waterfall essentially was the trail. It was a very rocky climb; I’d classify the hike from Lake Constantine to Tuhare Lakes as a class 2.

Climbing to Upper Tuhare Lake

But eventually, we reached the top of the waterfall and Upper Tuhare Lake… crystal clear and bright turquoise, sitting at an altitude of 12,400 feet (3780 m) and framed by the jagged Holy Cross Ridge.

Upper Tuhare Lake

This was my favorite lake of the day by far, and I personally could have hung out here all afternoon. But I got outvoted. Everyone else liked Lower Tuhare best and, after about 15 minutes, wanted to head back down and spend more time at the lower lake. Reluctantly I followed, though not before climbing around on the rocky shore and taking far too many photos.

Now that we were facing the other direction, we were looking down on the lower lake from above, as well as out into the distance at the Mosquito Range. Notably, we could see Quandary Peak, the first 14er Pat and I ever summited. It feels like so long ago, and yet it’s only been 4 years. It’s amazing to think about how much of Colorado we’ve seen these past four years, and yet how much still remains to be seen. The beauty of the Colorado mountains is endless.

The line of mountains in the distance is the Mosquito Range; Quandary Peak is on the far right
Lower Tuhare Lake

I also can’t forget to mention our very unexpected wildlife sighting: an owl! I’m not sure what the little guy was doing awake at 9:15am, but all of the sudden there was something small and fluffy flying overhead and into a pine tree next to the trail. Confused, I squinted up at the branches trying to identify this mystery ball of feathers. He was fairly small and well-camouflaged; it took a minute to spot him. But eventually, we found him perched on a branch watching us curiously.

Mr. Owl

I can’t even remember when I first learned about Tuhare Lakes, but it was at least 2-3 years ago. I’m so glad we finally had the opportunity to complete this hike, and I’m glad it lived up to my expectations after looking forward to it for so long!

The Important Stuff:

  • Getting there: Tuhare Lakes are located off the Fall Creek Trail at the end of Tigiwon Road in the Holy Cross Wilderness. This parking area is also used for the far more popular hike up Mount of the Holy Cross. Arrive early; it will be crowded.
  • Fees and passes: none
  • Hiking: the roundtrip distance for us to visit all 3 lakes was 12.2 miles (19.6 km) with 2760 feet (840 m) of elevation gain
  • Where to stay: there are multiple locations along Tigiwon Road for dispersed camping, and many people backpack in and set up camp at Lake Constantine. If you plan to camp along the trail or at the lakes, note that campfires are not allowed above 11,000 feet of elevation (there is a sign marking this point). This can also be done as a day hike, though it will be a long day, especially if starting from Denver. The towns of Vail and Minturn are much closer to the trailhead and would be a good place to stay the night before.
  • Other: Tuhare Lakes do not show up on any of the trail signs, so be sure you know where you’re going and have a map/GPS with you on this hike. Fall Creek Trail splits beyond Lake Constantine and the right fork leads to Tuhare Lakes, but there is no sign marking this split.

25 thoughts on “Colorado Day Hikes: Tuhare Lakes”

  1. I haven’t been up around Half Moon and those lakes since the 80s, loved seeing your photos. My family has long backpacked the Cross Creek trail 9 miles up to what is now called Reeds Meadow on the topo maps. My late husband and his sons used to hike in there in the 50s and 60s and sign in as “Reeds”… !

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The waterfall was definitely a highlight! The most surprising thing was that we weren’t expecting it and all the sudden we came around a curve and there it was.


  2. The views are stunning! It’s also crazy that the parking lot was already full at 7.30 am, did you see a lot of people on the trail too? The owl is so cute and I also wonder what it was doing awake that late, but well…! Thanks for sharing your adventures!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Glad to hear that you were finally able to hike to Tuhare Lakes, even if the conditions on the trail were quite muddy. Navigating up, over and around the boulders sounds like fun. What a gorgeous waterfall to find in the mountains. And how awesome to spot an owl!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. That’s definitely a muddy trail near Lake Constantine. Lovely pictures of the waterfall running into the lake. I think the scrambling over the rocks was worth it – Upper Tuhare Lake is indeed beautiful (but the view from the top towards Lower Tuhare Lake is really great …) 😉. And a great photo of that owl!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. OMG – that owl is so cute! Well spotted. I’m afraid I have to agree with your husband and friends: I prefer Lower Tahare Lake – it seems to have more green around it. 🙂
    Do hikes like these get numerical ratings like the 14ers, or is it simply “go and see for yourself”? I ask because I noticed you gave part of the hike a “2” rating. P.S. I’m with you. I saw dodgeable is a word.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Pat was very pleased to see that yet another person has taken his side on this one.

      Non-13er and 14er hikes don’t generally get ratings, but the ratings are broadly applicable. Class 2 is anything in which the hands must be used for balance… which was definitely the case in this hike. I figured it would be a useful way to describe the difficulty level of this one.

      Liked by 1 person

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