The Forest Service says the Indian Peaks Wilderness is one of the most visited Wilderness areas in the United States. However, you can still find solitude and trails with few people, if you start early and hike a few extra miles.
On a Saturday hike to Coney Lake, I saw just four people after I passed the Coney Flats Trailhead. The bad news? You have to hike 3.4 miles, or drive a rough 4WD road to get to that trailhead.
I started the hike at the 2WD trailhead at Beaver Reservoir, near Nederland and Ward (directions below). The "trail" is the four wheel drive road. It's not very wide and even though it's a road, the path is very rocky.
As you walk the road, you may see Jeeps, ATVs, motorcycles and other vehicles. Surprisingly, I expected a crowd on the Fourth of July weekend, but I didn't see a single vehicle on the way in and just one group and three single vehicles on the way out.
Just a short distance from the trailhead, you'll come to your first split. This turnoff takes you to the Sourdough Trail and eventually Camp Dick. For this adventure, stay on National Forest System Road (NFSR) 507 (Coney Creek Road). As I hiked, a passed a couple turnoffs, each time I stayed on FSR 507.
About 1.5 miles from the trailhead, I was surprised to find a different kind of trail split. Signs here said vehicles, bicycles and horses should stay on the road. But hikers and skiers should turn off.
I was concerned the hiker trail might be longer, but it appears to be about the same distance as the road. It just gets you off the road and you may even spot a cabin along the way. There is private property in this area, so signs ask that you stay on the trail and/or road.
Here's the cabin I spotted:
After hiking another 1.25 miles or so on the hiker trail, I found myself back on the road again. From here, it was just a half mile to the Beaver Creek Trail and a view. Don't turn left on the Beaver Creek Trail, follow the arrow and cross a bridge, then go around a pond, to the Coney Lake/Coney Creek/Coney Flats Trailhead. As you hike here, you'll get your first look at that impressive view of the Continental Divide. You're also more than half way to the lake at this point.
From the trailhead, it's just a few steps to the Indian Peaks Wilderness sign. Hike through the forest about a quarter mile to a trail split. Here, the Beaver Creek Trail to Buchanan Pass, Red Deer Lake and other destinations continues straight ahead but the Coney Lake Trail turns off.
The Coney Lake Trail in this spot starts in a meadow on a very faint trail. Several times I found myself looking ahead to find the next section of trail.
There are several creek crossings and marshy areas to walk through where the trail is faint. Just look a hundred yard or so ahead to find the trail. Soon you'll find yourself back on an old road that gets a bit steep at times.
About 5.2 miles from the trailhead, you'll arrive at a lake. This is not Coney Lake. This is more of a scenic pond.
The trail contours around the lake and continues up the valley another 0.7 miles to an overlook above Coney Lake. When you arrive at this cirque, you'll feel like every step getting here was worth it. Yes, the hike is pretty much six miles each way, but this cirque is impressive with Mount Audubon to your left, Paiute Peak up and Sawtooth to your right. Two of those mountains are more than 13,000-feet high.
To get to the shoreline, you'll have to work your way through the thick trees and willows. There is a trail, but it's pretty faint.
If you have the extra energy, it's another mile each way to Upper Coney Lake, but I decided Lower Coney Lake was a great destination. After lunch and lots of pictures, return the way you came.
Details: The hike to Coney Lake from the 2WD trailhead is 11.8 miles roundtrip with about 1850 feet of elevation gain. If you can drive to the 4WD trailhead, the hike is just about 5 miles roundtrip.