Family hikes in Summit County: Lily Pad Lake

SILVERTHORNE, Colo. - Lily Pad Lake sounds like a pleasant place, doesn't it? After seeing pictures of the lily pads, I knew I had to check out this lake.

Lily Pad Lake is between Silverthorne and Frisco on the north side of Interstate 70 (directions below). But don't worry, the trail is far enough away from the highway that you won't hear the traffic noise.

From the parking lot, there are two trailheads, one at each end. One is the Buffalo Cabin Trailhead and the other is the Lily Pad Trailhead.

For Lily Pad Lake, start up the wide, dirt road behind the Lily Pad sign. The road is a little steep for the kids, but it's short.  In 0.2 miles, the road bends around a curve and the trail heads toward the forest. As you hike through this section, you may be surprised to see the hundreds of trees removed here. Mountain pine beetles have destroyed more than 4 million acres of trees since the first signs of outbreak in 1996.

"Mitigation is critical because hazardous fuels and falling trees impact watershed resources, human health and safety, and basic services such as travel, electricity, and water," according to the forest service.

You'll soon enter the dense forest and pass the sign for the Eagles Nest Wilderness. I highly recommend avoiding this area on a windy day due to the high number of dead trees here.

As you walk this trail, you will see many fallen trees, some you may have to climb over. Fortunately, as you hike over the bridges in this area, your eyes are not drawn upward to the dead vegetation on the trees, but rather, down to the wildflowers scattered throughout the area.

About 0.4 of a mile from the parking lot, I heard my favorite sound -- running water. After a little exploring, I found a scenic pond in the trees with a small cascade. We took a couple photos and continued on the trail. Here we found a series of three interesting bridges over the outflow from the pond.

From here, the trail goes up and down through the forest. Listen for birds, enjoy the flowers and take your time as you wind your way through this peaceful place.

One note: this trail can get very busy during the day. If you'd like a quieter experience, consider coming early in morning. Come in the middle of the day and you'll have lots of people to say hi to as you walk along.

About 1.2 miles from the trailhead, you'll pass the Salt Lick Trail. This is a neighborhood trail that travels about 2 miles to the Wildernest Center. Once you pass the Salt Lick Trail, it's just another 0.4 miles to Lily Pad Lake. Suddenly, you're on a hill overlooking the pretty lake covered in lily pads and yellow blooms.

Walk down to the shoreline and marvel at these blooming flowers covering the lake. The Encyclopedia Britannica says water lilies plant themselves in mud and bloom for several years. However, they only bloom in spring and early summer. The Encyclopedia says by late summer, the majority of lily pads decay and disappear.

Enjoy Lily Pad Lake but don't stop here.

This is actually the smaller of two lakes in this area. Walk a few more steps down the trail, over the small rise between the lakes, to the larger lake. Maps call this larger lake the Lily Pad Lake. Some visitors call them Upper and Lower Lily Pad Lake. Either way, you may see a few lily pads on this larger lake, but it does not have as many as the smaller lake.

Decide which lake you like better, find a rock and enjoy a snack before returning the way you came.

*Note: you may find more hikers at the lake that you did not see on the trail, that's because you can also reach Lily Pad Lake from the Meadow Creek Trailhead in Frisco. While that hike is about the same distance, it has more elevation gain.

Details: The hike to Lily Pad Lake and back, with a little exploring, is about 3.3 miles with 400 feet of elevation gain. The hike is at 9,800-10,000 feet, so it may be a little hard to catch your breath on the hills.

Directions: From I-70, exit 205 and turn north. Turn left on Wildernest Road at the 7-11. Reset your odometer. Follow Wildernest Road, turning left at the Lowe's. Wildernest Road becomes Ryan Gulch Road. It's about 3.5 miles from the 7-Eleven to the parking lot (on your left) for Lily Pad Lake.

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