6 miles RT to lower lake, about 7.5 miles RT to see most of the lakes Elevation:
Trailhead 10,050 feet, Lower Missouri Lake 11,400, Upper Missouri Lake 11,550. Location:
Near Vail in Holy Cross Wilderness, about 24 miles south of I-70 (directions below) Dogs:
Allowed on leash Trailhead:
Bathrooms, trail register Advice:
Wear bug spray
I got an email a couple weeks ago asking for hiking trail advice: Mohawk Lakes or Missouri Lakes? I hiked Mohawk Lakes last year. Its a good hike because it has lakes, Continental Falls, a historic cabin that is open to the public, old mines and lots of old mining equipment.
But now that Ive done Missouri Lakes, its definitely the hike I would recommend. Getting to this trailhead takes some work, but the hike is more than worth it.
When I arrived at the trailhead at 8:45 on a Sunday morning, I found nearly a dozen vehicles. It turns out they were all backpackers that had spent the night at the lakes. I didnt see any day hikers until I was on the way down the trail, and even then I only saw 5 groups of day hikers. The other 15 groups I saw during my hike were all backpackers. While the trail was busy at times, I also found myself walking a mile or more at times without seeing anyone.
The trail starts easy, only climbing a 150 feet in the first third of a mile.
Then theres a trail split with no sign. Look left and youll see some vehicles across the stream. Parking here would cut the hike down a bit, but Im not sure how youd cross the creek during high water. To the right are two trails, one is single track, one appears to be a jeep road of sorts. You can use either one, they link back up. I took the road on the way up and the single track trail on the way down, I think the road is better. The first waterfall along the trail to Missouri Lakes
About two-thirds of a mile from the trailhead, I found my first photo opportunity, a nice waterfall. While it may only be about 20 feet high, it was impressive enough that I thought I could turn around and be happy with the hike. But Im glad I continued on.
Just past the waterfall is a small lake apparently caused by a diversion dam, then the sign for the Holy Cross Wilderness. I saw a man fishing at the lake in the afternoon.
Over the next mile of hiking, I came across several beautiful cascades. Some cascades flowed over downed trees, other cascades soared over rocks, some crashed down gorges in the rock; all of them were loud and a nice diversion from the hike up. The trail gains about 800 feet in the first mile or so. There are bridges over two major stream crossings along the trail
Also during the first mile or so, there are two major stream crossings on well constructed bridges. Each spot was also picture worthy. Missouri Creek was really flowing in August; I can only imagine what it was like in June and July during the major snowmelt.
While I was fascinated with the cascades, I appreciated the occasional meadows because that meant getting a break from the uphill climb. When I mentioned all the pretty cascades to another hiker on the trail, she actually said she preferred the beautiful meadows.
About 3 miles up the trail, you come to the first of the Missouri Lakes. While the topo on my GPS only showed 3 lakes, one article I read said there are 14 lakes and tarns in this area. If you go with the 14 number, then the first body of water you come to is more of a tarn, than a lake. While it isnt very big, it was calm and I took some pretty reflection shots with the nearby mountains.Even the first tarn along the trail was very pretty.
A little farther up the trail, I arrived at Lower Missouri Lake. Its a beauty. Even in August the surrounding mountains still had areas of snow hanging on. I took pictures from several places along the shoreline. While the trail seemed busy at times, I was the only person at the lake on this morning. It was a nice treat, but I decided I not only wanted to go father, I wanted a picture of the lake from above.
As I headed for Upper Missouri Lake, I actually found two more tarns. I took a quick picture and kept following the trail. Upper Missouri Lake is a good sized lake and very beautiful. From one side it almost looks like it hangs on the edge of the valley. Since I wanted a picture from above this lake also, I kept hiking along the trail. Every few steps, I found myself taking another picture of the lake from a different angle. It was just so scenic. The "Upper" Missouri Lake
As I left the lake, at 11,500 feet or so, I found snow on the trail. Yes, even in August there was still snow on the trail. As I looked up I noticed the storm clouds were building. So between the storm clouds and the snow, I hiked up to one more tarn and then decided to turn around.
On the way down I stayed close to Upper Missouri Lake and ended up on a different trail. As I worked my way back to the main trail I found yet another tarn/lake, the 7th I had seen. If there are 14, then I saw half.
It was a good thing I didnt stay took long at any of the lakes, by the time I returned to the Lower Lake, it was 11:45 and already starting to rain and thunder. I ended up rushing back down the trail to my Jeep.
While the trip down was faster than I wouldve chosen, I definitely would recommend this hike. It has so much to offer. If you make it to the top of Missouri Pass, consider doing a loop to Fancy Pass, Fancy Lake and back to the trailhead.
I found this hike because of an email from a reader. I welcome your questions, comments and hiking trail suggestions. Just email me: email@example.com
From I-70, go through Vail and take exit 271/Hwy 24 to Minturn. Because I stayed in Minturn, I didnt get the distance from I-70 to the turnoff, but one article said it was 14 miles. Turn right on Homestake Road #703. Drive 8 miles on a very rough road to Forest Road #704. Its just past the mile marker 8 sign. This turnoff has a saying Missouri Creek Trail 3 miles. I actually found it was 2.2 miles from this turn to the trailhead. The road takes a sharp right turn and youll see bathrooms and the sign for Fancy Lake trailhead. Just look behind you, youll see the Missouri Lakes trailhead next to the water pipes on that last turn. One note, the driving didnt look very long on paper, but road #703 is very washboard and is listed at 20 mph. Road #704 had some large potholes, I wouldnt take a regular car on this road.
Previous hiking reports:(lower elevation hikes have a star)
, Mallory Cave*
, Marshall Mesa
,Heil Valley Ranch*
, South Boulder Peak*
, The Boulder Flatirons*
, Walker Ranch*
, Bear Peak*
, Rabbit Mountain*
, Bald Mountain*
, Betasso Preserve*
, Wonderland Lake*
, Chimney Gulch*
, Apex Park*
, Elk Meadow*
, Chicago Lakes
, Chief Mountain
Rocky Mountain National Park:
, Twin Sisters
, Bierstadt Lake
, Chasm Lake
, Lulu City & Little Yellowstone
, The Loch, Andrew's Glacier
, Sandbeach Lake
Indian Peaks/James Peak Wilderness:
King, Bob & Betty Lakes
, Forest Lakes
, Arapaho Lakes
, Mitchell & Blue Lakes
, James Peak Area
, Heart Lake
, Devil's Backbone*
, Lake Agnes
Summit & Eagle Counties:
, Mohawk Lakes & Continental Falls
St Louis Lake
, Waterfall At Snow Mountain Ranch
, Granby Ranch
Exploring Fulford Cave
, Our Favorite Hikes
, Our Favorite Bike Rides
Copyright Copyright 2009 by TheDenverChannel.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be
published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.