Hiking in Park County: Kite Lake and Emma Lake

ALMA, Colo. - Hundreds of people pass the valley holding beautiful Emma Lake every day and never know it. That’s because Emma Lake is in a valley near the trailhead for four popular 14ers (mountains over 14,000-feet high) -- Democrat, Lincoln, Cameron and Bross.

At the trailhead (directions below), walk up to the information signs at the north end of the parking lot. The signs point out which peak is which.

The trail for the 14ers starts just to the right of this sign. Walk to the left of the sign, up the short rise and you’ll see Kite Lake. Quite honestly, Kite Lake is a dud. But the view of the peaks here is nice.

Take a photo and head back to the parking lot and the bathrooms. The single-track trail to Emma Lake starts on the north side of the bathrooms. The rocky trail winds its way up the valley to the west here. Watch your footing, it’s easy to slip on the little rocks in the trail.

About a third of a mile from the bathrooms, the trail crests a ridge into a nice valley. It looks like a place where you’d see a lake, but not yet. The trail continues west across the valley, then turns north. The cascade you see to the north is the outflow from Emma Lake.

When the trail gets next to the outflow, you should see a large cairn on the other side. Cross here. From this spot, the trail gets extremely steep and rockier as it climbs to Emma Lake.

When you crest the ridge for Emma Lake, you’ll notice the lake is crescent shaped. I highly recommend walking a little way up the ridge, partially around the lake, until you can see the entire lake.

From the ridge, you’ll see Mount Democrat above the lake and Cameron, Lincoln and Bross in the distance. Enjoy a snack or lunch before returning to your vehicle.

-- Note: There is a parking fee ($3 per vehicle in 2015) at the trailhead. We started our hike at the free parking area.

-- Details: The hike from the pay parking sign to Kite Lake, then Emma Lake and back is about two miles round-trip with 700 feet of elevation gain.

-- Directions: From Highway 285, turn north on Highway 9 in Fairplay. Drive to Alma and turn on Kite Lake Road located in the center of Alma. (There should be a sign that says Kite Lake.) It's about six miles to the trailhead. The dirt road gets quite rough. Check with the Forest Service in Fairplay for the latest conditions.

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