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  • Writer's pictureDan Wagner

Eleven Incredible Days In Colorado

I went solo on this trip in late June and it turned out to be one of my favorite trips to Colorado over the last half dozen or so years. The map below illustrates nearly all of the stops on this adventure and clicking on each waypoint previews the photos found throughout the article.

Day 1: Loveland Pass

Mount Sniktau, Cupid & Grizzly Peak (8.2/3,500')

I began the trip along the Continental Divide on a day hike to tackle Mount Sniktau, Cupid Peak, and Grizzly Peak—three amazing peaks standing at over 13,000 feet each—located at Loveland Pass. After summiting Mount Sniktau (13,240'), I then moved on to Cupid Peak (13,117') before moving on to Grizzly Peak (13,988'), which proved to be the most demanding among the trio.

Mount Sniktau

After, I set up for the night at the Sunset Point Campground on Lake Granby, which would put me within fifteen minutes of tomorrow's hike.

Day 2: Indian Peaks Wilderness

Cascade Creek to Mirror Lake & Crater Lake (16 miles/2,500')

Undoubtedly among Colorado's finest day hikes, the Cascade Creek to Mirror and Crater Lakes trail was truly breathtaking. Traversing through thick spruce and pine forests, meandering through fields of wildflowers, passing by cascading waterfalls, and beneath towering peaks, I eventually arrived at Mirror Lake. The sight of Lone Eagle Peak from Mirror Lake, captured in the image below, was the highlight of the hike for me.

Lone Eagle Peak

After a short break at Mirror Lake, I continued on to Crater Lake, as shown in the image below. There, I had lunch, took a nap, and then retraced my steps. On the return, approximately half a mile past Mirror Lake, I encountered two black bears—an occurrence that, as I learned later on the trip, was fairly common in the area.

Lone Eagle Peak

After, I drove to the Wolcott Campground, a Bureau of Land Management campground in Eagle County. No showers, but I had my Shower Toga with me.

Day 3: Glenwood Springs

Glenwood Canyon Whitewater Rafting
Doc Holliday Grave (0.75 miles/200')
Hayes Creek Falls
Crystal Mill

Today, I headed to Glenwood Springs and joined a Blue Sky Adventures whitewater rafting trip through Glenwood Canyon and Shoshone Rapids along the Colorado River. Being a history dork and a huge fan of the movie Tombstone, after returning from the paddle, I went on a quick and easy day hike up to Doc Holliday's grave along the Doc Holliday Grave Trail.

Doc Holliday grave

Then, while driving out to Crystal Mill, I stopped at Hayes Creek Falls, a gorgeous multi-cascade waterfall along CO-133.

Hayes Creek Falls

After Hayes Creek Falls I drove thirty minutes out to reach Crystal Mill, an 1892 wooden powerhouse located on a rock outcrop along the Crystal River. The drive was pretty rough and probably shouldn't be attempted in anything other than a high clearance vehicle.

Crystal Mill Colorado

After Crystal Mill, I drove all the way out to the South Rim of Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park and set up camp at the South Rim Campground for the night.

Day 4: Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

Gunnison Route (2.5 miles/1,800')
Warner Point Nature Trail (1.5 miles/400')

In the morning, I drove to the visitor center, obtained a permit for the Gunnison Route day hike and began what turned out to be an incredible experience. The Gunnison Route begins from the top of the canyon and descends roughly 1,800 feet over 0.9 miles before reaching the Gunnison River. The descent is incredibly steep, and at one point, features a chain section to help with both the descent and subsequent ascent.

Gunnison Route

Later that evening, after visiting numerous viewpoints along the South Rim, I headed out to Warner Point for sunset, which turned out to be quite impressive.

Black Canyon of the Gunnison Warner Point

After a modest day at the canyon, I once again stayed at the South Rim Campground, taking the dark skies and billions of stars above.

Day 5: San Juan Mountains

Painted Wall (0.2 miles/flat)
Lower, Middle & Upper Blue Lakes (9 miles/2,500')

The following morning, I woke up early to catch sunrise from Painted Wall, which turned out to be one of the best sunrise hikes of the trip and one that I have since done a number of times.

Painted Wall Black Canyon of the Gunnison

After taking in the beautiful view, I drove into Montrose to resupply and grab breakfast. Then, I was off to Ridgway to hike the Blue Lakes Trail, one of my favorite day hikes in the San Juan Mountains. The best view in my opinion is just above the Lower Blue Lake, where a rock outcropping made for the perfect place to relax and take in the scenery.

Blue Lakes Trail Colorado

Just a half mile beyond the rock outcropping, I encountered Middle Blue Lake and even more incredible views.

Blue Lakes Trail Colorado

Running a little short on time, I opted to pass on Upper Blue Lake and headed back to the trailhead, happy with what I had seen for the day. I ended up heading over to the South Mineral Campground, which would put me in a prime position for tomorrow's day hikes.

Day 6: San Juan Mountains

Island Lake & Ice Lake (8 miles/2,800')
South Fork Mineral Creek Falls (1 mile/150')

Today was the day that I had been looking forward to the most leading up to the trip. I began the day by hiking out to Ice Lake & Island Lake, two of the many beautiful lakes in the San Juans. I first tackled Ice Lake, which from a color standpoint, outshined Island Lake.

Ice Lake Colorado

After Ice Lake, I continued the loop out to Island Lake where I took a long break to take in the views and relax for a while. The views here were also incredible, but as I had previously read, there was a ton of trash left behind from people all around the lake.

Island Lake Colorado

After, I hiked out to South Fork Mineral Falls, whose trailhead is located right near the Ice Lake & Island Lake Trailhead. I haven't been to a ton of waterfalls in Colorado, but South Fork Mineral Creek Falls has to be one of the most beautiful.

South Mineral Falls Colorado

Later, I made a long drive out to the Capote Campground east of Durango to get better positioned for the following day.

Day 7: Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve

Treasure Falls (0.5 miles/200')
High Dune (3 miles/600')

Day seven started off with a short hike out to Treasure Falls, a stunning 105-foot-tall cascade thirty minutes from the Capote Campground.

Treasure Falls Colorado

After Treasure Falls, I drove two hours east to Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve, a sprawling 375 square mile park featuring the tallest sand dunes in North America. I hopped on the High Dune Trail and trudged along a mile and a half of calf-crushing terrain to the top of the tallest dune in the park.

High Dune Great Sand Dunes National Park

Being hungry as hell, I drove north into Buena Vista afterward to grab a green chili Philly, which in my opinion is the best sub in the country. After guzzling down a hot meal, I grabbed an Airbnb to get a good night's sleep for tomorrow's day hike.

Day 8: Mount Massive Wilderness

North Mount Elbert (10.5 miles/4,700')

I woke up around 4 AM and headed out to the North Mount Elbert Trailhead, about 45 minutes away. Getting an early start was important for obvious reasons. After a few hours of quad-busting switchbacks, a few false summits, and a ton of very slick scree, I reached the summit of the highest peak in the Rockies and second highest peak in the lower 48, just behind California's Mount Whitney. The views were bonkers.

Mount Elbert Colorado

A little exhausted, I drove into Leadville afterward and stayed at the Delaware Hotel, which turned out to be a pretty great experience. A well-earned pizza from High Mountain Pies was the perfect way to end a great day.

Day 9: Aspen & Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness

Independence Ghost Town
Crater Lake (3.5 miles/700')
Capitol Lake (6.7 miles/2,400')

In the morning, I headed out to the Independence Ghost Town, located about 45 minutes from Leadville. After a self-guided tour through the area, I headed out to Snowmass and took the shuttle up to Maroon Lake. It was big time touristy, but I had wanted to visit it the last couple trips and never got around to it.

Maroon Bells

After walking around Maroon Lake, I hiked up to Crater Lake to get a more up close view of Maroon Bells, which was well worth the minimal effort. Following this little excursion, I made my way to the Capitol Peak Trail, hiked up to Capitol Lake, and camped for the night.

Day 10: Indian Peaks Wilderness

Capitol Lake return (6.7 miles/300')
Isabelle Glacier (10 miles/1,600')

I had been looking forward to watching the sunrise from Capitol Lake, so I woke up early, made some coffee, and watched one of the more beautiful sunrises during the entire trip. Even though it was absolutely frigid up there, the view was something that I don't think I'll ever forget.

Capitol Peak Colorado

After, I headed out to the Brainard Lakes area of Indian Peaks Wilderness and headed out from the Long Lake Trailhead to Isabelle Glacier. Along the way, I saw a handful of moose, which is a fairly common occurrence on the trail. After a steep ascent near the end of the trail, I took in the views of Isabelle Glacier, and retraced my steps back to the trailhead, happy with a relatively long day and some pretty incredible views.

Isabelle Glacier Colorado

A little gassed from the last few days, I ended up getting an Airbnb in Nederland and a damn good meal at Busey's.

Day 11: Rocky Mountain National Park

Sky Pond (9.5 miles/1,700')

I woke up early the next morning and headed out to Rocky Mountain National Park to tackle the Sky Pond Trail, one that for some reason I had still not hiked. For the most part, it's an easy-going trail, passing Glacier Falls and The Loch, two impressive features of the trail, before reaching Sky Pond and the Sharkstooth. I spent a good amount of time here relaxing before taking a super cheesy photo and heading back to the trailhead.

Sky Pond Rocky Mountain National Park

After, I headed to Denver to grab a hotel, hot shower, and a bite to eat before flying out the next day. Great trip and I don't think I would've done anything much different.


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