CO Hike Series: Cataract Lake

Fall hiking destination north of Silverthorne in the Gore Range of Colorado

When my friend Rachel texted, “Hey wanna hike tomorrow?” I knew I was in for a good day. There are very few people who match my expectations of what it means to HIKE. Rachel gets it.

We set off EARLY on a Saturday from Denver. That’s just how it is anymore. If you want to beat traffic on I-70 (especially westbound morning traffic), you’ve gotta get up before the sun on a weekend. I’ll give up my sleep for an easy drive and empty trail.

As we drove up to the trailhead in the dark, we realized we didn’t have a headlight among us. Oh well. We were surprised to find a FULL parking lot before 7am. The Surprise Trailhead is a popular backpacking location, and accesses popular fall hunting grounds. The mild fall weather meant a good weekend for camping!

Luckily, by the time we unloaded and laced up our hiking shoes the sun was up. For the first 1/4-1/2 mile we didn’t see anyone. We marveled at the last leaves hanging on the aspen groves. Soon we came upon a hunting camp (and pack horses). We passed a few camo-clad hunters and another hunting camp.

Many hikers are not aware that most big game hunting in Colorado happens on National Forest Land (not private property). Yep, the same hiking trails that you’re on. BE AWARE in the fall, be respectful, and understand how to share the outdoors.

Most of the trail was well-maintained single track that wound through dense forest. There are certainly steep stretches (we noticed these more on the way down); but largely the trail is a gradual incline. We hit a few areas that required manuevering around fallen trees.

There is a significant trail split to be aware of. About 3.5 miles from the trailhead, stay left on the Upper Cataract Trail. Straight will take you along iconic Gore Range Trail.

After about 5 miles, you get to a sweeping overlook. Below, you get your first glimpse of Cat Lake. Be prepared to descend into the valley below Eagles Nest Peak (and go back up). We happily down-hiked to the lake junction. Left takes you a short jaunt to Upper Cataract Lake (10,744′); right will continue to the shore of Cat Lake (10,395′).

First Glimpse of Upper Cataract Lake

We made quick work of this 5.25 miles up to the lake. We only needed a short break for photos and a snack. Although Cat Lake was on the radar, this was a surprisingly beautiful and rewarding destination.

The trail really shows its distance on the way down. We made great time, but I can tell you seeing the parking lot at the bottom was a welcome sight.

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Our roundtrip hike distance was around 11 miles and time was about 4.5 hours; a decent effort for a fall jaunt.

Have you hiked near Silverthorne? Tell me your favorite hiking spots and mountain town restaurants!

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