CO Hike Series: Grizzly Lake

My Number One Hike in Colorado

Hiking has been a great passion of mine since I was young. I can remember tagging along with my Dad in the Blue Ridge Mountains, recreating memories at the Peaks of Otter and Humpback Rocks. Hiking got a lot less fun when I was “too heavy” to be carried up the mountain on his shoulders anymore. Luckily, I learned to love the experience of being outdoors and achieving a feat of tackling a peak or reaching a lookout.

Looking at Grizzly from above

Colorado really reignited the wonder of hiking for me. There is just so much to see and experience- and the Rocky Mountain vistas just never get old. I feel so at peace on a trail. I am free to think and be myself (often I’m by myself), it has become my moving meditation.

I get to kick-off this series with my favorite hike in Colorado. For real. My top place. Grizzly Lake is special to me. It is found in the Chalk Creek Valley where I spent my college summers on a ranch. I would most often hike up to Grizzly when my family was visiting, and have spent hours sitting on the rocks watching my brothers and dad fly fish. I sat down to consider it and I realized I’ve been on this trail every summer (at least once) for the past 10 years. Often, it is at the beginning or end of a season and I’ve reflected on the changes in myself. I learn something every time I am here- whether its a problem I’m stewing in my mind, getting to know someone new, or teaching a friend about why Colorado truly has my heart. Grizzly Lake is truly stunning- but this hike is my favorite because deep down I’m just a sentimental sap who embraces connection.

SO, About the hike. This is a totally do-able hike! It starts off just above the ghost town of Saint Elmo. {A post-hike pitstop in this old mining town is worth it. Grab an ice cream while you peruse the “antiques” and collectibles in the yard, then cross the street to feed the wild chipmunks right out of your hand! It is fun for young kids and grown-ups alike.}

Feeding Chipmunks at St.Elmo
Chubby Chipmunk friend



The trail starts along a gnarly jeep trail. *Tested* and proven to be truly formidable… just ask my brothers. Walking is a much more reliable way to actually reach the lake. You’ll take a side jaunt to the left and see an old dumpster with “Grizzly” spray painted on it. That’s it, that’s the only trail marker you’ll find. Follow the path about a quarter mile and you’ll come upon Ghost House. This is a historic 1800s home, take notice of the tin can roof.

Continue up the valley for another half of a mile. This section is where the most elevation gain occurs. DO NOT BE DISCOURAGED. You’ll be out of breath, but just know that it’ll ease up. Look out upon Aspen forest to the left and peek at the shoulder of Mount Antero. You may hear jeep and ATV noise from the 4X4 road in the valley below. The two trails will intersect on the way to the lake.


Singletrack through the forest
Aspens in Fall


As promised, the trail eases for a quarter mile or more winding through Aspens on a simple single track. There is rockfall debris to the right. As the trees thin, you’ll come out to the Jeep Road. Take notice of this turn off and remember it on the way back down! Turn right and follow the rocky Jeep road further up into the valley. Continue to climb steadily past a few mining cabins, as the valley begins to open up ahead of you. Turn around and see great vistas of Mount Princeton and the Collegiate peaks. Grizzly Lake is about two miles up the Jeep Road from the trail turn off. You’ll cross a large rockfall area and dip back into the trees for the final approach. Climb up a small hill and the lake opens out before you. There are many game trails through the willows that will bring you down to the lake for fishing and pondering.


Looking back down the Jeep road towards Mount Princeton

I love to take a minute and take it in right at the top of the knoll. I think about the changes I’ve been through since the last time I was at that spot, whether its been a couple weeks or a year. I am thankful to live in Colorado and reach a place like this just by driving a few hours and walking on up. THIS is why I choose to live how I do– I need this reminder when the homesickness hits.

Grizzly Lake sits at an elevation of about 11, 200 feet. It is right at treeline. Bring your binoculars and look out for Elk, Mountain Goats, and Big horned sheep. Remember that the weather is unpredictable up in the high country. It will be sunny and beautiful when you start, and you may find yourself hiking down in a thunderstorm. Always be prepared with the right gear. There is no cell service on this hike {bless}- so keep that in mind if you choose to go at it solo.

The hike will take about 1.5-2 hours up and about an hour down. Plan to spend a bit of time up top, so a 3-4 hour round trip excursion. The total distance is around 6 miles (3 miles each way). The drive through the Chalk Creek Valley is incredible. I recommend coming in the fall and experiencing the “High-Color” of changing Aspens.

I will keep returning to Grizzly, and keep changing with the seasons. I love having this spot with so much meaning. You are truly a special friend if I take you up here!

Wanna hike with me? Come visit and I’ll show you how wonderful this valley is.




What are your favorite hikes in Colorado?  Have you ever been up to Grizzly Lake?


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