CO Hike Series: Hartenstein Lake

Lesser known destination in Buena Vista, CO accessed from the Denny Creek Trailhead

I was so fortunate to get a few days this fall to hike with my family. My Mom, Dad, Lucas, and Kelsey flew in to visit and we spent time in Buena Vista, CO. One of our favorite small towns. No, absolutely, our top favorite small town.

We love to be on a trail and this weekend we were graced with absolutely perfect fall hiking weather! The trails were nearly empty, the sunshine was warm, and the fall colors made a breathtaking backdrop. Although we have several favorite hikes in the area, Hartenstein Lake was a new destination for us! How fun to explore a new spot in an area we’ve been vacating in for over ten years.

Making our way up the incline

I’ve been on the lower portion of this trail before with my mom. We climbed Yale together on my 19th birthday! It was her very first fourteener and I think my second. Great memories from that day.

The trailhead is about 10 miles from the town of Buena Vista, off CR396 before you get to the top of Cottonwood Pass. The road is paved and there is a huge parking lot with plenty of room in the fall. We didn’t start our hike until around 11am on a Sunday.

Plenty of Parking at (paved) Denny Creek Trailhead

The initial ascent out of the Denny Creek Trailhead parking area will test your mental fortitude. Just know that this climb will ease (slightly). I enjoyed that much of this hike comprised of steep inclines followed by short reprieves of flat terrain.

Left to Hartenstein Lake, Right to Mount Yale

There are two trail splits to be aware of. The first comes about 1-1.5 miles in. Stay left to continue on to Hartenstein Lake and Browns Pass. Right will take you up to the summit of Yale.

We took several breaks on the way up to search the surrounding high peaks for elk herds. It all looked so idyllic: I know there were elk in the area. We just couldn’t ever spot them! Oh well, the rest was needed after 10+ miles of hiking the previous days.

Just as we were ready for an extended break and a lunch stop, we came into a flat meadow. Peaking through the trees we saw a reflection on water and knew we had made it! Shwew!

You just kinda pop right onto the banks of this lake. We thought it seemed like the perfect lake for a moose. Alas, no moose.

Earlier in the day, my Dad had purchased some Tamales from the Farmer’s Market in South Main. I packed them up to the lake and they were a surprisingly great trail food! We laughed about the mix of flavors and spice and celebrated a final afternoon in Colorado.

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

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Our roundtrip hike distance was around 6 miles and time was about 4 hours; a decent effort for a fall jaunt.

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

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