Square Top Lakes Trail on Guanella Pass

Square Top Lakes Trail on Guanella Pass

The Square Top Lakes Trail, one of several cresting Guanella Pass above Georgetown, CO, gives hikers a chance to behold sweeping valley vistas and the imposing profile of Mount Bierstadt. Simply driving to the trailhead along Guanella Pass can soothe a weary soul and take its breathe away at the same time! Once on the trail, the expansive pass greets hikers young and old of all skill levels.

Explore the full Square Top Lakes Hike profile below for trail map, driving directions, and more tips and details to help you enjoy this adventure on Guanella Pass near Denver.

Trail Snapshot: Square Top Lakes Trail

Trail junction for Square Top Lakes Trail

Trail junction for Square Top Lakes Hike

Parking & Trailhead Information for Square Top Lakes Hike

From Denver, heading west on I-70, exit 228 for Georgetown, CO. Going left under the bridge, Georgetown's Visitor's Center appears immediately on the right. This is an excellent place to rest before or after a hike. Going straight through the traffic circle and turning right onto Rose Street, Guanella Pass begins at the end of the street, curving up and up! Square Top Lakes Trail, easily accessed directly from the pass in the summer (when the pass opens) means that crowds often swell on weekends. Parking is free, but can present a challenge by mid-morning, especially near the Mount Bierstadt trailhead. The Square Top Lakes parking sits on the west side of the pass. Restrooms are available at the trailhead at the far end of the parking lot.

The Hike: Square Top Lakes Trail

Beginning near the restrooms, the trail immediately jaunts left to reach a junction between the Interpretive Trial and the hiking trail. Turning right and heading down the steps into the valley, hikers encounter the signature Guanella Pass landscape...willows and mud. Thankfully, several years ago, boardwalks were installed to assist in traversing the low-lying areas. While more willows await hikers ahead on the Square Top Lakes trail, a clear pathway enables simple navigation. Still, some may prefer long pants to protect legs from scrapes.

Square Top Lakes trail boardwalk on Guanella Pass

Boardwalks usher hikers onto the valley floor

Soon after, as the trail commences a steady ascent, the sloping ridge provides a view onto Duck Lake to the south. It disappears as quickly as it appears. At approximately 1.5 miles the trail rises over a small ridge. The wind often flows from the valley up through this small dip, and weather can change quickly atop the pass in general, so wise hikers keep an eye on the sky. Barely 1/4-mile later the trail meets, but skirts to the left of, the lower lake. A few paces beyond the lower lake the trail intersects with South Park Trail 600.

lower Square Top Lake

Staying right, the trail presents presents the upper Square Top Lake via a half-mile ascent. Informal trails spread out around the lake. The eastern ridge of the lake puts hikers on seemingly eye-level with Mount Bierstadt, a local favorite 14er. The return hike simply reverses the route, following the trail back down and out of the valley.

vista of Mount Bierstadt from Square Top Lakes Trail

Mount Bierstadt watches over Guanella Pass, lower Square Top Lake in foreground

Tips & Resources for Hiking Square Top Lakes Trail

  • TIP: The Square Top Lakes Trail completely lacks shade. Consider hiking early to mid-morning. If hiking later in the day, pay attention to the weather forecast--it changes quickly on Guanella Pass.
  • Trail Map: Square Top Lakes Hike
  • Packing List: Always pack the 10 Essentials. Download our Hiking Guide to get the list and dayhiking packing checklist.
  • Colorado Road Conditions: Colorado Road Conditions
  • After the Hike: While time may require a direct return trip to Denver, if time permits, many enjoy continuing on over Guanella Pass, following it down to Grant, CO. Turning left onto Highway 285 toward Denver, a late breakfast or early lunch awaits hungry hikers at The Shaggy Sheep. Further up the road, looking to the left, a 55-ft tall statue of Jesus watches over the historic town of Santa Maria, CO.

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grizzly peak mountain in colorado with clouds and high country tundra landscape

Grizzly Peak Hike at Loveland Pass

Grizzly Peak is a challenging 5-mile hike from Loveland Pass that ends with a scramble to its craggy 13,427' summit with breathtaking views of the Loveland Pass area, local ski resorts, and 14ers Grays and Torreys Peaks. About one hour from Denver, Grizzly and it's sister peak, Sniktau are two of the most accessible 13er peak hikes near Denver.

Trail Snapshot: Grizzly Peak

loveland pass trailhead with USFS sign with stickers on it and cars with mountains in background

Parking & Trailhead Information for Grizzly Peak

The trailhead at Loveland Pass for Grizzly Peak and Mt. Sniktau has capacity for about 25 vehicles with additional roadside parking on the opposite side of the road. Because of this, the lot fills fast. So, plan to arrive early and carpool when hiking with friends. Do be aware of vehicles coming over the pass when crossing. They can come at high speeds and visiblity is limited. There are no restrooms or other facilities at the trailhead.

The Hike: Grizzly Peak

The hike begins by climbing a short set of rock steps up to the trail. After a few hundred yards of gentle grade, the trail becomes more steep as it follows a ridgeline across the high country tundra. It's important to note that this ecosystem is fragile, so going off trail and indavertantly stepping on plants and flowers can do permanent damage or require these unique flora years to recover. Additionally, because this trail is so accessible from Denver, off-trail hiking compounds, creating areas where eroded washouts and other trail damage. So, stay the trail as you take in the incredible views on the way up to the first small "summit." This first segment from the trailhead to the trail split is about 0.8 mile.

hiker looking toward grizzly peak near loveland pass colorado

The photo above is from this first "plateau" where past hikers have built some windbreaks. Here the trail splits and the right side leads to Grizzly Mountain. The left trail leads up to Mt. Sniktau, a less demanding hike that is about 1 mile shorter in total route and requires no scrambling to reach the peak. The hiker in the photo above is looking out to the Grizzly Peak trail and Grizzly Peak. The trail is discernable in the photo and follows the top of the ridgeline. The map below traces the trail but do not rely on this to be GPS exact.

From the trail split, the next segment dips down then levels out onto a broad stretch of tundra, then climbs again to another point at about 1.5 miles into the hike. From here, hikers can trace the ridgeline that leads up to Grizzly. Hiking this in mid-May, a long snow cornice was visible along the eastern side of the ridge (in photo below). Cornices like this are visible at a distance, but are hard to see when hiking near them. They pose a real avalanche danger, too. So, be sure to stay to the west side while hiking along the ridge. The trail should avoid these cornices, however, when snowcovered, it can be easy to lose the trail.

grizzly peak near loveland pass with snow on ridgeline

As pictured in the above photo, the trail descends about 150' then climbes again to another peak-shaped rise along the ridge. After descending once more, the trail becomes steep and the tundra gives way to rock, making its way through a series of switchbacks and a scramble to Grizzly's 13,427' summit. At the summit, take in views of the Gore Range to the northwest and Grays and Torreys peaks looming right in front of Grizzly to the southeast. These are farther away than they appear and the ridgeline between Grizzly and Torreys is not the recommended route. Return to the trailhead via the route hiked to Grizzly Peak.

Tips & Resources for Hiking Grizzly Peak

  • Be Weather Aware: Grizzly Peak trail accumulates cornices on its eastern edges which means avalanche danger and the danger of falling through the cornice if walking upon it's surface. Though most years, most of the trail is discernable in Winter months, heavy snows can change the landscape and cover the trail without warning. Thunderstorms can appear quickly, so climb early before the early afternoon thunderstorms roll in during the Summer months.
  • Mt. Sniktau: If you are considering including Mt. Sniktau to your itinerary, this will add about 2.4 miles to your hike, making for an approximately 7.5 mile and 4-6 hour adventure.
  • Trail Map: Grizzly Peak
  • Packing List: Always pack the 10 Essentials. Download our Hiking Guide to get the list and dayhiking packing checklist.
  • Colorado Road Conditions: Colorado Road Conditions
  • After the Hike: http://www.thepourhousecoffee.com/

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hiker at the beginning of the sniktau and grizzly trail on loveland pass with tundra of mountains in foreground and blue skies with clouds on hiike near denver

Mt. Sniktau Hike at Loveland Pass

Mt. Sniktau may be the most accessible and breathtaking summit hike near Denver. This 4-miles, moderate hike up to Sniktau travels across high country tundra along ridgelines with views of Grays and Torrey peaks and views of the Gore Range of mountains in the north. Considered a year-round hike this trail is popular with hikers wanting to get in shape for Summer 14er summits.

Trail Snapshot: Mt. Sniktau

loveland pass trailhead with USFS sign with stickers on it and cars with mountains in background

Parking & Trailhead Information for Mt. Sniktau

The trailhead at Loveland Pass for Mt. Sniktau and Grizzly Peak has capacity for about 25 vehicles with additional roadside parking on the opposite side of the road. Do be aware of vehicles coming over the pass when crossing. They can come at high speeds and visiblity is limited. There are no restrooms or other facilities at the trailhead.

hiker at the beginning of the sniktau and grizzly trail on loveland pass with tundra of mountains in foreground and blue skies with clouds on hiike near denver

The Hike: Mt. Sniktau

The hike begins by climbing a short set of rock steps up to the trail. After a few hundred yards of gentle grade, the trail becomes more steep as it follows a ridgeline across the high country tundra. It's important to note that this ecosystem is fragile, so going off trail and indavertantly stepping on plants and flowers can do permanent damage or require these unique flora years to recover. Additionally, because this trail is so accessible from Denver, off-trail hiking creates areas where erosion can wash out segments of the mountainside. So, stay the trail as you take in the incredible views on the way up to the first "summit." This first segment from the trailhead to the trail split is about 0.8 mile.

plateau area where trail splits to sniktau on left and grizzly on right

At the first summit, hikers will find a couple rock windbreaks created by past hikers. It's a great place to take in the 360 degree views with a bit of shelter from the wind. If you don't want to continue on to Mt. Sniktau, an out-and-back hike to this point is about 1.5 miles total. The trail splits on this plateau, the way to Grizzly peak is on the right (south) and the way out to Mt. Sniktau is left (northeast).

view toward mt sniktau along sniktau trail with snow in forground and grey skies in background

The trail out to Mt. Sniktau is another 1.2 miles from this point, and an easy hike as far as summiting a Colorado 13er goes. Many hikers use this as a winter or early season training hike to acclimatize for doing 14ers during the Summer months. The trail follows the ridgeline to a false peak, then makes its way up another steep and rocky segment to the summit of Mt. Sniktau.

view from the summit of mt sniktau looking toward interstate 70 and weather rolling in on hike near denver

From the summit of Mt. Sniktau, you can take in views of several Greys and Torrey peaks as well as Grizzly Peak to the south. Looking down in the bowl on the south side, blue alpine lakes show through the snowcover, and to the west, you'll see what looks like endless mountains.

Hike back to the Loveland Pass trailhead on the same trail leading to the summit.

Tips & Resources for Hiking Mt. Sniktau

  • Be Weather Aware: Mt. Sniktau is known for being an all-season hike, relatively safe when it comes to avalanche danger. However, heavy snows can change that in moments. The entire trail is exposed, so climb early before the early afternoon thunderstorms roll in during the Summer.
  • Grizzly Peak: If you are considering including Grizzly Peak to your itinerary, this will add about 3.5 miles of trail and a more demanding summit segment to the hike.
  • Trail Map: Mt. Sniktau
  • Packing List: Always pack the 10 Essentials. Download our Hiking Guide to get the list and dayhiking packing checklist.
  • Colorado Road Conditions: Colorado Road Conditions
  • After the Hike: http://www.thepourhousecoffee.com/

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bridal veil falls waterfall pouring over cliff face with waterwheel at base among green trees in idaho springs colorado

Bridal Veil Falls in Idaho Springs

Bridal Veil Falls is best viewed from Water Wheel Park, a short and easy walk from the downtown of Idaho Springs, Colorado. The legacy of steam locomotives and gold mining make this a historic hike in an historic Colorado town. Explore the full Bridal Veil Falls hike profile below for trail map, driving directions, and many of the details you need to enjoy this waterfall in Idaho Springs, Colorado.

Trail Snapshot: Bridal Veil Falls in Idaho Springs

Parking & Trailhead Information for Bridal Veil Falls, Idaho Springs

The parking area for this short hike/walk is in downtown Idaho Springs, at the corner of 17th and Water Street, which is situated behind the downtown restaurants and shops. Use the driving directions above, which lead to Harold Anderson Park. At this small park, just across from the parking lot, you'll pick up a concrete path that leads under interstate 70 to Water Wheel park (scheduled to open early June of 2016). See the marked map below for a visual of the parking area, trail (yellow dots), and the location of Water Wheel Park.

walk-to-waterwheel-park-idaho-springs-bridal-veil-falls1

The Hike: Bridal Veil Falls, Idaho Springs

It's a little hike (more of a stroll) with a lot of history. Starting at Harold Anderson Park, you'll want to take a gander at Locomotive #60, one of five remaining steam engines that ran on the narrow gauge rails of the Colorado and Southern Railway. Kids will love the train and the other sites along this short jaunt.

The Charlie Taylor Waterwheel Trail leads under Interstate 70 then goes west for about 1/10th of a mile before it arrives at the best viewing area for Bridal Veil Falls. The waterfall spills out of Soda Creek high above, making its way then into Clear Creek, a stream famous for its gold, river rafting, and Coors Beer. The water wheel that's just north of Bridal Veil Falls was built in the late 1800's by a local miner, Charlie Taylor. Taylor used the water wheel to drive a machine called a stamp mill--imagine a big hammer that grinds and crushes rock to get silver and gold ore out of it. It was relocated from Ute Creek to its present location by a group of volunteers in the 1980's and now belongs to the Idaho Springs Historical Society. The Colorado Department of Transportation is renovating Water Wheel Park during the Spring of 2016 with a goal to have the project completed and reopen the park in early June.

There are several Bridal Veil falls in Colorado. For Bridal Veil Falls at Hanging Lake, view our Guide to Hiking Hanging Lake page. Or Explore our trail profile for Bridal Veil Falls in Rocky Mountain National Park.

If you are vacationing in the area and looking for more places to explore with your family, we recommend checking out Echo Lake, the Mt. Evans Summit Hike, or the Mt. Bierstadt Trail on Guanella Pass. See our day trip recommendation in the tips section below.

waterfall in canyon with bridge in foreground fish creek falls waterfall in colorado


Tips & Resources for Hiking Bridal Veil Falls, Idaho Springs

  • Plan a Day Trip: Make this a family day trip by arriving early at Echo Lake to see the reflection of Mt. Evans in its mirror waters, then drive up to the Summit of Mount Evans. After your drive back down, take in the sites of Bridal Veil Falls at Water Wheel Park, then grab lunch at Beaujo's Pizza in downtown Idaho Springs.
  • Add a Railroad Hike Tour: The Georgetown Loop Railroad still operates on what remains of track of the old C&S Railroad. Located just a few minutes drive from Idaho Springs, they offer a hike + railroad tour, a great family adventure near Denver. Explore more at our Georgetown Railroad Hike page.
  • Packing List: Always pack the 10 Essentials. Download our Hiking Guide to get list and dayhiking packing checklist.
  • Colorado Road Conditions: Colorado Road Conditions
  • Photo: We would like to express our gratitude to John Weitzel for sharing such an amazing photograph of Bridal Veil Falls in Idaho Springs, Colorado.
  • After the Hike: Beaujo's Pizza

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baby mountain goat on mount evans colorado more easy hikes


Georgetown Railroad Hike & Train Ride

After the hike, I asked our 7 year-old daughter what she thought of it. Her reply said it all, “Dad, it was awesome!” Here favorite parts were the fairy pond, a small, moss-rimmed pool probably created by miners long ago to hold drinking water, and the gleaming minerals in the rocks she picked up along the trail. I enjoyed the history and stories told by our guide, Kelsey, who had a particular love for the town and people of Georgetown and Silver Plume. This not your typical Dayhike Near Denver because it's actually a guided historic tour meets hike, plus a train ride on a vintage train back to the trailhead. Read below for all the details for this reservation-required hiking tour.

Trail Snapshot: Georgetown Railroad Hike & Train Ride

The Georgetown Railroad hike is a one-of-a-kind guided hike through the clear creek valley, a landscape decorated by the rich history of the Colorado Gold Rush of 1859. If you take just a moment to scan the mountainsides along interstate 70, you'll notice the yellow-stained tailings of abandoned gold mines. This hike takes you right through the very heart of that forgotten territory. We got to take a sneak-peek of the trail before it opened, so I brought our 7 year old daughter with me for our date-night, and she loved it.

georgetownrr08

The hike begins in Silver Plume, Colorado at the historical railroad station and museum. On the hike you'll have one to two guides who accompany your party. Groups are typically about 10 hikers. The hike begins on a nondescript gravel road, but soon enters an old, overgrown cemetery. From the graveyard, the trail descends into a healthy stand of lodgepole pines. We could see mist in the valley below, and the sound of the train in the distance. Though the sounds of interstate 70 are not far away, it's like stepping back in time. The hummingbirds zooming past us, and the rapids of Clear Creek below us brought the valley alive.

georgetownrr05
The best sounds, however, came from the steam train in the valley below. Kids will love this. It's a unique experience to be on a hike, then to watch a train pass in front of you, below you, and even above you on the tracks. And it creates anticipation of the train ride back.

The hike itself is quite easy and could be done in about 45 minutes--if it was all about speed. But the destination for the Georgetown Railroad hike is the entire journey. Our tour guide pointed out old claim markers from the 1800's, the remains of mining equipment, barrels, and tin buckets tucked away in the woods. She told stories, and showed us things we would have missed just hiking through. At roughly halfway through the hike, you'll stop for lunch (lunch is provided) in a grove of aspens that has a great story of its own. Keep your eyes peeled for the foxes and deer that frequent this part of the valley floor.
georgetownrr02
My daughter was captivated by the gleaming biotite and muscovite in the rocks alongside the trail. Our guide picked some special ones out for her to take home. After lunch, you'll hike by the Hall Tunnel, and the old Lebanon mine. Crossing the tracks, then following inactive segments, you'll make your way down into Georgetown. The trail leads under the the Devil's Gate High Bridge and ends at the Devil's Gate Station--named such because of the way the wind howls through this part of the valley.

Just when you think the fun is over, you get a 30-45 minute train ride back to your car in Silver Plume.

Tips & Resources for the Georgetown Railroad Hike & Train Ride:

  • Call Ahead to book Your Hiking Tour: 1-888-456-6777
  • Great for Kids: I would guess that the youngest age to take on this hike would be 6 years old, but it really depends on the child. Our daughter is pretty rough-and-tumble. The pace is right, and their are a lot of things to keep their attention.
  • Supervise Kids on the Tracks: Kids will want to run fast down the railroad tracks, but the ties prove to be pretty uneven ground. Our 7 year old daughter tripped and got a little scrape on her knee, but was fine. Your guide will give you safety tips, but they will also be very engaged in giving you the tour.
  • Restrooms: There are restrooms about 1/2 way through the hike at the Lebanon mine site.
  • It's a Hike: I'd classify this as an easy hike, but there are some segments where the trail is steep and runs through soft gravel, where it's easy to slip. While it's a guided tour, it's not a bike path--it's still a hike.
  • Footwear: Wear close-toed shoes. Boots are not necessary, but I'd recommend something that laces up.
  • Colorado Road Conditions: Colorado Road Conditions
  • After the Hike: The Alpine Restaurant & Bar in Georgetown

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above bear lake in rmnp looking to glacier gorge colorado hike finder