Are you looking for a great weekend backpacking trip in Colorado? Start here! This is our go-to list of the best backpacking trips that are the perfect length for 2 to 3 days and feature alpine lakes, fishing, wildlife, wildflowers, and waterfalls.
1. Chicago Lakes – Echo Lake Trailhead, Idaho Springs | 1 Hour From Denver
Why it Made the List: fantastic trail close to Denver
Miles: 9.8 miles roundtrip
Elevation Gain: 1,116 feet net (2,392 feet roundtrip)
Chicago Lakes Trail makes for a fantastic but long day hike or perfect 2-3 day backpacking trip. This sometimes steep and rocky trail starts at Echo Lake Park south of I-70 in the Mt. Evans Wilderness Area and ascends to a pair of high alpine lakes below Mt Evans (14,265′), Mt Spalding (13,842′), and Mount Warren (13,307′). Hikers often see moose, elk, bighorn sheep, and mountain goat in addition to a valley touched by the 1978 Idaho Springs Reservoir Fire. Look southwest while hiking in the valley above the reservoir during the fall for bright yellow aspens against a clear blue sky.
Camp at the lower of the two lakes (psst, there is an amazing campsite near the small waterfall between the two lakes) and spend a day exploring the upper lake, fishing cutthroat trout, or continue up the trail to Summit Lake. You can even summit Mt. Evans from here if you’re up for the haul. Please note: the hike out is a bit tough as there is considerable elevation gain on the return to the trailhead.
????The lower of the two Chicago Lakes.
2. Abyss Lake – Guanella Pass, Georgetown | 1.25 Hours From Denver
Why it Made the List: huge, epic views!
Miles: 17.1 miles roundtrip
Elevation Gain: 2,996 feet net (3,283 feet roundtrip)
Abyss Lake is an epic 3 day backpacking trip. This diverse, often steep out-and-back trail starts at Abyss Trailhead on the east side of Guanella Pass in the Mt. Evans Wilderness and ascends to a high alpine lake at the base of Mt. Evans (14,265′), Mt. Bierstadt (14,060′), and the rocky saddle between called the Sawtooth. The first roughly three miles weave through aspen and lodgepole following Scott Gomer Creek resulting in plenty of water and great campsites. At 4.2 miles, the trail intersects the Rosalie Trail and shares its path for a quarter mile before splitting off. Stay right. Before breaking out above treeline just after mile six, the trail passes Helm’s Lake.
As a tip, consider setting up camp at Helm’s Lake before setting out for the final stretch. Abyss Lake is far above treeline and very exposed where camping could dangerous if caught in a thunderstorm. On a blue bird day, Abyss Lake is spectacular. Expect to see marmots, mountain goats, sheep, and hikers far above on Mt. Evans and Mt. Bierstadt.
????Abyss Lake with the Sawtooth looming over.
????Flyfishing at Bear Tracks Lake.
3. Bear Tracks Lake – Camp Rock Trailhead, Mt. Evans State Wildlife Area | 1.5 Hours From Denver
Why it Made the List: excellent, moderate loop hike
Miles: 10.8 mile loop
Elevation Gain: 2,139 feet net (2,582 feet roundtrip)
Beartrack Lakes Loop is a perfect 2-3 day backpacking trip. This varied, diverse loop starts at Camp Rock Trailhead east of Mt. Evans in the Mt. Evans State Wildlife Area. Please note, public access to the wildlife area is prohibited from the day after Labor Day to June 14 the following year, except for hunting permit holders. Start the loop on Beaver Meadows Trail heading west where you’ll pass beaver ponds, two old camping shelters, and the chimney for the old Resthouse Cabin before intersecting with Cub Creek Trail. Turn left. Hike through the 2011/2012 blowdown area to the intersection with Beartrack Lakes Trail. Turn right and stay right again at the fork with Roosevelt Lakes Trail. The final section can be vague but the lake is close. There are several good camping spots (psst… the best spot is on a small hill above the SE corner of the lake).
For the hike out, follow your steps back to the Cub Creek Trail, turn right, and after a short distance, turn left at the second Beartrack Lakes/Cub Creek Trail intersection. The final stretch of the hike is barren but beautiful, lacks water, and can be quite hot as you pass through the Beartracks burn scar. As such, it is recommended to complete this loop counterclockwise starting with Beaver Meadows.
4. Upper Cataract Lake & Cat Lake – Surprise Trailhead, Silverthorne, CO | 1.75 Hours From Denver
Why it Made the List: great spot to basecamp with day excursions
Miles: 10.9 miles roundtrip
Elevation Gain: 2,153 feet net (2,593 feet roundtrip)
The Surprise Trailhead is a fantastic place to start a weekend adventure as there’s any number of options depending on how much you’re up for. You can basecamp at Surprise Lake, 2.9 miles up the Surprise Trail / Gore Range Trail. Then spend a day or two on side excursions to Tipperary Lake and Eaglesmere Lakes to the West on the Gore Range Trail and/or hike to Upper Cataract Lake, Cat Lake, and Mirror Lake to the Southwest on the Upper Cataract Trail. Or, just hang out and fish. You do you. If you’re looking for a bit more seclusion, hoof it all the way up to Cataract Lake at the base of Eagle’s Nest Peak (13,091’) or the quieter and more wooded Cat Lake.
Note: this area is affected by beetle kill and campfires are prohibited around the lakes.
????Crater Lake and Lone Eagle Peak.
5. Lone Eagle Peak & Crater Lake – Monarch Lake Trailhead, Granby, CO | 2.25 Hours From Denver
Why It Made The List: it’s the quintessential Colorado backpacking trip
Miles: 14.8 miles roundtrip
Elevation Gain: 1,983 feet net (2,507 feet roundtrip)
If there is a quintessential Colorado backpacking trip, you could definitely make the case for Lone Eagle Peak & Crater Lake being near the top of the list. This stunner starts at Monarch Lake and follows Buchanan Creek into the Indian Peaks Wilderness on the Arapahoe Pass Spur Trail. The Buchanan Creek / Cascade Creek Trail split around 3.5 miles is a great place to set up camp if you get a late start. At the split, go right and follow Cascade Creek where you will pass several waterfalls and a large meadow. If you time it right, the wildflowers on this stretch are incredible. Veer right at the next intersection and follow cairns to the switchbacks climbing to Mirror Lake. Pause here and take in the iconic view. There are several campsites along this smaller lake but if you continue there are more on either side of Crater Lake, a large bowl under Mount Achonee (12,469’) and Lone Eagle Peak (11,920’).
Please note: to backpack in Indian Peaks Wilderness June 1 through September 15, you must secure an overnight permit for the specific zone you will be camping in. Permits are extremely limited; submit your application early.
Designated campsites around the lake are also limited. Start your hike early.
About the Author & Photographer
Whitney P. Schuettpelz
Whitney is equal parts outdoor junkie, vegan foodie & designer of things with a passion for mountains, beets & architecture in no particular order. She can usually be found on Colorado’s sunny slopes with her dog Sloane, kiddo Kit, and partner-in-crime, Brent.