Chicago Lakes via Echo lake

Distance11.26 mi
Elevation Gain2400 feet
My Time5 hr 32 min
DifficultyHard
Nearest TownIdaho Springs
Food NearbyEcho Lake Lodge

Just when I thought I had this hiking thing figured out I tried out out the Chicago Lakes hike in the Mt. Evans Wilderness. Final Score Mt. Evans 6, Fatman 2. The Chicago Lakes hike can be accessed on the road to Mt. Evans, which is currently closed, and circles around Echo lake before truly starting. This is another longer hike so I will break it down in section.

Echo Lake to reservoir section

To start, Echo Lake is gorgeous. It sits at 10, 600 feet and this morning it was quiet and calm with a few people fishing on it. On the return it had become much busier but at 7 am it was pretty magical. Even the ducks were enjoying it.

The walk around Echo Lake is easy enough. You are walking through the forest for most of it with that soft wooded trail feel to it. As you start to walk away from the lake the trail will get a little more rocky and you will see another sign for the Chicago Lakes Trail. Soon after this you will find yourself on a rocky and sandy ledge that is between about 18 – 40 inches wide. Now I know hiking and a fear of heights is not the best combination to have but this ledge had my anxiety up to about a 9.5. I would estimate the drop off next to the ledge is in the 70 degree angle and rough estimate of 40 to 4 million feet. At least it felt like 4 million. Here is the ledge you will need to walk on.

The ledge that you will be walking on after you leave Echo Lake on your way to the Chicago Lakes.

Once you clear the ledge you actually start going downhill. I know it was amazing that you can actually start a hike without an immediate incline. You will switchback your way down about 400 from the elevation at the start of the hike and you will cross a small stream. Luckily there is a makeshift bridge.

A makeshift bridge over a stream that you need to cross.

After the bridge the hike gets a little boring. You will need to walk on a service road for about a mile until you get to the reservoir. The road is relatively steep and you will gain back about 300 of the feet you descended but without the switchbacks. I was huffing and puffing at this point and had to stop a couple of times going up the road. The reservoir has some very specific fishing rules but I saw a few fish up by the shore (pics in gallery) and it looked like it might be a fun place to fish. You will continue down a flat section of the road, past a couple of cabins to the entrance of the Mt. Evans Wilderness.

Mt. Evans Wilderness

Here is where it gets a little more real. As soon as you get to the wilderness entrance the trail gets rocky and steep. You will incline 660 feet in the next mile. The good thing about this section of trail is that it is rocky but there aren’t a lot of loose rocks. You will have to step up on some rocks and climb over some tree roots throughout the whole mile which makes the going slow but if you look up from your feet for a second there are some great views.

View from the trail once entering the Mt. Evans Wilderness

After the first mile of really steep the trail levels off a little bit and gets a bit more muddy. it will take another mile to get to the first lake and you only gain about 400 feet of elevation during that mile so it isn’t really that bad to get to the first lake.

The Lakes

Here is where Mt. Evans Wilderness scored its first point against me. The trail gets really muddy around the lakes. Most places there are rocks in the mud that you can try to step on to traverse without having to slosh through the mud. In one of such places I missed a rock and dropped about mid shin deep into the mud. I was about a second away from losing my shoe but the mud finally relented and released my footwear. During some of the few dry sections of the trail around the lakes you will have to walk over some large boulders. Which is typically easy enough, except when your shoes have had a visit with the mud monster. My foot slipped maybe 2 inches on a boulder and slid right into another boulder. I didn’t know you could bruise all 326 bones in the ankle at the same time but it happened. Anyone who doesn’t believe there are 326 bones to bruise in the ankle obviously have never accidentally kicked a boulder. Second point for Mt. Evan Wilderness.

The lower lake is pretty amazing though and worth the mud and bruising. There are some smaller trails that lead you down towards the water.

Lower Chicago lake

The lower lake is a good place to rest and recharge for a little bit and to get some food. After slogging though the mud my legs were pretty worn down and I needed to get some beef jerky and just took in the moment.

Next it is time to get back to the main trail and head to the upper lake. Good news and bad news on the trail to the upper lake. Good news, its not muddy. Bad news, it is steep and as close to “scrambling” that I am comfortable doing with a bad arm. While I never had to use my arms, there are a lot of stepping over rocks on steep terrain and you should really take your time. From the lower lake to the upper lake you will need to ascend 300 feet in only a third of a mile. That tells you how steep it is. The upper lake is pretty nice too.

Upper Chicago lake with a snowy mountain in the background

At the top there were a bunch of these little rodents that looked like a squirrel mated with a snub tailed beaver. Not sure what they were, possibly marmots, but the chubby fella’s were rather quick when I tried to get a picture but they might be spirit animal now. At the top, I actually had to take another break after the steep incline. The trail continues on to a third lake but weather started to look a little nasty, or at least I’ll use that as my excuse and I called it there and headed down.

Finishing up

Finishing isn’t too bad as you head down the hill. Since there wasn’t much loose rock on the trail you can make good progress after the mud. That is until you remember that amazing descent you had to start the trail. 4 more points for Mt. Evans Wilderness. Those 400 feet of incline at the end are just brutal after a long hike. One thing to remember is make sure you have enough water. It was a hot day but the extra elevation got me thirsty and I almost finished my entire 3 liter water bladder before remembering the last incline.

Then comes the narrow ledge. It was one thing to be scared of heights and walk that ledge to start the hike but with some wobbly legs my anxiety peaked at 11. I did see a lady who had actually stepped off the ledge a bit and was kind of stuck getting herself back up. As I walked over to help, She got up on the ledge and we sat down on the rocks and talked a few minutes and she said that she had some pretty intense vision problems but wanted to try. We agreed to head back to some safer ground and I walked her out to where her husband was. Turns out they are from Illinois just like me. (GO CUBS).

Here are the stats from today’s hike before the gallery.

Elevation and Distance

If you don’t have the AllTrails app you might want to check it out, I really love mine. It records your progress and is a great way to search for hikes that are nearby and gives you difficulty measurements. According to AllTrails today’s hike was around 11.26 miles and had a total elevation gain of over 2400 feet including undulations. That put the high point at just under 12,000 feet at 11, 868. I was also moving for a total of 5 hours and 32 minutes.

Effort

This one was tough. I know people on Alltrails say that it isn’t too bad but I found the elevation gains to be steep and walking through mud just takes extra effort. It could also have been that I did a pretty strenuous hike just 2 days before. Here are today’s stats from Fitbit.com

Stats from Fitbit.com from todays hike. Just over 28,000 steps.

Terrain

I don’t know that you could do this trail without a good pair of waterproof hiking shoes or boots. While the start is soft forest floor you will also need to walk over rocks and through mud and on some very rocky trails.

Access

To get to the Echo Lake park where I parked, take exit 240 for Mt. Evans in Idaho Springs. Drive like you are going to take the MT. Evans road (which is closed) and park in the lot there. There are some restrooms at the entrance to the campground that is a short walk away from the parking lot.

Wrap up

While this was a challenging hike it was also very beautiful. The terrain changes and certain people will do better in certain areas. The upper lake will be tough for a lot of people. The lower lake is more possible for hikers with a moderate skill level. I am adding a couple of videos from today to the zen page for your viewing pleasure. Also, I have added an interactive map for you to see what hikes or restaurants may be close. You can find the map here.

If you have a suggestion for a hike that you would like me to try, feel free to email me at fatmanlittletrails@gmail.com or you can follow me on the below social media platforms.

 

After the hike I was lucky and there was a restaurant right next to where I parked. I tried the Echo Lake Lodge and more importantly the apple pie!

2 thoughts on “Chicago Lakes via Echo lake”

  1. Sounds like a good hike!! One of my favorites, but it’s been a while since I have been up there. Thanks for the great pics!!
    Trivia: Marmots are also called Whistle Pigs, as they whistle to warn their buddies of danger…Henry Austin.

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