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Harvard Lakes San Isabel National Forest

Distance5.5 mi
Elevation Gain1,522 ft
My Time2 hr 53 min
Closest TownBuena Vista
Food NearbyHouse Rock Kitchen

Harvard Lakes in the San Isabel National Forest

My first trip to the Buena Vista area led me to the Harvard Lakes hike in the San Isabel National Forest. This was a nice shorter hike with a stream, two alpine lakes, and even connects with the Colorado Trail but it does get a bit steep.

Getting Started

The beginning of the hike is nice and simple. It starts with a walk up a service road that is easy to navigate. The road does have a bit of an incline to it so make sure you pace yourself. One of the best part of this section of the hike is that it is pretty open. While surrounded by trees, you will still have the open views of the surrounding peaks.

A view of the snow capped peaks in the San Isabel National Forest from the Harvard Lakes hike

This initial hike up the road lasts for about a mile and stays to a consistent 10% grade until it intersects with the 3 Elk Trail that leads to the Harvard Lakes.

3 Elk Trail

The 3 Elk Trail takes you to the south and into a deeper wooded area. The trail is still in pretty good shape at this point and is mostly packed dirt. This is also the flattest section of the trail. You will have about a half mile of flat path and cross over a stream.

A flatter section of the Harvard Lakes trail that leads through the San Isabel National Forest.  The thin, tall trees are on either side of the narrow trail.

After the very enjoyable flat section of the trail it will be time to start an incline again. The next incline gets a bit tricky. It is walking up a dried up river bed with a lot of loose rocks that make it very slick. It is also gets steep and will be around a 20% incline for the next mile and a quarter.

The saving grace to this section of the trial for me was the running stream. It was early summer and the snow melt was in full effect. I got a little fancy with my camera work on one of the streams.

Towards the top of this hill the trail does get a little hard to follow. I think the stream may have been too high but I found myself dodging between trees on the waters edge to try to make it to the lakes.

Harvard Lakes

The top of the hill connects you for a brief time with the Colorado Trail. The section on the trial flattens out and will even descend a bit as it curls back to the south. There are two lakes that you will come to. The first, or upper, Harvard lake is a smaller lake with a great view of the mountains.

The view from the Upper Harvard Lakes with a small lake at the base of a tree lined mountain in the distance.  This part of the hike is on the Colorado Trail and in the San Isabel Forest

Further down the trail leads to the lower Harvard lake. This one is more of a self contained lake surrounded by woods. I also saw quite a few good sized fish in it for those anglers out there.

The lower of the two Harvard Lakes under blue skies.  The lake is reflecting the blue of the sky and the water is also very blue.  The lake is surrounded by thin pine trees and is part of the San Isabel National Forest.

Overall this is a really nice hike to twin alpine lakes. It is short and steep but if you are looking for a chance to see some lakes above ten thousand feet it is a good hike for it!


I made a couple of videos for you on this one. This first one is a short narrative recap of the hike.

This video is a long form time lapsed version of the hike so you can see the terrain and trail conditions and what the entire hike is like.

If you are interested in more videos of my hiking adventures make sure to subscribe to my YouTube channel. It is free and will alert you anytime a new video gets posted.

Distance and Elevation

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 5.55 miles and had a total elevation gain of about 1,522 feet including undulations. That put the high point at around 10,258 feet. I was also moving for a total of 2 hours and 53 minutes.

I am a Pro member of Alltrails and love it. If you are interested in the platform, please consider using my affiliate link for AllTrails. It gives me a small commission with no extra cost to you.


This one surprised me a bit with how challenging it was. It looked like a pretty straight forward hike but ended up having some really steep sections on some loose rock terrain that made the going slow. While the hike isn’t too long the elevation gain and rough terrain definitely puts it in the moderate category for me.


The trail starts off really nice and wide. The start is up a service road with a bit of an incline but not too bad. That moves into a rocky trail through the woods. There are then two sections that are like walking up dried river beds with a bunch of loose rock. I highly recommend hiking boots with some ankle support and good traction. Hiking poles will also help with the loose rock especially on the descent.


The Harvard Lakes trailhead is located on CO-365 on the outskirts of Buena Vista in Chaffee County. There is a small parking area that fights about 10 cars. There are no restroom facilities at the trail head.

Wrapping up Harvard Lakes in San Isabel National Forest

The Harvard Lakes Hike in the San Isabel National Forest was a great way to take my first hikes in the Buena Vista Area. The hike is beautiful with surrounding mountains and forests and even gives you a short trip on the Colorado Trail.

The hike can get a bit challenging at times with the terrain. The steep dried river bed was tough going up but got a bit worse on the way down. The rocks were very loose and slippery and on the incline they made footing a bit slippy. But if you take your time you should be ok. Poles would really help to keep from sliding.

Overall a great hike to two alpine lakes above 10k feet!

I have added this hike and all of my hikes to my interactive map page that you can find here. If you have a suggestion or comment you can email me at or follow me on any of the below social media platforms. Happy Hiking!

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