|Elevation Gain||1,926 ft|
|My Time||4 hr 36 min|
|Closest Town||Buena Vista|
|Food Nearby||Casa Sanchez|
My latest trip to the San Isabel National Forest in the Buena Vista area took me up to Kroenke Lake in the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness. This is a longer hike through the woods that I really enjoyed.
The start of the hike is located at the North Cottonwood Creek Trailhead. This trailhead can also be used to make it to popular 14ers Mt. Harvard and Mt. Columbia so it is pretty busy. If you make it down the 3 miles of pot holed dirt road and found parking you have already won half of the battle.
The beginning of the trail is actually really nice. After a bit of a walk through the woods you will come to a section that walks right next to North Cottonwood creek for about a half mile which is really cool.
Following the river is about a mile long hike through some moderately thick forest. The trail is mostly in the woods from this lower section with just a few areas clear enough to see the surrounding peaks. At the end of this mile long section is when you come to the junction with the Horn Fork Basin Trail. The Horn Fork is the trail that will lead to Harvard and Columbia and my only chances at the Ivy Leagues.
Stay on the Kroenke Lake trail to the left to end at the lake. See I could figure that out so maybe I have a chance at the Ivy Leagues yet!
Kroenke Lake Trail
From the junction to the lake is the longest portion of the trail. It will take you about three miles from that point to make it to the finish line. This second section of the trail is also a little bit more steep than the first half.
While the trail has close to two thousand feet of elevation gain it is stretched for the four and half miles to the lake so none of it gets overwhelming. Expect a consistent incline of about 10% for this second half of the hike. It is one of those subtle inclines that you don’t really notice until all of a sudden your legs and lungs are burning in unison!
The one thing you will run into is some fun stream crossings. If you aren’t a fan of walking on the balance log bridge this might not be the hike for you!
The long stretch does stay mostly wooded but there are some sections in which the woods clear enough to give you some really nice views of the surrounding peaks.
Most of this hike though is in pretty thick woods. One other thing to keep in mind is that depending on the weather there could be different conditions. I hiked after a weekend of rain and that led to some mud and a lot of standing water on the trail. Which in turn, led to a bunch of mosquito’s and all sorts of other bugs. This is the first time I had to reapply bug spray before sunscreen on a hike!
As you get to the top of the hike the trees will start to clear out and be replaced with the small angry bushes that always seem to grab my ankles and try to trip me. This also opens the alpine area’s up to some amazing flowers….
Just past the four and a half mile mark you will come to the lake. The lake is one of the cooler ones I have seen in the Colorado high country for a couple of reasons. There are plenty of fish that are in the lake. These were swimming all over and more importantly jumping and catching the swarms of insects.
The lake is also pretty big. There was plenty of room to walk around and find a spot to enjoy. The only downside to this is that there are a lot of trees on the southern side of the lake by the trail. So not all of the views are perfect.
And finally the lake actually has an island. I have seen enough of these lakes to know that the islands, while not totally rare, are uncommon enough to still be very cool!
Above and Beyond
Now the lake is a great place to stop but if you feel like going the extra mile (I of course go the extra mile for my readers) then you can continue down the trail. The trail will climb the hill to the west of the lake and allow for some pretty great views of the area. I will warn you that this is about the steepest section of the entire hike and it is optional.
While the views are pretty impressive from up here there isn’t much to keep you comfortable. The trail above the lake is narrow and there is no real good place to stop to take the view in. Mostly it is just a nice place to take a cool picture.
What a nice little hike to a wonderful alpine lake.
Here is a narrative video of the hike that I have put together. If you enjoy this video, please like and subscribe on YouTube. It is free and you will get updates anytime I post a new video.
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 9.9 miles and had a total elevation gain of about 1,926 feet including undulations. That put the high point at around 11,773 feet. I was also moving for a total of 4 hours and 36 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.
The trail to Kroenke lake is a long and mostly steady hike through the forest. While the incline never gets above 20% it stays consistently in the teens throughout the hike. There are plenty of places in the woods to stop and catch your breath as well. I won’t call it an easy hike because it is long and does have about 2000 feet of elevation change but nothing overwhelming.
The terrain at Kroenke lake is a bit weather dependent but for the most part it is very easily managed. There are wide well established trails that follow the river on the lower section and traverse through the forest in the upper section. After a weekend of rains, there was a few spots of standing water and mud on the trail when I did the hike but nothing that got to the point of technically challenging. I would suggest a good pair of waterproof boots or shoes for this hike.
The start of the Kroenke lake hike is at the North Cottonwood Creek Trailhead. This is a very popular trailhead as it also includes trails to the Mt. Harvard and Columbia hikes. The trailhead is located down an OK dirt road. It is pretty potholed but fine for 4wd and if you have a 2wd with decent clearance you should be ok. The forest road begins where County Road 365 runs out and is about 3 miles long. There is no restroom at the trailhead and there is parking for about 20 cars.
Wrapping up the Kroenke Lake hike
I really enjoyed my trip to Kroenke lake. While it is a bit longer than the to some at around ten miles roundtrip, the elevation is spread out so you aren’t getting it all at once. Be careful for that sneaky incline on the back half though!
The views at the end are really lovely and there are some places to camp around the lake for those campers out there. The forest is pretty thick around the lower sections which makes for some limited views. The walk by the creek is also lovely. I would suggest this hike but keep in mind that it gets very busy because of the 14ers so pick your days accordingly.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or follow me on any of the below social media platforms. Happy Hiking!
You’ve recently been hiking a lot of the trails that are on my to-do list and I’ve been enjoying the overviews of these hikes. Thanks!
They have been some really fun ones lately so I highly recommend them! Glad you are enjoying the them!
Thank you for this super informative and fun read! We are backpacking Kroenke this weekend and this was really helpful. 😊
Thank you so much Ashley! Have a great backpacking trip!