Timberline Lake Trail

Distance6.52 mi
Elevation Gain968 ft
My Time3 hr 5 min
DifficultyModerate
Closest TownLeadville
Food NearbySilver Llama

Timberline Lake Trail

The Timberline Lake Trail is a moderate trail with a couple of steep spots on the way to a beautiful alpine lake in the Holy Cross Wilderness just outside of Leadville, Colorado.

Getting Started

The hike to the Timberline Lake starts at a small trailhead in the Turquoise Lake recreation area. The trail quickly makes its way into the woods and near a small stream. The trail gets a bit rocky and begins to be a little steep right off the bat. A small hill that lasts about a tenth of a mile with have a 10% grade in elevation before flattening out. You will also come to a junction with the Colorado Trail and enter the Holy Cross Wilderness in this short start to the hike.

The Holy Cross Wilderness sign near the start of the Timberline Lake Trail
The Holy Cross Wilderness sign from the Timberline Lake Trail

The Nature Walk

The next mile and a half of the hike to Timberline Lake flattens out and is a really enjoyable walk. Half in the woods and half in the open the trail alternates between open views and the comfort of of the woods. This section of the trail is a little unremarkable and my main complaint is that in the distance you can see a run of powerlines which makes you feel a little too connected to the real world. I still enjoyed the views and the small 5% grades of this section.

In the middle section of the Timberline Lake trail you get some views in the open of hills covered with trees and evergreens all around.
The views in the open areas of the Timberline Lake Trail

You will also have a small stream crossing in this middle section but nothing that is too challenging. It is good to take it easy here as the trail is about to get really steep before you make it to the lake.

The Incline

Well after enjoying the nature walk it is time to earn those views of the alpine lake. The next six-tenths of a mile of the hike really get the blood flowing. You will gain about 320 feet in elevation in just over a half mile that has a pretty consistent incline of 19%.

The trail snaking its way between the trees and up a hill from the Timberline Lake Trail.
The start of the steep section of the Timberline Lake Trail

The trail gets to be very rocky and the dirt gets a bit slick on this steep hill and I found that staying to the left while going up seemed to work the best. The good news is that it doesn’t last very long, the bad news is that depends on how fast you can get it done!

The Timberline Lake Trail getting extra rocky and steep as the lake grows near.
The steepest rocky section of the Timberline Lake Trail. Its best on the left!

Timberline Lake

After the big incline it is only a few more steps to the reward for all of your hard work! I have seen a lot of alpine lakes and Timberline Lake is one of my absolute favorites.

The view of Timberline Lake as you first approach it from the trail.  The trail is surrounded by mountains with rocky tops and pine trees about 2/3 of the way up.
Timberline Lake

One of the main reason’s that I like the lake is because of how big it is. Some of the alpine lakes aren’t much bigger than a pond but I was able to walk the entire perimiter of Timberline Lake and it measured in at an impressive mile and half.

The other reason I liked the lake is that you can actually walk all the way around it! So many of the lakes that I see have a small area that is available to sit at and paired with the amount of people that want to be in that area they can feel a little cramped. Timberline had a trail around the entire lake so you could get different perspectives and there were several spots by the water for people to relax around.

The view of timberline Lake from a half mile down the path.  The lake stretches to the edge of frame where it meets some evergreen lined small hills.
Timberline Lake

My last reason for really enjoying the lake was that the water was crystal clear and I could see several trout in the water. Matched with the ability to have my own spot without being crowded really made this one of the most enjoyable high altitude lakes I have been too.

A trout in the crystal clear waters of Timberline Lake.
A Cutthroat Trout in the Clear water of Timberline Lake

There was also a stream on either side of the lake, one feeding and one draining, which gave walking around the lake another nice view and feature to enjoy.

A small stream coming from Timberline Lake and flowing along a rocky bank.
A small stream coming from Timberline Lake

Overall a wonderful hike. Not too long but not too short, not too easy but not constantly hard, and at the end a beautiful lake with plenty of space to spread out and enjoy!

Video

I have put together a couple of videos of the Timberline Lake Trail for your viewing enjoyment. This first video is a shorter narrative version of the hike:

This next video is what a like to call my “Hikers Edit”. It is a time-lapsed version of the hike so you can get a feel for the trail. If you like these videos make sure you like and subscribe to my YouTube Channel. It is free and you will get all of the latest video updates.

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 6.52 miles and had a total elevation gain of about 968 feet including undulations. That put the high point at around 10,883 feet. I was also moving for a total of 3 hours and 5 minutes.

Effort

The beginning of the hike gets a little steep and rocky. The center portion is pretty flat and easy to handle but then there is a very steep section before the lake. The section before the lake is steep and rocky and I went very slow. Once you get past that the lake is mostly flat and the trail extends all the way around and is much easier at that point.

Terrain

The trail to Timberline Lake is very well defined but it does have sections that are really rocky. The start of the hike and section before the lake are the rockiest and steepest parts. I walked all the way around the lake and it had very different terrains. From dirt path, to boulders to climb on and swampy soft ground, you can expect a little of everything around the lake depending on season. I suggest a good pair of hiking shoes with good grip. Also, waterproof footwear might be helpful around the lake.

Access

The Timberline Lake Trail is part of the Turquoise Lake recreation area. If you follow Turquoise Lake road all the way around the lake and towards the back of the rec area you will find forest road 104E and the trailhead. There is parking for about 8 cars at the trailhead and no restroom facilities.

Wrapping up the Timberline Lake Trail

The Timberline Lake trail is a really enjoyable hike. It was my first time in the Holy Cross wilderness and anytime you see a new wilderness sign is fun. The hike is relatively short to get to the lake and the lake is one of my favorites I have been to.

Because the hike is short doesn’t mean it is easy though. The section right before the lake is pretty steep and will make you work for it. There is so much shoreline around the lake that accesible though it makes it worth it. I was able to walk all the way around the lake and find my favorite spots. It was one of the most enjoyable hikes to an alpine lake I have done in awhile. If you can manage the hills, I think you will enjoy it too!

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 fatmanlittletrails@gmail.com or follow me on any of the below social media platforms. Happy Hiking!

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