|Elevation Gain||2,096 feet|
|My Time||4 hr 7 min|
|Difficulty||Moderate to Hard|
|Food Nearby||Shaggy Sheep|
Fall Hike: Gibson Lake
Fall in Colorado is such a great time to hike but the trails do get very crowded. I enjoy the Kenosha Pass and Jefferson area and a spot that I found nearby was the Gibson Lake Trail near the Hall Valley campground. This is a steep hike to an alpine lake that has a ton of color in the Fall.
To get to the Gibson Lake Trailhead you will need to have a high clearance vehicle. The entry road is 5 miles of dirt road that you will probably need a moderate clearance vehicle as well. I do not have high clearance so I parked just outside of Hall Valley Campground and walked just under a mile and a half to the trailhead.
While I usually don’t like the hikes that I have to walk in on a road this one was a bit different. The entrance road is surrounded by aspen trees which make a beautiful canopy for the walk.
While the road isn’t too challenging it does have a grade between 7-11% throughout the nearly mile and a half journey. I really enjoyed this road especially on the backside of the hike. Be mindful of the off-road vehicles. A lot of dirt bikes and off-road vehicles were using the road and it is pretty narrow.
The Gibson Lake Trialhead
Once you make it up the road you will see the sign for the Gibson Lake Trailhead. There is a small parking area for those who can drive that far and the trailhead is just at the end of that parking area. The signpost says that the lake is 3 miles from that point.
The trail takes you into the forest and will be under tree cover for first half of the hike. After descending a bit and crossing a small stream (via bridge) it is time for the hard part of the hike to begin.
After the stream crossing the hike starts up the side of a hill and doesn’t really stop going up. The first eight-tenths of a mile after the stream are the hardest. You will gain 800 feet of elevation in that short time. The grades will be between 15-25% but rarely drop below the 15%. The trail also gets really rocky with a mix between big embedded rocks and small loose pebbles. This section also has one of the best views that I almost missed!
About halfway up this first hill off to the side is this amazing view down the valley. You can find it by looking for the giant boulder on the side of the trail. In the fall there are pockets of golden trees mixed in with the evergreens and it really is a stunning sight. We spent a good amount of time looking down this way. It was almost like looking at a painting it was so perfect.
About a mile from the bridge you will get above 11,000 feet and the trees will retreat and you will find yourself under open sky. The trail also flattens out a bit when you get into the open. While there are spots that hit a 20% grade in this open area, the majority of this topside hike sits in the 7-12% grade. But it is a very consistent grade that is always uphill.
The consistent uphill of this high country section of the hike, paired with the steep rocky sections below really had my legs burnt out. Luckily for all the small rest breaks I took up here the views just got better and better.
The golden trees were gone but they were replaced by the beautiful bushes that I like to call “Ow stop sticking me’s” (scientific name?) although I believe them to actually be willow bushes. The leaves on these bushes turn to a muted yellow that seems to turn the entire area to a golden meadow.
After about a mile and a half of this open air hiking you will come to the lake. This is one of those hikes where the end might not be the best part so make sure to take some time to appreciate this section as it has some of the best views of the hike!
Gibson Lake itself is a smallish lake surrounded by a mountain bowl which includes Whale Peak. Whale peak sits over 13000 feet and can be accessed by continuing on from the lake. I did not hike to that peak because it seemed really high up and I am a bit lazy. Instead I chose to enjoy some time at the lake.
The lake was nice albeit small. Since I was visiting late in the year it could have just been down due how dry it has been. There were plenty of rocks around the lake to sit on and enjoy the view for a bit. The big negative was that it was really windy by the lake. The wind seemed limited to around the lake as I didn’t really feel it for most of the hike until the very end. I also read some other reviews of the hike and they all said it was windy at the lake as well.
Despite the wind the lake was still crystal clear like most of these alpine lakes are and there were some good sized fish that were active in the lake for those of you looking to cast a line.
The wind blew away my ballcap and almost blew away my much slimmer hiking partner like a kite. So we decided not to spend too much time up there and made our way back down. It was a lovely trip up to the lake though.
The Descent from Gibson Lake
One thing to keep in mind is that the terrain made for a challenging descent down from this hike. Usually the return hike is much easier with gravity assist but the rocky terrain, loose dirt and overall steep trail it made footing a challenge. I mention it so you can keep in mind it might take just as long coming down as it took going up!
While I really enjoyed this hike I am not sure that I would have enjoyed it as much if it weren’t for the Fall colors. This trail was littered with aspens and willows all over that made it almost glow in the golden shades of Fall.
It seemed that every hundred yards there were amazing colors to stop and enjoy. Gibson Lake itself wasn’t my favorite alpine lake that I have been to but this hike, this time of year was pretty amazing.
If you are looking to do this as a stand alone hike I would really suggest you try to do it around the end of September when the leaves are really around their peak. Also there are a ton of campsites around the area so if you are a camper this would be a lovely place to stay in the fall. Be warned though, it was 28 degrees when I started the hike and upper 60s when it ended so might make for some chilly nights!
And my last thought on hiking in the Fall is this. The sun plays a big part on the beauty of the Fall colors. I only say this as an excuse to use this picture I took in the morning just as I pulled up to the trail. The sun was sneaking through the trees and I just love the picture and wanted an excuse to use it. Make sure to check the gallery below for more Fall color pictures. Enjoy!
Video of the Gibson Lake Hike
I have put together a couple of videos of this hike. The first hike here is a shorter narrative version of the hike:
This second hike is a time-lapsed version of the Gibson Lake hike that I like to call my “Hikers Edit”. If you enjoy these hikes please subscribe to my YouTube channel. It is free to subscribe and you will get notified any time I have a new video available.
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 8.1 miles and had a total elevation gain of about 2,096 feet including undulations. That put the high point at around 11,874 feet. I was also moving for a total of 4 hours and 7 minutes.
This hike was much more challenging than I thought it would be. It started with the walk on the road that wasn’t too bad but the first section in the woods gets really steep and rocky and gives the legs a good workout. As you get closer to the lake it gets less steep but more consistent in the grade. I found the end tough because my legs were so tired from earlier inclines.
Overall the Gibson Lake Trail is pretty rocky and steep. The road to begin is rocky and pot-holed but not too bad to walk on. The trail seems like an old creek bed with a lot of loose gravel and dirt mixed in with big embedded rocks. This is one of those trails that takes just as long coming back down due to the loose and rocky terrain.
If you are looking for a fall hike, Gibson Lake might be a great option but it is a bit easier if you have a four wheel drive vehicle. If you have two wheel it might be a bit of a challenge. You will need a little bit of ground clearance such as a crossover or small SUV for the first dirt road.
To get to the trail you will take Park County Road 60 for 5 miles from 285. This is a dirt road that is in pretty good shape for the first 3 miles and gets bumpy and pot holed for the last 2 miles. At the 5 mile mark there is a small parking section next to signs telling you that high clearance vehicles only from that part forward. This parking section is near the Hall Valley Campground. I wouldn’t recommend trying to go any further without the proper vehicle, but if you have 4wd there is a parking area at the trailhead for about 6 cars. There is no restroom facilities at the trailhead.
Wrapping up the Fall Hike: Gibson Lake
I am little mixed on the hike to Gibson Lake. I think that as an overall hike I would rate it as above average. I liked the hike through the trees although it was definitely a challenge. The views on the high country were spectacular and that would score high points for me. The lake was a little disappointing but that may just be because I have been to so many alpine lakes lately and others may enjoy it.
Now if I am rating this hike as a Fall hike I would rate this as a 10/10. The trail and surrounding areas are absolutely stunning in the fall with the aspens and willows turning their shades of gold and yellow. Doing this hike in the fall really made the difference from being an above average hike to being an amazing hike!
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