Colorado Fall Hike: Abyss trail to Helms Lake

Distance13.2 mi*
Elevation Gain2450 ft*
Estimates, my phone died and lost recording
My Time6 hrs 4 min*
DifficultyHard to Moderate
Estimate, my phone died and lost recording
Closest TownGrant
Food NearbyShaggy Sheep

Colorado Fall Hike: Abyss trail to Helms Lake

The Abyss Trail to Helms Lake is a very popular trail that continues on to Abyss lake. While this is a popular hike all year long it is especially busy in the fall when the Colorado Fall Colors are at their peaks.

Getting Started

The fall drive to the Abyss trailhead on Guanella Pass is full of beautiful fall colors and is really enjoyable until you try to find a parking place at the trail. This is a very popular trail for a Colorado Fall hike and it fills up fast but if you can find a spot getting started on the hike is pretty easy. The trail starts off a little rocky but soon becomes an easier walk through the woods.

Green Pines surround the rocky trail on an early section of the Abyss Trail to Helms Lake on a nice Colorado Fall Hike
Early rocky sections of the Abyss Trail to Helms Lake

The First Third

The first section of the Abyss trail was surprisingly flat and easy to handle. (After the rocky start I thought this was going to be one of those brutal trails!) But I really enjoyed the first few miles of this hike.

A couple of yellow leaves mix with the green on an early section of the Abyss Trail to Helms Lake as part of a nice Colorado Fall Hike.
Some Sporadic Fall Color Early on the Abyss Trail to Helms Lake

If you are hiking in the fall you will find a scattering of aspens among the pines that act like blond highlights or frosted tips.

What I refer to as the first third of the hike is actually about 2.3 miles and the grade only gets into the double digits a few times during the rocky start. This is really one of the nicest forest walks I have been on. The trail is wide and really well maintained. There is a creek off to the side so you get to enjoy the sounds of some water while taking a really relaxing walk. I loved this section! It had some of the most color I have seen on a Colorado Fall Hike.

The first third ends when you come to the creek and have your first real creek crossing. This creek crossing is accomplished via twin logs that are very sturdy. The views around the creek are when this hike really becomes a spectacular fall hike.

At the creek bank the trees on the side of the closest hill is yellow with fall colors on the Abyss trail to Helms Lake as part of a nice Colorado Fall Hike
A hill of yellow with Mount Evans in the background on the Abyss Trail to Helms Lake

From the creekside you can see down to Mount Evans and the start of the golden hills that will be with you for awhile.

The Fall Third

The next third of the hike isn’t exactly a third either but it is the most impressive for those looking for fall colors. This third lasts from the first creek crossing to the second creek crossing and lasts for roughly a mile. This is one of the best mile long stretches I have found in my search for fall colors.

The sun is peaking through the top of a small grove of aspens leading to the entire grove looking to glow gold on the Abyss Trail to Helms Lake. Some of the great colors on a nice Colorado Fall Hike.
A small grove of Aspens glowing in the morning sun on the Abyss Trail to Helms Lake

A majority of the trees that you will walk next to and under on this third are aspens with golden leaves. The trail also stays mostly flat so you can keep your focus on the amazing views and not as much on where you are walking.

On the side you are walking the trees are nice and close but if you look back across the creek you can see that the mountainside is also steeped in gold.

The entire hillside is glowing yellow and gold on the Abyss trial to Helms Lake. A staple Colorado Fall hike.
A yellow side of a hill on the Abyss Trail to Helms Lake

Follow the Yellow Leaf Trail

While this stretch is only about a mile I think it took me just as long as the first section that was twice as long because of all the time I spent looking at the amazing fall colors. This second part ends with a walk through a grove that completely envelops you and was truly a magical fall moment.

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This final grove leads directly back up to the creek bank again. This time the crossing point is a bit sketchy! It is two logs again to get across the creek but they are a bit higher up and much thinner logs. They bent a bit as I crossed them. On the way back I decided to just wade across the creek instead!

Two very thin and narrow pieces of wood stretch across a gap at the creek on the Abyss trail to Helms Lake
The very thin and sketchy bridge on the Abyss Trail to Helms Lake

Make sure to check out the gallery at the bottom of this page for more pictures of this second section and fall pictures from the whole hike.

The Never-Ending third

If you are just looking for fall colors I suggest that you stop before the sketchy bridge. This next section gets really steep and seems to go on for ever! As soon as you cross the sketchy bridge the trail goes from nice and flat to steep and rocky. The next 3 miles will have grades that consistently in the 15-20% and you will gain 1400 feet of elevation in those 3 miles.

There is a small grove of Aspens right when you crossthe creek but then most of the fall viewing is looking back at where you came from.

A hillside is covered with a large patch of yellow leaves. In the background snow capped mountains can be seen from the Abyss trail to Helms Lake
A look back down the gulch with golden hills on the Abyss Trail to Helms Lake

The last third has a couple of large hills. The first one is the one right past the creek and then you will come to a small flatter area where the trail will intersect with the Rosalie trail. Then you will have what I thought was the steepest hill. The steep hill is a mile long and 500 feet of elevation gain. The good news is that the views from the hill are really nice and there is another small grove of aspens on the side of it.

A small patch of bright yellow trees on the side of a hill next to the narrow trail on the Abyss Trail to Helms Lake, a colorful Colorado Fall Hike.
A small patch of bright yellow trees on the Abyss Trail to Helms Lake

Once you clear the hill it feels like you should be at the lake but it is still a mile away! The mile between the hill and the lake is a little more moderate on the incline but still makes you work for every step. It is also in the open so you have some expansive views back down the valley.

Evergreens and an open hill are all that is around near the top of the Abyss Trial to Helms Lake, a fun Colorado Fall Hike.
A look back towards the trailhead on the Abyss Trail to Helms Lake

Yep, It’s Still Going

After one last small creek crossing you will be in the home stretch and will start to see the wall of rock that surrounds Helms Lake.

Across a field and patch of evergreens giant cliffs of grey rock reach for the sky on the Abyss Trail to Helms Lake, a fun Colorado Fall Hike.
The ring of cliffs that surround Helms Lake on the Abyss Trail

Helms Lake

Helms lake is a beautiful high altitude lake surrounded by steep cliffs. Being so late in the season when I went the lake was running a bit low but still a pretty special sight.

Helms lake, which is low to expose several rocks, sits up against some rock cliffs on the Abyss Trail, a fun Colorado Fall Hike.
Helms Lake, down a bit late in the season, sits at the base of rock walls.

I was lucky enough to have a low wind day and the water was nice and calm. From the lake the trail does continue on to Abyss Lake about another two and a half miles along. I did not have it in me to make it that one and instead spent some time enjoying Helms before retreating back down the way I came.

Videos

I have put together a couple of videos for the hike on the Abyss trail to Helms Lake. This first one is a shorter narrative version of the hike.

This next one is a raw time-lapsed version of the hike that I like to call the Hikers Edit. It is for people who want to see the whole hike and what the trail looks like. If you enjoy these videos make sure you subscribe to my YouTube channel. It is free to subscribe and you will get notifications when the new content is available.

Distance and Elevation

* Since my phone died on this hike I didn’t get an accurate recording on the distance and elevation and am using estimates. I do know that I checked and at the lake I was at 6.6 miles and my watch recorded me walking for 6 hours and 4 minutes. Also, the map I am using is the generic map from Alltrails and not my recording this time because I had the issue with the recording. I will do better next time.

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 13.2 miles and had a total elevation gain of about 2400 feet including undulations. That put the high point at around 11,815 feet. I was also moving for a total of 6 hours and 4 minutes.

Effort

The beginning and first 3-4 miles of the hike aren’t overwhelmingly steep. There are some steep sections but you can make it to the good fall colors without much of a challenge. The terrain is a bit rocky which makes for some extra caution with where you put your steps. Once you cross the creek for the second time the trail gets really steep and challenging. There are several steep sections on the second half of the hike especially as you get closer to the lake.

Terrain

The trail starts with a really rocky terrain and then the terrain gets rocky again as you get onto the second half of the hike. The section in the middle that leads up to the good fall colors is a wide dirt trail with plenty of space. It is well defined and easy to follow. There are also several creek crossings on the hike so some waterproof boots would be helpful. As you get into the second half the hike gets rocky and steep so boots with a good grip are also recommended.

Access

The Abyss Trailhead is on a section of Guanella pass closer to the Grant side. The parking area has room for about 20 cars and has a couple of handicap accessible spots. This trailhead for the favorite Colorado Fall hike fills up quickly and it is common to see cars parked on the street leading up to the trailhead. There are no restroom facilities available at the trailhead.

Wrapping up the Colorado Fall Hike: Abyss Trail to Helms Lake

What a great fall hike for those willing to put in a bit of effort. The first two-thirds of this hike I would rate as moderate and they provide a majority of the impressive fall colors. The last third up to the lake is when this really gets hard but brings you to an impressive alpine lake.

Expect this area to be really busy with a lot of people hiking or leaf peeping. The trailhead fills up quick and parking is at a premium. I even ran into a couple on their horses on trail and another five horses tied up near a camp near the lake. So if you are ready to deal with some crowds I think you will really enjoy yourself on the Abyss trail to Helms Lake or even just doing it halfway to see the colors.

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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