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Hiking to Kelly Lake in State Forest SP

Distance14.85 mi
Elevation Gain2,484 ft.
My Time7 hr 7 min
Closest TownWalden
Food NearbyMansker Station

Hiking to Kelly Lake in State Forest State Park

State Forest State Park is a rustic, 71,000 acre state park located in northern Colorado. The park offers camping, hiking, horseback riding, fishing and really a ton of options for outdoor recreation. The hike to Kelly Lake in State Forest State Park is a long hike that isn’t overly technical but it is long a challenging.

Getting Started

The trailhead for Kelly Lake is at the end of County Road 41 towards the northwest corner of the park. When you reach the campsites and horse trailer parking you have gone as far as you can go. The trail is across the road from the parking and starts out with some really nice mountain views of the park. The first leg of the hike starts down the dirt service road and will continue about seven miles out to the lake!

The Long Road

The start of the long hike to Kelly lake is down a long dirt road. The service road to begin the hike gives a really nice open air look at the park. This was my first time at State Forest State Park and I really enjoyed this start to the hike as it really allowed me to see how big and beautiful the park really was.

The dirt road does dip in and out of some heavier treed areas but for the most part it is open. There are two options once you get on the road. At the 1.3 mile mark there is an option to jump on the Kelly Lake trail or you can stay on the road for another mile and a half and connect there. This was the approach I took. I knew this was a long trail and I wasn’t sure how challenging the trail would be. The road has a consistent incline the whole way but nothing that gets overly steep.

Hitting the Trail

Once you make it onto the trail the real beauty of this hike starts to take shape. The trail starts in an area of blowdown but eventually makes it into the woods and some towering evergreens and Aspens line the trail. On an early August hike, there was still some small creeks of runoff and some pooling that had to be crossed.

This early section of the trail continues with a steady incline but nothing overwhelming. Mostly in the 5-10% grade range but it is consistent. Like walking up low ramp that just never stops! Just under two miles into the trail portion and the trail opens up and leaves the woods into one of the most stunning meadows I have seen.

Mountain Meadow

Is there anything better than coming out of the woods and seeing nothing but wide open spaces and walls of rock? The meadow on the hike to Kelly Lake is stunning. The narrow trail winds its way through the meadow and it is a perfect recharge point about halfway through the hike. On the lazy summer day that I visited there was no wind though I could see this as an area that could get windy.

One of the best Mountain Meadows on the Kelly Lake Trail.
One of the best Mountain Meadows on the Kelly Lake Trail.

I would suggest taking your time and enjoying the meadow because once you get through it the trail gets a lot steeper.

Uphill Slog

When you clear the meadow you will again enter into a more heavily wooded area. The trail will also get much steeper. This is the hardest section of the hike and the part that almost broke me! The trail follows some old stream beds with rocky terrain that is a bit unstable. Along this rocky terrain the inclines are consistently between 15-25% grade. Over the course of a half mile the incline is around 450 feet!

As you get closer to the lake you get another really nice view. There was a small creek cascading down a series of rocks and that opened into a thin view between the trees to the mountains in the distance. From here, thankfully for me, it was just a little ways left to the lake.

Kelly Lake

Kelly Lake is great. The oval lake has some close campsites and trails that were full of wildflowers by the waters edge. the water was calm and set right up against a steep cliff. It was a great place to relax and try to recover from the arduous hike.

Kelly Lake was worth the effort but it was a lot of effort. The lake had some good sitting rocks and was the perfect spot for some snacks and relaxation before heading back down the hill. The return hike is slower than some because of the steep rocky terrain so make sure to factor that in to the time you spend at the lake. However, make sure to take a few minutes to enjoy the wonderful views of Kelly Lake!

Video of the Hike to Kelly Lake at State Forest State Park

I have put this time-lapse video together of hiking to Kelly Lake at State Forest State Park so other hikers can get a feel of what the hike is like. If you enjoy this video make sure to subscribe to my YouTube channel. It is free to subscribe and you will get the latest outdoor content.

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 14.85 miles and had a total elevation gain of about 2,484 feet including undulations. That put the high point at around 10,875 feet. I was also moving for a total of 7 hours and 7 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 was one of the most challenging hikes that I have done. I think this was the longest or definitely top 3 longest hikes that I have done at just under 15 miles. That was hard but there is also around 2,500 feet of elevation gain. The combination of those to factors made for a difficult and challenging hike. I am going to set this as a hard hike as I think you will want skilled and experienced hikers to attempt this one.


Like many long hikes, the hike to Kelly Lake at State Forest State Park has several terrain types that you will have to deal with. The first and easiest section of the hike is a dirt service road that is easy to handle. When you get to the trail portion it is still relatively easy to manage although there are some water crossings depending on the time of year. These crossings are done with makeshift log bridges for the most part. There are also a couple of sections of the trail that feel like old creek beds. A lot of rocks with steep inclines that can be challenging and are slow going both up and downhill. I would definitely suggest a pair of good hiking boots with good traction for this hike.

Access to the Kelly Lake hike at State Forest State Park

The Trailhead for the Kelly Lake Hike is located at the very end of County Road 41 in the back of State Forest State Park. CR 41 can be found off of RTE 14. The parking lot has about 6 parking places and also some campsites in the area as well as parking for horse trailers. There is a pit toilet available at the lot.

State forest State Park is part of the Colorado State Parks System and there is a day pass entry fee of $10 per vehicle. A yearly pass also works for entry.

Wrapping up the Kelly Lake Hike at State Forest State Park

To be honest, this hike up to Kelly Lake was a bit much for me. The hike itself is beautiful and the lake is amazing but this one kicked my butt. I was exhausted. I ran out of water and I got myself into a bad place. My hiking partner is in much better shape and she enjoyed it but for my level it was just too much physically. I don’t want to discourage those of you in good shape because this was a really pretty hike, but for those of you who don’t do this distance often, take note of the difficulty.

On a personal note, the Kelly Lake hike at State Forest State Park is located in Jackson County, Colorado. Jackson county is the 41st out of 64 counties that I have hiked in on my quest to hike in every county of Colorado. A wonderful state to hike in all across the state! I hope to see it all!

I have added this hike and all of my hikes to the interactive map page you can find here. If you have any suggestions for hikes or comments feel free to email me at or you can follow me on any of the below social media platforms. Happy Hiking!

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