Some people might say that waking up at 4am on a Saturday morning to go hiking is crazy, but I say it’s the only way to experience the best of some of the more popular trails in Colorado. That’s especially true when you get into the I-70 ski resort area of Breckenridge, Copper, Vail, etc., because most of the people hiking the popular trails are tourists staying at those resorts, and they don’t have a 2 hour drive!
Eager to beat the masses, I packed up, headed out around 5, and arrived at the trailhead at 6:45 or so, met by about 8 cars. Because there is dispersed camping on the trail, at least a couple were surely campers from the night before still, but the parking lot is pretty small and I imagine it wasn’t too long after me that it was full. There was an overflow lot a little ways down the road, but that would just add more mileage to an already long hike.
From the very beginning, the trail made sure I knew what kind of a day I was in for today. It started out steep, as if to say, “are you sure you want to do this?”. The first mile was brutal, climbing over 775 feet of elevation, which is pretty steep for me considering I use 500ft per mile as my benchmark of what I personally consider “steep”. My body wasn’t ready for this so early, but luckily for me, the forest around me was awakening with me and it was breathtaking, with the trail winding it’s way through groves of quaking aspens and more wildflowers than I’ve ever seen in my life.
I’ve thought some hikes we’ve been on had a lot of wildflowers, but this particular trail was in a different class altogether. You’ll have to forgive me, as I think I probably could’ve taken 1,000 pictures easily trying to capture the perfect shot of the flower-filled meadows.
I have to admit that my plan was to hike only to Booth Falls, a 4.2 mile round trip journey, but as the sound of rushing water grew louder and louder, I still couldn’t see Booth Falls. So I kept hiking, assuming that I would get my amazing view just around the next bend.
As the sound of rushing water turned to the trickling of a stream on my left, I knew that I had likely done something wrong. The hike up until this point has been one of my biggest challenges yet this summer, and I wasn’t about to go home without getting some sort of a payoff – though one could argue that all the wildflowers were payoff enough.
I’ve written before that sometimes I don’t know when to stop when I’m hiking by myself, and this turned into one of those days. The trail beyond where the falls were presumably at was unrelentingly steep, continuing upward constantly, with few flat areas to offer a break. I kept glancing nervously at my watch as the elevation passed 2,000 feet and kept going.
As the miles wore on and I passed 2,000 feet elevation gain, I started to wonder if this was a good idea. If it weren’t for the views and the wildflowers spurring me on to see what treasures might be around the next corner, I don’t know that I could’ve completed this, but it’s funny how the sense of adventure kicks in and I start ignoring what my brain is telling me.
The last push to the lake is probably the most challenging section of the entire hike, so it’s a good thing that I emerged over the crest of the final ridge to a spectacular mountain lake vista. The sheer faces of the surrounding cliffs, carved out by years of snow and ice building up all winter and melting each spring, yielded to the crystal clear, ice cold lake. There were a few people dotting the shoreline and I made my way around to the other side of the lake where I could find a place to myself.
I wasn’t in my spot along the lake for very long, when I noticed some commotion with the people that I had passed. I’ve been doing enough hikes lately to know that commotion like this, at such a peaceful mountain lake, could only mean one thing – wildlife. A review on AllTrails mentioned running into a herd of mountain goats, so that’s exactly where my thoughts went. I hopped up to see what was going on.
Sure enough, I was looking at the first mountain goats I’ve ever seen – though they were quite a ways up on the ridge. As I stood there and watched in amazement, more and more of them emerged, with eventually 10-15 or so coming into view. They made their way down the mountainside towards us curious humans, searching for the perfect plant to snack on in the cracks of the rocks. The closer they came, the more I realized just how large mountain goats actually are – and also how large and pointy their horns are. They didn’t seem to really care about the humans taking pictures, but when one seemed to find a plant that they all craved, little skirmishes would break out within the herd, as they would charge at one another for a chance to eat first. Whenever the big one would look you in the eye though, it made you think twice about how close you were.
Soon, they had come down the mountain so far that they were blocking the trail back. I made my way around them, keeping my eye on the big ones that were keeping their eye on me, making sure that I gave them as much space as they wanted. I took this incredible opportunity so close to these animals to take as many pictures as I could. Much like it was when I had my moose encounter on the Chicago Lakes Trail, it was almost impossible to pull myself away from the mountain goats and start down the trail. I wanted to cherish it for as long as I could, but extending my hike to the lake had already added a lot of time to my journey.
It was so hard to pull myself away from the lake, especially after the effort to get there, so I perched on top of a rock overlooking the lake to snap a few more pictures and take in the beauty for a few more moments before heading out.
On the way up to the lake, I was very aware that I was climbing a pretty serious incline from how hard I was breathing and how much my legs were burning, but when I started to go back down, there were some parts that I couldn’t believe I had made it up. The trail was rocky, which helped with the traction going down such steep sections, but the constant decline was exhausting. When I did reach one of the few flat parts, not having to fight the pull of gravity almost made me feel like I was floating for a brief moment, before starting back downwards once again.
I passed a lot of groups on my way down, and it was yet another reminder of why I wake up so early to do these hikes. There were a couple hours on the way up that I didn’t see another person, and it allowed me to take my time to enjoy the beauty of this majestic trail. I chuckled to myself every time I passed people that were clearly not prepared for such a grueling hike, clutching empty water bottles with miles left, and wonder if they were going to actually make it all the way to the lake. I think this hike challenged where the limits to my physical abilities were and I’ve been consistently hiking for the last few months now. I can’t imagine trying it while visiting from out of town, as so many of the people seemed to be.
On my way back down, I did my best to search for Booth Falls, and it did seem to be close to where I thought it was based on the congregation of people in that area; however, I never did actually get a good view of it. I think there must be a turn off the trail that I missed both times, so I’m glad I didn’t turn around earlier searching for it, and instead conserved energy for the push to Booth Lake.
At 10.5 miles and 3,100 feet of elevation gain, this trail isn’t for everyone, but the abundant wildflowers, waterfalls, streams, views, mountain lake, and wildlife catapulted it to be one of my favorite hikes I’ve done! I can’t wait to explore more of this area and see what other treasures it has to offer!