Chicago Lakes, Echo Lake Trailhead, Summit County - Eagle County - Clear Creek County, Colorado
Chicago Lakes - 9.8 miles
Echo Lake Trailhead
|Round-Trip Length:||9.8 miles (to both lake shores)|
|Start-End Elevation:||10,617' - 11,733' (11,752' max elevation)|
|Elevation Change:||+1,116' net elevation gain (+2,392' total roundtrip elevation gain)|
Chicago Lakes - 9.8 Miles Round-Trip
The Chicago Lakes are accessed from Echo Lake, 13.25 miles south of I-70 (Idaho Springs) in the Mt Evans Wilderness Area. They lie .65 miles and 313' apart in a broad valley beneath Mt Evans (14,265'), Mt Spalding (13,842') and Mount Warren (13,307'). Visitors will enjoy stunning alpine landscapes and wildlife that includes moose, elk, bighorn sheep and mountain goat:
From the parking lot, follow the short dirt path to Echo Lake and continue south to the Chicago Lakes Trail split (.12 miles : 10,597'). A short climb past a second Chicago Lakes Trail sign crests over a deep gorge carved by Chicago Creek with views of Mt Spalding and Mount Evans in the distance.
The trail undulates ruggedly on a fast descent through healthy spruce and fir to Chicago Creek (1.1 miles : 10,342'). Cross the creek and emerge a few steps further on a dirt road (1.15 miles : 11,367').
An unofficial-looking sign correctly points up this road on a steady climb to Idaho Springs Reservoir (1.65 miles : 10,617'). It continues to the Mount Evans Wilderness Area Boundary (2.05 miles : 10,652'), where it moderates on a rocky path up the valley's west side. Ridge lines connecting Rogers Peak (13,391') and Mount Warren (13,307') form the east valley wall.
The trail enters an area touched by the 1978 Idaho Springs Reservoir Fire, which burned over 400 acres, mostly on the valley's upper west side. Despite its skeletal appearance, the forest is in a natural state of recovery.
Grasses and wildflowers fill the hillsides, while young aspen have emerged in replenished soils. In time, spruce and fir will overtake them and return the forest to its ecological climax.
The trail is intermittently rocky and steep heading up the valley with a full view of Mt Spalding, and a partial look at Mt Evans.
It levels across a major tributary through treeline (3.2 miles : 11,321') to a marked spur for lower Chicago Lake (3.95 miles : 11,545'). Note bristlecone and limber pine in this area, high altitude species adapted to extreme conditions.
The lake spur is clear at first, but entangled by willows that require some force to break through and reach the shore (4.1 miles : 11,420'). Once down, a clearer path leads to the open outlet area and northeast shore where you'll find ideal morning light.
Afternoon arrivals - or those who simply don't wish to fight the willows - will find easier access further up the main trail, though a steep knoll must be scaled to reach them (.35 miles ahead).
From the marked spur, the main trail continues above Chicago Lake up and down a rugged knoll and last thick patch of forest to the lake's far side.
It steepens considerably up the rock face separating the two lakes, a strenuous climb with a commanding view over Chicago Lake #1 and the valley below. It crests a ridge in open tundra overlooking upper Chicago Lake, from which the shore is easily reached (4.9 miles : 11,733').
Circle the lake, or continue over its outlet on the trail leading up to Summit Lake (12,830'), which provides panoramas over the basin, and back down the entire Chicago Creek drainage.
- N39 39.548 W105 36.369 — 0.0 miles : Echo Lake Parking Lot (west side)
- N39 39.049 W105 36.602 — .7 miles : Steep descent to Chicago Creek
- N39 39.067 W105 36.788 — 1.1 miles : Cross Chicago Creek
- N39 39.066 W105 36.827 — 1.15 miles : Turn south on dirt road toward reservoir
- N39 38.694 W105 36.995 — 1.65 miles : Idaho Springs Reservoir
- N39 38.391 W105 37.009 — 2.05 miles : Mt Evans Wilderness Area Boundary
- N39 37.996 W105 37.309 — 2.55 miles : Moderate climb up west side of valley
- N39 37.681 W105 37.733 — 3.2 miles : Cross major tributary on flattened rocks
- N39 37.470 W105 37.841 — 3.5 miles : Steady travel into upper valley
- N39 37.182 W105 38.135 — 3.95 miles : Spur to lower Chicago Lake
- N39 37.040 W105 38.073 — 4.1 miles : Chicago Lake #1 - northwest shore
- N39 37.182 W105 38.135 — 4.25 miles : Back at spur to lower Chicago Lake
- N39 36.965 W105 38.239 — 4.6 miles : Spur to southwest shore of Chicago Lake
- N39 36.773 W105 38.366 — 4.9 miles : Upper Chicago Lake
- The area between Upper Chicago Lake and Summit Lake is home to breeding populations of mountain goat and bighorn sheep from May 1 - June 30. Please consider reducing your impact during this period. Contact the Clear Creek Ranger District for more information (303.567.3000).
- Arrive early to secure parking, avoid crowds and afternoon thunderstorms. Be mindful of changing weather patterns and aim for treeline well before storms develop. Note that high valley walls may block your view of oncoming weather.
Camping and Backpacking Information
- Dispersed backcountry camping is permitted in the Arapaho National Forest and Mt Evans Wilderness Area.
- Camping is prohibited within 100' of any lake or stream. Group size is limited to 15 individuals.
- Campfires are permitted for dispersed backcountry camping, with potential seasonal and elevation restrictions.
- One member of each party is required to register at the Mt Evans Wilderness boundary board and carry a copy of the registration with them during their visit. There is no registration fee.
- Fishing is permitted at Idaho Springs Reservoir, Chicago Lakes and along Chicago Creek with a valid Colorado fishing license.
- Cutthroat trout can be found in each, along with brook trout in the reservoir. Idaho Springs Reservoir covers 20 square acres with a maximum depth of 30'.
Rules and Regulations
- Bikes, mechanized vehicles and hunting are not permitted along the Chicago Lakes Trail or within the Mt Evans Wilderness Area.
- Dogs must be on a hand-held leash at all times in the Mt Evans Wilderness.
- Horses are permitted on the Chicago Lakes Trail inside the Mt Evans Wilderness boundary, however they may not begin travel from Echo Lake. Contact the Clear Creek Ranger District for alternative access information.
Directions to Trailhead
The Chicago Lakes Trail begins at Echo Lake (west side), 13.25 miles south of I-70 on HWY 103.
From I-70, exit #240 and head south on HWY 103 (toward Mt Evans) for 13 miles to Echo Lake. Turn right down the first dirt road on your right and continue .25 miles to the parking area.
Clear Creek Ranger District
101 Chicago Creek Road
P.O. Box 3307
Idaho Springs, CO 80452
Denver Mountain Parks
201 W. Colfax, Dept. 601
Denver, CO 80202