Mileage: Approximately 9 miles round trip to the upper lake
Altitude: 11, 740 feet at upper lake
Elevation Gain: 1,750 feet
To Get There: Take I-70 to exit 240 at Idaho Springs. Head south on Highway 103 toward Mt. Evans and park at the Echo Lake Lodge.
It is an unbelievable October day in Colorado: short sleeves weather and not a single cloud threatening an afternoon storm. The Echo Lake trail is fairly crowded and even once we branch off onto the Chicago Lakes trail there are intermittent greetings from people like us who are clinging onto these last pre-snow days.
Starting out with a friend that I haven’t seen in months means there are seemingly endless things to discuss, and we fall into a rhythm of habitual hiking. The trail passes roadside Echo Lake and then begins to climb gradually. It then levels out briefly and then begins to drop steeply down the hillside. At the bottom- after a simple creek crossing- we reach an unrelentingly steep, straight road that goes to the Idaho Springs Reservoir. Once past the reservoir, the trail is to the right and continues to climb and then level out and then climb some more. I mention that it feels like a long three miles to the lower lake and my friend replies that distance is debatable according to all the different trail descriptions she read. Finally we see the lower lake from above: big and green below gray granite. We continue on and the trail reaches its steepest point on the way to the upper lake. The distance is short and it doesn’t feel like long before we are at the top, a little breathless in the tundra wind. The upper lake is at the bottom of a steep ridge that the wind seems to come sweeping off of. Here we can remember that it’s no longer summer. It’s about 3 o’ clock and the sun is starting to slide behind the ridge. The rocks around the edge of the lake are crusted in rippling ice patterns. We put our jackets back on as we take pictures and sit briefly in the wind to eat chocolate.
Sources: http://www.thecohiker.com/colorado-hiking-trails/colorado-mountains-central/chicago-lakes, http://www.trails.com/tcatalog_trail.aspx?trailid=HGR320-051, http://www.utahtrails.com/Colorado%20pages/ChicagoLakes.html