Gilpin Lake hike is a classic Steamboat Springs locals hike. The terrain is rocky and uphill, but the canyon views are outstanding. For me, I did this hike twice in the last month. Once because I really wanted to see the lake and, second, to complete the Zirkel Circle. Yes, this sounds silly, and it was a bit funny- if I had known that I was half way round the Zirkel Circle the first time, I would have kept going.
My first hike up to the lake was purely wanting to escape my condo and do something epic. I don’t know if Gilpin Lake hike is epic. I do know the views were spectacular once I was well on my way. Leaving my condo and computer behind was what I was looking for. The entire hike took about 5 hours, and all of it I was out of range except on the saddle above the lake. This is when I text K a picture well above the water surface.
For less than five miles, the hike in is a steady climb. None of it was steep, though the last half mile had more grade to it than the rest. Hiking up to an alpine lake, I was surprised how easy the walk was. Overall, there are rocky/stony spots to get through, and some shallow water crossings.
I started early both days, with the first day being a warm Autumn morning. In the first mile of my hike I saw elk, deer, moose, beaver, black squirrels, and chipmunks. This is not the normal amount of wildlife in a day. It was a good day for animals because I was the first person up the trail that day. Having no one else to bother them, the animals were enjoying their mornings.
Also, starting early gave me an advantage because no one else was there. I wouldn’t see another person for at least two hours. It was peaceful. Solo hiking up to the lake and enjoying the wind blowing through Spruce, as well as being able to take my time in anything I did. On the way back to my car, I saw several folks, all eager to see the beauty at 10,600 feet. This includes Big Agnes, Little Agnus, and Mount Zirkel, which was dominant most of the hike.
For my second hike, I was eager to do the entire Zirkel Circle, which is less than 11 miles.
My friend Ty wanted to get out and I thought this would be a great hike to do something epic and say we’ve done that hike.
The day was much different. It was cooler, cloudy, and no one around. Also, we didn’t see any wildlife. I think I was lucky my first time to the lake. We took note of the large mountains as we passed them on our left, and took several photos of Mount Zirkel.
The best part of the hike must have been the snow at the higher elevations. It didn’t snow heavily, just enough for a perfect ambiance. Snow thinly covered huge boulders in piles, grasses, and the trail. Looking for footprints, we found we were the only ones hiking the trail in that area. Once we got to Gold Lake, we started running into folks. Many were doing the shorter lake hike to Gold Lake rather than the 5 miles to Gilpin Lake.
When we got back the car, the lot was full of autos. Smiling the smiles of successful hikers, we got in the truck and went to Storm Peak for beer.