Lake of the Woods

Round Trip Distance: 8 miles
Difficulty: Moderate
Elevation: 9,997 - 10,350 feet
Cellphone: 0-3 bars
Time: 4 hrs. 30 mins.
Trailhead: Lake of the Woods
Fee: none
Attractions: wildflowers, wildlife, forest

The Lake of the Woods trail is located on the upper north side of the Grand Mesa in the Grand Mesa National Forest. The west end of the trail begins near the hairpin bend in Colorado Highway 65, as it makes its final ascent up the north side of the mesa, and extends east through the woods, ha ha, past several reservoirs to the junction of the Cottonwood Trail. The trail probably gets used by as many fly fisherman as it does hikers. We could see fresh tracks from a mountain bike along with moose and bear tracks and scat.

We parked our car at a pullout on Highway 65 and began hiking from there. We could have driven in on the road and parked at the trailhead and cutoff almost a half mile of walking. The road was easily passable by passenger cars.

The elevation was about 10,200 feet when we began hiking but the trail gradually gave up about 200 feet of that over the first mile and a half. If you have been up here in the winter you will find that you are hiking a bit of a different path than the Nordic trail. The Nordic trail passes over a lot of sloughs that are frozen and covered with snow that would be pretty nasty to hike through.

We had to cross one grassy marsh about the size of a football field. We were able to stay dry for the first part by walking on the tall grass that formed a mat beneath our feet. We ended up getting just a little wet trying to cross a 5-10 foot slough of water that was between us and dry ground. We took the same route on the way back figuring that it was better to cut across the marsh than trying to walk all the way around it.

A little less than a mile and a half from the trailhead we came to the junction of the Bull Creek Trail which can be followed over to the Bull Creek Reservoir Number 4 and out to Highway 65 across from Jumbo Reservoir via the Long Slough Reservoir Road.

It was less than a half mile from the Bull Creek junction to the Lake of the Woods and Bull Basin Reservoir Number 1. We spent a little time here trying to figure out which trail to follow. There was a trail that went to the left and headed over to Bull Basin Number 1 and somewhat of a trail that went straight ahead and cut between Bull Basin and the Lake of the Woods and a trail that went to the right. The trail to the right was the one we wanted. If you look back after going that direction you can see an arrow trail marker on a tree that points the way back.

The trail gained about 100 feet of elevation over the next mile as it climbed up and around Bull Creek Reservoir Number 2 and then Bull Creek Reservoir Number 1. The hiking around these two reservoirs was some of the most we encountered.

We saw some very fresh looking bear tracks made by a sow and her cub. We had to always be aware of bears when we lived in Alaska but we felt pretty safe in these large open areas where we could see for good distances all around us. I pack a large can of bear spray that I have never needed. Actually, the closest encounter I have ever had with a bear was coming down the Stagecoach Trail when I popped over a cliff and found myself within about 50 feet of a black bear that was coming up the hill.

We could have followed the Lake of the Woods trail a little further but we stopped short of the Cottonwood Trail junction and turned around so we would log about 8 miles for our round-trip distance. The Lake of the Woods trail is a very pleasant hike. The trail is in need of a lot of work to remove fallen trees and a few more carefully placed logs would make a couple of the streams easier to cross. The trail could also use one or two more trail markers and signs at the reservoirs would be nice to identify each one by name.

I used up 100 ounces of water, a bagel and an energy bar on todays hike. We also had to maintain a good covering of Off. There were a couple of areas where the mosquitoes were absolutely intense. If you don't mind the bug spray then the little pests are bearable. If you would like an alpine trail where the temperatures are a good 20F cooler than the lower valley and wildflowers are still blooming then all you have to do is head up to the Grand Mesa and 'Take a hike'.