Fryingpan Lakes

Round Trip Distance: 8-9.5 miles
Difficulty: Strenuous
Elevation: 9,972 - 11,040 feet
Cellphone: 0 bars
Time: 6 hrs. 30 mins.
Trailhead: Fryingpan Lakes
Fee: none
Attractions: Scenic lakes, backpacking

The Fryingpan Lakes trail is located in the Hunter-Fryingpan Wilderness Area of the White River National Forest east of Basalt, Colorado. The trail travels up a scenic valley to the lakes that form the head waters of the Fryingpan River. On the east side of the valley is a long ridge of the Continental Divide that leads up to Mount Massive (14,421 ft.). In fact, the entire valley is enclosed on 3 sides by ridges that are all over 13,000 feet in elevation. Backpackers typically set up base camp at the first lake with is just under 4 miles from the trailhead and explore further up the valley from there.

From Basalt follow the Fryingpan Road for 32 miles and turn right onto Forest Road 505 right before the hairpin turn. It is another 5.8 miles along FR #505 after turning off of the pavement. During good conditions FR #505 is suitable for careful drivers in 2wd highway type vehicles.

The trail starts just to the left of the gauging station. Within a few feet the Lily Pad Lake trail branches off on the left and the Fryingpan Lakes trail goes to the right where it crosses a bridge over the Fryingpan River and works its way around to where it begins heading up the valley. A kiosk, that comes up after crossing the bridge, has a map of the area and a list of rules that apply for hiking and backpacking in the wilderness area. It also has information on how to identify the Colorado Cutthroat trout that are in the lakes and mentions that they must all be released after catching.

The easy to follow trail is a bit rocky in places but it has had quite a few improvements made. Most of the improvements are to mitigate erosion while quite a few others aid in getting past the many brooks that cross the trail. A little before the half mile point the trail passes the boundary of the Hunter-Fryingpan Wilderness Area.

For the most part the trail is secluded in the forest. Occasionally it will come out in the open where you can get views of the west side of Mount Massive. Mount Massive is rounded enough that from the valley you can't see the portions that are above 14,000.

The notes that we had on the trail mentioned having to wade across the river at the 2.5 mile point. Those notes must have been pretty dated because we found a nice double log bridge that looks like it has been there for quite some time.

As you approach the first of the Fryingpan Lakes there is a nice view up the valley of Mt. Oklahoma (13,845 ft.) and Deer Mountain (13,761 ft.). The lakes are at the base of Mount Massive (14,421 ft.) but views of the summit are blocked by the hulking masses broad shoulders. There is one spot where you can look up and see what might be Point 14,169. The highest peaks along the ridgeline on the west side of the valley are also all above 13,000 feet but they too are blocked from view by the lower 12,000 foot ridges.

Fishermen will find the shores of the first lake easily accessible. Day hikers and trail runners that turn around at this point will be looking at a round trip distance of about 7.6 miles

The trail becomes a bit more primitive after passing the first of the Fryingpan Lakes. This photo was taken as we approached the second lake. To get from the second lake to the third lake requires negotiating a cairned route through some boulders. The best thing about that is it's probably less than 100 feet through the boulders.

By the time you reach the third lake the elevation has climbed a little above 11,000 feet. The fish that we could see swimming in the shallows were quite a bit bigger than those that we saw at the other two lakes. It was easy in the crystal clear water to make out the the telltale reddish-orange slash on the cutthroat trout.

We have an older map that shows the trail continuing on past the third lake and crossing the saddle of the ridge to the right of Deer Mountain. From there the map shows the trail going down the Marten Creek drainage in the next canyon to the west and looping back around to the trailhead. That is Marten Creek that runs into the Fryingpan River back where the trail began. We've zoomed in on Google satellite view and couldn't make out any trail crossing the saddle and dropping down into Marten Creek.

Backpackers will find a few nice campsites near the first lake and one or two really nice ones on the east side of the third lake.

We weren't too surprised when we got to the trailhead to see a couple of cars but we were surprised to see that so many people had pulled their camping trailers all the way in on FR #505. There were enough tents and RVs to make a small village. On the day that we took the photos for this post the number of backpackers had a slight edge over the number of day hikers and trail runners but not by much. One of the biggest reasons we wanted to hike the Fryingpan Lakes trail was because it is bordered by the Continental Divide and Mount Massive. Backpacking in and spending some time hiking all the way to the head of the valley and exploring around Deer Mountain is the only thing that may have made it even better. If you would like to see it for yourself then all you have to do is 'Take a hike'.