Timberline Lake

Round Trip Distance: 4.4 miles
Difficulty: Moderate
Elevation: 10,055 - 10,860 feet
Cellphone: 0 bars
Time: 3 hrs.
Trailhead: Timberline Lake
Fee: none
Attractions: Scenic lake

Timberline Lake is located in the Holy Cross Wilderness Area of the San Isabel National Forest near Leadville, Colorado. Both day hikers and backpackers trek up the trail daily during the warmer summer months to enjoy the lakes scenic beauty and the mild temperatures that can be expected in the higher elevations of the Rocky Mountains.

The trailhead is about 10 miles west of Leadville. To get there follow the signs to Turquoise Lake. After crossing the dam continue around the lake toward the May Queen Campground where you will find restrooms if needed.

Keep going past the entrance to the May Queen Campground until you arrive at the trailhead. The trailhead is well known so you should be able to enter Timberline Creek or Timberline Lake trailhead into your driving app for step by step directions.

The Timberline Lake trail sees enough visitors, even on a weekday, that people will often need to park along the Turquoise Lake Road.

Begin by following the Colorado trail heading westerly out of the parking area. The Colorado trail also heads east so take care to go the correct way. After a short distance the trail will cross a bridge over  Lake Fork Creek and come to the point where the Timberline Lake trail branches off on the right.

The Timberline Lake trail begins with a short, rocky, steep stretch before leveling off somewhat and smoothing out and then crossing the boundary for the Holy Cross Wilderness Area. When we took the photos for this post there was a nice new sign that said San Isabel National Forest which surprised us because our maps all said this was in the White River National Forest.

The next mile and a half or so of the trail is a pleasure to hike and since it is an old jeep road it travels faster than it would if it were only a singletrack.

There are a couple of creek crossings that will vary in flow depending upon how much snow has melted higher up. We also got the impression that they might be using the creek to channel some of the water that is coming through one of the tunnels from the western slope. Regardless, someone has stretched a climbers rope across the creek to hang onto. The rope crosses at the deepest point and on this day the water was low enough that I could wade across on the right without it going over the tops of my waterproof boots. Surfer girl did even better by going upstream about 40 feet and crossing on a log.

After crossing the creek the trail gets a lot steeper as it travels the last half mile up to the lake with only one spot where it briefly levels off before its final charge up the mountain.

The lake is perched in a glacial basin right below timberline and right below the continental divide. Once you reach the lake you can continue around the south shore for over a quarter mile which will make the total round trip distance closer to 5 miles. Fishing for the greenback cutthroat trout, that have been reintroduced into the lake, is by fly and artificial lure only and strictly catch and release.

Backpackers will find a number of primitive campsites to choose from around the lake.

We met several scores of hikers on the Timberline Lake trail making it one of the busiest trails in the area other than maybe Mount Elbert. Even with all the campgrounds scattered around Turquoise Lake it can be difficult to find a spot that isn't reserved, especially if you have an RV. If there is a spot in the May Queen Campground it will probably be a tent site. The best bet if you have an RV and no reservation is to go to the open area below the dam where there is lots of room and the camping is free. As far as the Timberline Lake trail goes, if you would like to see it for yourself all you have to do is 'Take a hike'.