Copper Lake

Round Trip Distance: 10 miles
Difficulty: Strenuous
Elevation: 9,831 - 11,301 feet
Cellphone: 0 bars
Time: 5 hrs. 30 mins.
Trailhead: Copper Creek 2wd/4wd
Fee: none
Attractions: Scenic lake/alpine views

Copper Lake is located at the end of the Copper Creek trail in the Maroon Bells Wilderness Area of the Gunnison National Forest near Crested Butte, Colorado. The trail begins off of the Gothic Road where it climbs past Judd Falls and up the Copper Creek drainage to Copper Lake. From the lake there are outstanding views of multiple peaks that are over 13,000 feet in elevation including White Rock Mountain (13,539 ft.) and Precarious Peak (13,360 ft.). Many hikers like to continue past Copper Lake to East Maroon Pass where Pyramid Peak (14,019 ft.) comes into view on the Aspen side of the ridge.

To get to the trailhead from Crested Butte follow County Road 317 for 8.2 miles. The 2wd trailhead will be on the right, with overflow parking on the left, after passing through Gothic. You can also put Judd Falls/Copper Creek trailhead in your driving app for turn by turn directions.

High clearance 4wd vehicles can continue for another half mile after turning off of the Gothic Road to get to the 4wd trailhead. If you start down at the 2wd trailhead the round trip distance to Copper Lake will be 11 miles. The sign in this photo at the 4wd trailhead shows the distance to Copper Lake as 4 miles but it is actually right at 5 miles.

From the 4wd trailhead the route follows an old mining road all the way up the valley except for a short stretch of single track that takes it past the Judd Falls overlook. Near the 3/4 mile point the trail crosses into the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness Area.

For the first 3 miles the trail climbs on a mostly gentle slope that alternates between dark timber and open meadows.

There are some beaver ponds just past the 1 mile point that on this morning were shrouded in a mist from the previous nights rain.

Three times the trail crosses Copper Creek where the depth of the water will vary depending upon the time of year and the current weather conditions. There is a fourth crossing where a side stream comes in on the right and crosses the trail.

After the 4th water crossing the trail begins getting both steeper and rockier.

Right around the 4.5 mile point from the 4wd trailhead there is a fork as the Triangle Pass trail branches off on the right. The Copper Creek trail gets even steeper at this point but it eases up quite a bit after another quarter mile.

Copper Lake is large enough that it's hard to get it all into one photo while standing along the shore. On this day the mirror like surface of the lake was only broken by an occasional fish jumping. Camping around Copper Lake is restricted to one of the 8 designated sites only. There is a map where the East Maroon Pass trail begins that shows where each of the sites can be found.

The best overall views of Copper Lake can be had from the East Maroon Pass trail which we are posting separately to keep this post from being too long. The East Maroon Pass trail is easy in comparison to the last mile of the Copper Creek trail. Some people keep hiking past Copper Lake to the top of East Maroon Pass and then stop at the lake on the return trip.

We had told some other hikers that this trail was one of the main routes between Aspen and Crested Butte back in the old mining days and that in those days it was well traveled by horse and mule trains. Much to our surprise on our hike out we met a horse train. The only difference was that these guys were packing up to the lake for leisure rather than livelihood. Nevertheless it was like a trip back in time to see them.

Copper Lake is a popular basecamp for backpackers. From there you can hike over Triangle Pass and drop down into Conundrum Basin and Hot Springs. Note that Conundrum Basin requires a permit these days. You can also drop off at Copper Pass and loop back around to Copper Lake via East Maroon Pass. That loop should come out to about 6.5 miles. On the day that we were there we saw a couple of groups that were there just to go fishing. Whether you're looking for a nice day hike or something longer Copper Lake is a good location to have on your list. If you would like to see it for yourself then all you have to do is 'Take a hike'.