Cathedral Lake

Round Trip Distance: 5.6 miles
Difficulty: Strenuous
Elevation: 9,910 - 11,907 feet
Cellphone: 0 bars
Time: 4 hrs. 30 mins.
Trailhead: Cathedral Lake
Fee: none
Attractions: Forest hike, alpine lake

The Cathedral Lake trail is located in the Maroon Bells Snowmass Wilderness Area of the White River National Forest near Aspen, Colorado. Beginning off of the Castle Creek Road the trail makes a steep climb up the Pine Creek drainage to an alpine basin that is created by a ridge that forms a cirque between Malemute Peak (13,348 ft.) and Cathedral Peak (13,943 ft.). The scenic Cathedral Lake sits in this basin that is just above timberline.

To get to the trailhead drive west from Aspen on the Castle Creek Road for 12 miles and turn right onto the Cathedral Lake Road. Continue for another 3/4 of a mile to the trailhead. For turn by turn directions enter Cathedral Lake Trailhead Aspen Colorado into your driving app.

The easy to follow, hard packed, trail begins climbing at a moderate rate as it leaves the trailhead.

Around 3/4 of a mile from the parking area the route crosses into the Maroon Bells Snowmass Wilderness Area where wilderness rules apply.

The trail becomes rockier and a bit steeper as it continues up the drainage. In places Pine Creek can be seen cascading down the valley although it can be difficult to find a clear view of some of the better waterfalls for a good photo.

As the trail gains in elevation Malemute Peak (13,348 ft.) comes into view giving hikers an idea of how much further and how much more climbing it takes to reach Cathedral Lake which is to the right of the mountain just above tree line.

Near the 2 mile point the trail crosses a large talus slope that leads to a most memorable set of switchbacks. With a mostly smooth path the trail across the talus is one of the best that we have seen in recent memory.

The switchbacks climb a slope with a 60% grade where the trail quickly gains more than 150 feet of elevation while traveling a distance of only 500 feet. It barely slows down some of the local trail runners.

At the top of the switchbacks the trail gets much easier and after a short distance it comes to the main fork where the Electric Pass trail branches off on the right heading over the ridge to the Conundrum Basin. Just before the trail crosses the creek below Cathedral Lake there is another branch of the trail to Electric Pass that is unmarked.

At this point hikers are treated to spectacular views of the jagged lower ridge of Cathedral Peak (13,943 ft.) that can be seen in the background of this photo on the left. We took dozens of pictures as the clouds cast ever changing shadows over the ridge that seemed to highlight its features in a kaleidoscope of patterns.

Cathedral Lake is stocked with cutthroat trout making it popular with fishermen. It's fun to watch YouTube videos of the Colorado Parks and Wildlife aerial stocking these lakes.

Backpackers will find some very nice primitive campsites down in the trees between the lake and the turnoff to Electric Pass (~13,123 ft.). The Cathedral Lakes trail gets heavy use so expect to end up parking somewhere along the road unless you are one of the first people to the trailhead. On a busy weekend the Cathedral Lake trail can look like the 'stairway to Heaven' with a steady stream of hikers both ascending and descending. Other than a nicely packed trail and an occasional trampled wildflower you usually can't tell that anyone was ever there. If you would like to see it for yourself then all you have to do is 'Take a hike'.