Native Lake

Round Trip Distance: 7.8 miles
Difficulty: Strenuous
Elevation: 10,774 - 11,860 feet
Cellphone: 0-2 bars
Time: 4 hrs.
Trailhead: Native Lake
Fee: none
Attractions: subalpine lake

Native Lake is located a short distance west of Leadville, Colorado in the Mount Massive Wilderness Area of the San Isabel National Forest. A well maintained route takes the trail up to some expansive tundra meadows with beautiful views of Mount Massive before descending back into the forest and down to Native Lake.

During the summer, after all the snow has melted, the trailhead is normally accessible to most all passenger vehicles. The easiest way to find it is to enter 'Native Lake Trailhead' into your driving app for turn-by-turn directions. Other than that follow County Road 4 towards Turquoise Lake. After crossing the dam continue until you reach the turnoff for Hagerman Pass. Continue up the Hagerman Pass Road for about 3.6 miles and the trailhead will be on the left. There is plenty of overflow parking a few hundred feet further up the road at the Windsor Lake trailhead.

At the same time the trail enters the dark forest of pine and spruce conifers it passes into the Mount Massive Wilderness.

Centuries of forest humus smooth the sometimes rocky path. While mixing its aroma with the fungal fragrance of sprouting mushrooms and other forest delights a memorable essence is created that enlivens the olfactory and enrichens the hike.

For the first 2 miles the trail maintains an almost steady grade up the steep sloping side of the mountain. The switchbacks cut across the same stream 4 separate times as they zigzag their way higher and higher.

At the top of the final switchback the trail gets closer to the more rounded upper part of the mountain and the elevation gain becomes more gradual.

Around the 2 1/4 mile point of the hike the trail makes it above 11,800 feet of elevation and crosses some very pleasant tundra where there are some great views of Mount Massive (14,423 ft.). Looking in different directions we were able to easily pick out a half dozen other 14ers that we have climbed at least once in years past. 

After about a half mile of wonderful tundra the first glimpses of Native Lake come into view. The trail must descend a little over 600 feet in just over a mile to get there.

The trail might is slightly more primitive on this side of the ridge but it remains easy to follow.

Rock Creek is the name of the stream that flows into Native Lake. It has its origin higher up above 12,000 feet where there are 3 other lakes. Anyone that is hiking the remaining 5 miles on down the Highline trail to the Fish Hatchery will need to cross the creek but those that are only going as far as Native Lake will have already noticed a short spur leading to its shores.

Native Lake has an extensive mat of vegetation over much of its surface. This usually indicates that the water is less than 4 or 5 feet in depth if the mat is from emergent plants that are growing from the bottom of the lake. The ground that is close to the lake is rather marshy until you get down to the far end. That is where any fishermen will want to head to as that is also where there is more open water.

The climb from Native Lake back up to the tundra ridge is another nice extra bit of exercise that only takes about 30 minutes to accomplish. When it comes to scenic lakes it is hard to put Native Lake itself very far from the bottom of the list but the scenery viewed from the tundra slopes of Mount Massive and the enjoyable hiking through the forest move the trail up near the top. We thought a lot of hikers might turn around at the top of the ridge overlooking the lake but out of the dozen or so hikers we encountered on the day we took these photos every one of them went all the way to the lake. Native Lake is a popular hike in the Leadville area. If you would like to see it for yourself then all you have to do is 'Take a hike'.