Missouri Lakes

Round Trip Distance: 8.6 miles (pass)
Difficulty: Strenuous
Elevation: 10,010 - 12,005 feet
Cellphone: 0 bars
Time: 5 hrs. 30 mins.
Trailhead: Missouri Lakes
Fee: none
Attractions: Alpine lakes

The Missouri Lakes trail is located in the Holy Cross Wilderness Area of the White River National Forest between Minturn and Leadville, Colorado. The moderately heavily trafficked trail is popular with both day hikers and backpackers. With the Missouri Lakes and Fancy Pass trailheads being right beside each other the two trails are often combined to create a loop that should come out to a little less than 9 miles.

For turn-by-turn directions enter 'Missouri Lakes trailhead' into your driving app and download the directions to your device for when you lose cell phone service. Other than that drive about 10.7 miles south from Minturn on Highway 24 and turn right onto the Homestake Road. Continue for another 10 miles by following the signs to Missouri Lakes. Vehicles with moderate ground clearance can normally make the last 2 miles without 4wd but the road is a bit rough in some places.

After the well established trail leaves the parking area it travels through the forest for a half mile and connects to a service road that begins climbing steeply up the side of the mountain. There is some additional parking on the Sopris Creek Road at this point that actually cuts a mile off of the round trip distance.

The service road ends in less than a half mile at a catchment pond and at this point the trail crosses into the Holy Cross Wilderness. By this time there has already been an elevation gain of just over 300 feet.

As the trail continues climbing up the drainage it crosses Missouri Creek twice by way of two wooden bridges. At the second bridge there is a nice view up a narrow gorge where the creek is making a violent cascade.

Further up the mountain the drainage gets pinched into a narrow passage where dry stacked rocks, that are right on the edge of the creek, create a base for the trail. It's alway amazing to notice all the almost hidden work that goes into making and maintaining a trail.

Near the 3.1 mile point the trail reaches the first of the Missouri Lakes. By continuing past the lake and looking back you can get a good view of the lake with the rounded summit of Salvage Peak (13,139 ft.) in the background.

Near the 3.4 mile point the trail begins traveling along the largest of the lakes which is over a quarter mile long.

As the trail passes above timberline a third lake that is much shallower appears near the base of Missouri Pass.

Missouri Pass winds up 7 or 8 switchbacks that climb a talus slope of rocks that have collected below the saddle of the ridge. Hiking past the big lake to the top of the pass is a little more than a half mile with an elevation gain of less than 600 feet. It adds a nice finish to the workout with the feeling of accomplishment and the view from the top of the pass being the ultimate reward.

Hiking just past the summit of Missouri Pass for less than 100 feet reveals a nice view into the opposite basin with Treasure Vault Lake down below. Off to the right you can see the trail going over to Fancy Pass with Notch Mountain (13,237 ft.) in the distant background. By climbing up on the side of Missouri Pass just a little you can get a distinct view of the Mount of the Holy Cross (14,009 ft.).

 The view looking back down the trail over the last two Missouri Lakes isn't too bad either.

We saw a couple of bighorn sheep after turning off of the Homestake Road onto the Missouri Lakes Road. The bighorn weren't interested in sticking around long enough for a photo and neither was a pine marten that we saw while hiking. There was a marmot that was kind enough to oblige us and it was only a couple feet away from the camera. We could have hiked the Missouri/Fancy Lake loop on this day hike just as easy as we hiked the out and back to Missouri Pass but our plan is to hike Fancy Pass as an out and back and post it separately. (We actually hiked the Brady/Sopris Lakes trail after finishing Missouri Lakes and didn't suffer too much for the extra effort that took.) Although both methods are rewarding and beat staying at home there is a lot of difference between hiking light and fast on a day hike and trudging along with a heavy backpack. Whatever method you decide upon, if you would like to see Missouri Lakes for yourself then all you have to do is 'Take a hike'.