The popular hike to Herman Lake starts on an old sawmill road through thick forest. The trail then wanders through fields of colorful wildflowers with spectacular views of the Continental Divide. Most of the trail doubles as a section of the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail. A last steep pitch takes you to treeline where the trail mellows on the final stretch to Herman Lake, nestled in a bowl at 12,000 feet below Pettingell Peak. Herman Hassell, an early timber operator in the area, supposedly named Herman Gulch after himself. While timber may have been Herman’s ambition, today wildflower aficionados consider this trail a “100 wildflower” or “century” hike because of the possibility of seeing about a hundred different flower species during peak bloom in late July.
Don’t let the name of this hike deter. Hell’s Hole is a difficult hike, but its challenge is rewarded. This trail travels through the woods to a high alpine basin in the Mount Evans Wilderness. When it ends at Hell’s Hole, the path opens to a meadow where alpine willows grow in the shadow of Gray Wolf Mountain and Mount Evans. The only hell of the day will be found in the busy passing lanes of I-70 on the way there.
If you want a longer, more challenging, and bracing wilderness hike, this is one of the better ones in the park that is easily accessible. It takes you below the west side of Longs Peak and the aptly named Keyboard of the Wind, rock sentinels that whistle and moan in the frequent high winds; you’re likely to see some amazing sites in this glacier-sculpted valley of rock art. As with many of these destinations, the farther you go, the more enchanting it becomes. If you want to visit three lakes in magnificent settings, this trek is for you. The journey to the first two can be nice daytrips in and of themselves. Black Lake is a moderate to challenging hike, depending on conditions. On a calm summer’s day it is delightful; fall and spring offer ice and wind chill that keep you on your toes. Hearing high winds approaching from the Keyboard of the Wind on Longs Peak on an unsettled day is an experience you won’t want to miss.
The huge granite dome called Buffalo Mountain towers above Dillon Reservoir and the towns of Silverthorne, Dillon, and Frisco. Such an imposing mountain attracts climbers and over the years people scrambled up, creating “climbers ’trails” to the summit. Buffalo Mountain now boasts a new summit trail that, while still difficult, is much more hiker and environmentally friendly. “Still difficult” means a 23 percent grade for 0.6 mile through a boulder field. The climb is well worth the effort for the views, beautiful tundra flowers, and a chance to see the mountain goat family that grazes on the high slopes. Buffalo Mountain has long been a landmark in Summit County. Called Buffalo by early settlers who thought it looked like a buffalo’s back, the peak towered over La Bonte’s Hole below, at the intersection of the Blue River, Snake River, and Tenmile Creek. Buffalo (bison) grazed in the lush valley during the summer, retreating over Hoosier Pass to South Park for the long winters. Ute Indians summered in the valleys, hunting the plentiful game.
The relatively gentle “climb” of 13,132-foot Mount Flora along the Mount Flora Trail section of the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail passes through the old Berthoud Pass Ski Area then into the “Land Above the Trees.” The trail wanders in and out of the James Peak Wilderness. The miniature world of the alpine tundra will dazzle you with a carpet of tiny, colorful wildflowers surviving in a harsh place.
We drove to Lake City the night before and made it up Nellie Creek Road with no problems in our 2WD Toyota Tacoma (rear-wheel drive and all-terrain tires), despite reading all of the trip reports that you had to have 4WD. I think it is more important that you… (more)