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    Shelf Lake Hike

    This reflects the 10Adventures difficulty rating for each route. We aim to keep ratings consistent across regions.
    This reflects the estimated time the majority of users will take on this trail. If you are slower, add time to the top-end figure. If you are fast, then you may complete this route faster than this time range.
    This reflects the return distance of this route as measured by the GPS file.
    11.4 km
    This reflects the total elevation gained throughout this route as measured by the GPS file. This includes all ascents and descents, and is higher than what is quoted in most route guides, which simply measure the distance between the starting-point and high-point of the route.
    600 m
    User Ratings
    These ratings are completed by users who have completed this trail and not subject to reviews by 10Adventures.
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    Directions to Trailhead

    The Shelf Lake Hike is a crowd-favorite, and there is no dispute as to why. Hike up the woodland gulch next to a babbling creek until you ascend the timberline and enter the alpine tundra. Hike the tundra to the shimmering alpine lake that is flanked by the rocky ridges of the Continental Divide. There is simply no topping this hike, it might be our favorite in the Pike National Forest.

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    Route Description for Shelf Lake Hike

    The Shelf Lake Trail is a great hike with even better views. Hike up a forested gulch before the trail opens to the stunning vistas of the Continental Divide and its peaks. This trail offers the best of what Colorado has to offer: streams, woodlands, alpine tundra, blue-hued alpine lakes, and expansive vistas of the Front Range. This trail tops our list, that is for sure. If you wish to lengthen this scenic excursion, consider packing your overnight gear and camp at one of several dispersed campsites along the path. Note that the road up to the trailhead is a bit rough, so a vehicle with high ground clearance and 4-wheel drive is recommended.

    When you are all packed up and ready to roll, take the South Park Trail from the trailhead. Hike up the path until you encounter a fork in the road. Veer left up the Shelf Lake Trail. This route will guide you up the Smelter Gulch and along the running stream. Climb up the path as it intersects with Smelter Basin Creek. Continue trekking up the forested trail as it weaves you over the stream on several occasions. As you make your way deeper into the wilderness, you will notice the dispersed campsites that line the path. Trek up the gulch, admiring the verdant towering trees and the ambiance of the babbling creek.

    Soon you will ascend the treeline and find yourself in the alpine tundra. Walk along the exposed trail that will likely be windy. Track through the tundra abundant with wildflowers and past Independence Mine. Continue ascending the now rocky terrain up to the ridge of Shelf Lake. Once at the lake, bask in its crystal clear blue waters and revel in the mountain cirque. The inviting water will tempt you to dip your tired feet. Explore the lake and the surrounding landscape before retracing your steps back down to the trailhead.

    Getting to the Shelf Lake Hike Trailhead

    The trailhead for the Shelf Lake Trail is off County Road 1038.

    Route Information

    • Backcountry Campground

      Designated Dispersed Campsites along the Trail

    • When to do


    • Pets allowed

      Yes - On Leash

    • Family friendly

      Older Children only

    • Route Signage


    • Crowd Levels


    • Route Type

      Out and back

    Shelf Lake Hike Elevation Graph

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    Shelf Lake Hike Reviews

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