Shelf Lake Hike
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.
View Shelf Lake Hike on Map
- Map Data: ©OpenStreetMap
- Tiles: ©CyclOSM
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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.
Shelf Lake Hike Elevation Graph
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Shelf Lake Hike Reviews
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