Classic Fall Hikes: Telluride's Hope Lake

Classic Fall Hikes: Telluride's Hope Lake

by Erik Dalton


View towards Lizard Head The Hope Lake trail starts and ends in the Trout Lake area just southeast of Telluride.  I regard this hike as a classic in the fall because of the sweeping views it provides looking out towards the Lizard Head Wilderness and the Wilson Range of 14ers.  Hope Lake is also off the beaten path and a little harder to get to, so if you are looking for some solitude, it can usually be found in the high country surrounding Hope Lake.

To find Hope Lake trailhead, drive out Hwy. 145 past Ophir and turn left at the Trout Lake Road. You parallel the lake for a while before making another left on Trout Lake Road #626, which is well marked.  It's approximately a 10-minute drive from this turn to the trailhead for Hope Lake, which is easily found and marked with a large sign and accompanying map.  Be sure to bring a lunch or some snacks, as this hike is an out-and-back that leads you into the high country and offers some great spots for stopping to smell the roses – rather, wild flowers.

The Hope Lake trail starts off gradually, winding its way through the deep, damp woods that sit behind Trout Lake, crossing many small streams and open fields that in summer bedazzle with wildflowers and shoulder height vegetation. The trail is perfect for taking along your four-legged friends, as there is plenty of romping space and lots of flowing water. 

After about 45 minutes of hiking, you cross one final stream before ducking into the woods just left of a large, rocky drainage. From here, the trail parallels the rocky drainage and climbs steadily through the woods, doing numerous switchbacks as it works its way up towards the high bench just above tree line.

After another 45 minutes of this steady climbing, the Hope Lake trail flows up into a large open meadow, covered in large rocks and interesting, high alpine vegetation.  From here, it's another 15-minute hike to Hope Lake itself, a natural alpine lake used to supplement the water supply in Trout Lake.   

Hope Lake Hope Lake sits in a high alpine bowl and cannot be seen until you are almost on top of it. Once you have reached the lake, the views from the shore are spectacular, because you are boxed in on three sides by 13,000 ft. peaks, surrounded be scree fields, and the two towering giants of San Miguel Peak and Vermillion Peak. A faint trail on the south side of the lake leads over to the dam, which helps control the water delivery to Trout Lake. It is worth a side trip to check it out.   

The return trip is the same as the ascent, yet here you really get to appreciate the views all your hard work has earned you.  As soon as you exit the bowl in which Hope Lake sits, the views towards Trout Lake, Sheep Mountain, and Lizard Head are unbelievable. Be careful as you make your way down: it is easy to focus on the horizon and not on where you are placing your foot. The round trip hike to and from the trailhead takes approximately 4 hours, with time for a break at the lake. 

(Erik Dalton photos)

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