I went to the Colorado Rockies in late September-early October with the expressed intention of being there for the autumnal yellowing of the aspen trees. It’s a gorgeous sight, the leaves take on a golden glow that shimmers in the breeze. Well, mission accomplished. My brother saved East Lake Creek Trail for the last hike of my visit, one that walks for miles in and among both young and mature aspen forest. Most of the younger trees were revealing their peak shining moment, and the larger, older trees displayed that in-between green and yellow hue that is also quite striking. The trail wanders through White River National Forest and onward into Holy Cross Wilderness, but on this day we were merely out to enjoy the forest. Our hike occurred on Wednesday, October 2, 2013 from 8:45am to about 1:15pm. The plan was to take East Lake Creek Trail to East Lake Creek, then return.
Hike Length: 5.3 miles Hike Duration: 4.5 hours
Hike Configuration: Down and back Blaze: None
Start Elevation: 8,960 feet Elevation Gain: 1,470 feet
Hike Rating: Moderate: some climbing, and scrub terrain in the wilderness.
Trail Condition: Excellent, very well maintained.
Starting Point: East Lake Creek trailhead on West Lake Creek Road. Yep.
Trail Traffic: We encountered 14 other hikers in five groups.
How to Get There: Take the Edwards exit on I-70 and head south toward town. Turn right on Hwy 6, heading west, for 0.7 mile to Lake Creek Rd. Turn left, south, at the National Forest Access sign. Travel on this road for 1.8 miles and turn right onto West Lake Creek Rd. Follow W. Lake Creek Rd. for approximately 4 miles to the trailhead, staying to the right at the “Y” after the bridge, parking only in the designated area because of surrounding private land.
Normally, I use this space to give you a trail report. This time I’m going to mix things up a bit and let the pictures tell the story. For example, the drive up West Lake Creek Road from Edwards to the trailhead passes through beautiful horse country. The East Lake Creek Trail itself is in excellent condition. Whoever the trail volunteers are do a remarkable job. Aside from that though, the trail is really unremarkable. It’s just a nice stroll through a spruce/aspen forest. Ah, but the time of year made all the difference on this particular hike for us.
About half an hour after we started we happened upon a grouse on the trail. Amazingly enough, the grouse didn’t take flight, it simply ran up the trail. Comically this continued for several minutes as the grouse would scurry a couple hundred feet up the trail, then turn to see if we were still following. Finally I suppose it realized we weren’t going away, so it did. Eventually the trail begins a downward trek through another magnificent aspen stand into the East Lake Creek Valley.
When you reach the valley level, you enter Holy Cross Wilderness. The terrain is more open in the valley, and the ground cover is more of a scrub. There is a rocky outcropping in the middle of a large meadow that is a great place for pictures, or a break, or whatever your little heart desires.
Not far past the outcropping you will reach East Lake Creek. That is where we had lunch by a pond along the creek. The East Lake Creek Trail continues into the backcountry wilderness for another four miles, but we ended our outward adventure here, and headed back.
By the time we finished lunch, took some panoramic photos and chatted with some other hikers, it was afternoon. With the sun now higher in the sky, the lighting for the photography on the way back was completely different. We weren’t shooting directly into the sun like we were in the morning, and the sky was a brilliant royal blue that is one of the enjoyments of high altitude hiking. Some of the scenes along the way were exactly what I was hoping for when I planned this early fall trip to the Rockies. If you should find yourself in Central Colorado in early October in the future, treat yourself to East Lake Creek Trail.