Chicago Lakes Trail

Location: Arapaho National Forest, Mt Evans Wilderness
Nearest town: Idaho Springs
Distance from Denver: 44 mi / 0:53
Trail distance: 9.8 mi RT + option to continue ~1.1 mi and 1,000 ft climb from Upper Chicago Lakes to Summit Lake (and to a trailhead and parking area off Mt Evans Rd).
Elevation: 10,615 ft at TH – 11,733 ft at Upper Chicago Lake
Directions: From I-70, go south on Hwy 103 at Idaho Springs toward Mt Evans. Go 13 mi and park at Echo Lake.
Date hiked: 07/2012
Additional resources:
ProTrails
Colorado Lifestyle

Trail notes and photos:
This trail begins at Echo Lake, which may be busy with visitors enjoying a stop as they drive up or down from Mt Evans. Park here, use the restroom and head counter-clockwise around the lake. Just a few hundred meters in, barely across the lake from the parking lot, is a sign designating the Chicago Lakes Trail. Follow this trail and soon you will be hiking quietly along a narrow, somewhat rocky and challenging trail with drop-offs which would scare many of the families along Echo Lake. Shortly into the trail you get a glimpse of where you’re headed.

View from start of Chicago Lakes Trail - Arapaho National Forest - Mt Evans Wilderness

View just past Echo Lake, the start of the Chicago Lakes Trail

At about 1.5 mi the trail turns left at a dirt road (well signed) to head past the Idaho Springs Reservoir. It isn’t the most wild feeling part of the trail but it ends quickly. A visiting school group was learning about water resources and their connection to mountain water, which made me feel happier about the activity along the reservoir.

About 2 mi in is the Mt Evans Wilderness boundary where visitors are asked to fill out a basic registration and attach their free permit to their packs while visiting the wilderness area. From here the trail continues climbing, heading through a former burn area where I found fireweed, monkshood, paintbrush and other wildflowers displaying early fire recovery.

Fireweed in former burn area - Mt Evans Wilderness - Arapaho National Forest

Fireweed in former burn area – Mt Evans Wilderness

Monkshood, Paintbrush and Aster flowers in former burn area - Mt Evans Wilderness

Monkshood, Paintbrush and Aster flowers in former burn area – Mt Evans Wilderness

A creek crossing provided a chance to dip my head, hat and shirt for a cool off before more climbing.

Creek crossing along Chicago Lakes Trail - Mt Evans Wilderness - Arapaho National Forest

Creek crossing along Chicago Lakes Trail

My favorite wildflower, the pink elephant head, was abundant in a boggy area.

Elephant's Head flower - Mt Evans Wilderness - Arapaho National Forest

Elephant’s Head flower, Pedicularis groenlandica, in Mt Evans Wilderness

The trail continued along with a steady climb, then a steeper climb to Lower Chicago Lake.

Before reaching Lower Chicago Lake - Arapaho National Forest - Mt Evans Wilderness

Along the trail before reaching Lower Chicago Lake – Mt Evans Wilderness

A steep climb leads to Upper Chicago Lake.

Upper Chicago Lake - Arapaho National Forest - Mt Evans Wilderness

Upper Chicago Lake – Mt Evans Wilderness

I found my way to a rock between the lakes to take in the view of the valley I had just climbed and the lakes above and below me. Visible in the photo are other hikers making their way up or down the trail. I spoke with a few folks who caught a ride up the road in order to hike the trail down from Summit Lake to Echo Lake, which would be a nice 6 mi, so long as you remember to turn around often to take in the views behind you.

Lower Chicago Lake - Mt Evans Wilderness - Arapaho National Forest

Lower Chicago Lake – Mt Evans Wilderness

Heading back down the way I had come, I photographed a few columbine and other wildflowers I hadn’t stopped to check out on the climb to the lakes.

Mountain Gentian flower - Mt Evans Wilderness

Mountain Gentian flower – Mt Evans Wilderness

Alpine columbine - Mt Evans Wilderness - Arapaho National Forest

Colorado columbine – Mt Evans Wilderness

It was a lovely hike back down with another cool down dip in the creek, more photos of wildflowers, and a sense of accomplishment as I passed visitors who would not make it past the edge of Echo Lake.

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