Keener Lake via North Derby Trail

Trail: Keener Lake via North Derby and Hooper Lake Trails (and a stroll on East Fork Trail)
Nearest town
: Yampa
Distance from Denver: 163 mi / 3:55
Location: White River and Routt National Forests, Flat Tops Wilderness
Distance hiked: about 8.0 mi RT to Keener Lake (my stroll on East Fork Trail was 2.5 mi RT)
Elevation: 10,255 ft at trailhead
Directions: See my Trail Map
Trailhead: Toilets, signage with basic map. Along the dirt road in are 3 campgrounds and 30 roadside campsites, all with fire rings and picnic tables ($5 roadside; $10 in campgrounds as of the date of this post). Water is available via hand pump at Horseshoe campground.
Dates hiked: June 28-29, 2013

Trail notes and photos:
After setting up camp at one of the sites along the road, I headed out on the East Fork Trail (#1119) to stretch my legs and check out the amazing wildflowers I saw on the drive in. Had I been in the mood for a fast hike I could have made it to the top of the Devil’s Causeway and back down, but instead the flowers drew me in for a slow evening stroll with lots of photo stops.

East Fork Trail - Flat Tops Wilderness - Routt National Forest

Blue Clementines along Stillwater Reservoir, East Fork Trail

This early part of the trail headed west along the north side of Stillwater Reservoir and then turned north into the Flat Tops Wilderness toward the famous Devil’s Causeway.

East Fork Trail - Flat Tops Wilderness - Routt National Forest

At the Flat Tops Wilderness boundary north of Stillwater Reservoir along the East Fork Trail

I made it about 1.25 mi in before turning back toward camp.

East Fork Trail - Flat Tops Wilderness - Routt National Forest

East Fork Trail, just past the Flat Tops Wilderness boundary

The following day I headed into the Flat Tops Wilderness from the same trailhead at Stillwater Reservoir. This time I headed south on the North Derby Trail (#1122) with a goal of reaching some of the many lakes along the trail, but leaving my day open depending on weather and my own wanderings.

North Derby Trail - Flat Tops Wilderness - White River and Routt National Forests

From Stillwater Reservoir trailhead, heading south on North Derby Trail

Past the reservoir the trail dips into the forest and into the Flat Tops Wilderness. Sign in at the trail register. The next couple miles were mostly climbing through forest with the occasional more flat section through an open meadow full of wildflowers.

North Derby Trail - Flat Tops Wilderness - White River and Routt National Forests

Heading into the Flat Tops Wilderness along the North Derby Trail

At one point there is a short but really steep section with a false summit, then another short but really steep section right after that. You’re getting close to the top at this point. Pass thru another open meadow, do another short but steep climb and you’re above treeline and at the top of the pass at 11,815 ft.

North Derby Trail - Flat Tops Wilderness - White River and Routt National Forests

View from the pass on the North Derby Trail, looking down to Stillwater Reservoir

North Derby Trail - Flat Tops Wilderness - White River and Routt National Forests

View from the North Derby Trail pass at 11,815 ft

The alpine wildflowers get even more amazing at this point. I believe I was there at the peak of wildflower season.

North Derby Trail - Flat Tops Wilderness - White River and Routt National Forests

Alpine wildflowers at the pass along the North Derby Trail

After enjoying the view, continue south on what is now the Hooper Lake Trail, according to my map. The trail gets tough to follow in the boggy areas of the alpine meadows and I found myself on a quickly fading trail. Trying hard not to crush the delicate alpine tundra, I spent a good bit of time retracing my steps and did find the actual trail, which was passable by jumping carefully from grassy clump to grassy clump and trying not to land in the super smooshy muddy parts of the trail (aka most of the trail). I managed to leap out of the mud pretty quickly when I finally did plunge 1 1/2 of my 2 feet into the mud. Once again I was thankful for my hiking poles to help me through!

North Derby Trail - Flat Tops Wilderness - White River and Routt National Forests

Looking south from the North Derby Trail just south of the pass

I continued to follow the usually easy but very narrow trail (one foot in front of the other) south past Hooper Lake, enjoying the views and flowers all the way. Around 3.5 mi is the right turn to Keener Lake. I can imagine it being pretty easy to miss, but I was fortunate enough to see 3 of the 8 humans (and 2 of 3 nice dogs) I saw all day right at the turnoff to Keener. They were camping at Edge Lake, east off the trail, and mentioned the trail being tough to find.

Keener Lake - Flat Tops Wilderness - White River and Routt National Forests

View of Derby Peak. Keener Lake and the waterfalls are near the saddle in the photo.

I continued to Keener Lake, less than 0.5 mi from the main trail. I again trudged through mud and retraced my steps a couple of times to get to the lake and waterfall view where I had hoped to rest for a while. I found the mosquitoes to be too invasive for much relaxation, which was common in all forested areas along this trail and at my campsite. Bring bug spray for this area! From Keener Lake I headed back the way I came.

There are lots of options for backpacking or continuing on to other spots within day hiking distance on this trail or others in the area. Do explore!

Keener Lake - Flat Tops Wilderness - White River and Routt National Forests

Keener Lake

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