Herman Lake (East of Loveland Ski Area)

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North America » United States » Colorado
August 31st 2007
Published: April 24th 2008
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Total Distance: 0 miles / 0 kmMouse: 0,0

Distance: 7 miles
Rating: difficult

Just off of I-70 near the Continental Divide is a popular and difficult hike that travels through some of Colorado’s highest country. The Herman Gulch Trail leading up to Herman Lake is part of the broader Continental Divide National Scenic Trail, which runs on and off from the Mexican border up to the Canadian border. The trail can be found in five states and runs through numerous national forests, wilderness areas, and three national parks (Rocky Mountain, Yellowstone, and Glacier).

Due to the elevation, the area around Herman Gulch experiences extreme weather changes virtually year-round. I have attempted this hike numerous times and never made it to Herman Lake (until this time) because of inclement conditions. During one memorable attempt on 4th of July weekend several years ago, my family and I had to turn around due to a freak snow storm! This time around, my dad and I were determined to make it to the end of the trail. Mid-to-late summer (August and September) is generally the best time to try high mountain hikes like this one. While there were some threatening storm clouds that materialized, we didn’t have any of the wild conditions I just mentioned. Herman Gulch is well known as a great place for viewing mountain wild flowers in early summer. However, by late August only the hardiest flowers are still in bloom. That being said, there is still plenty of scenery as the trail passes through thick pine forest and beautiful mountain meadows that offer views of the surrounding peaks. With the trailhead starting about 100 yards from the highway, this tends to be a very convenient--and hence popular--destination.

From the parking area, the trail begins with a short, moderate series of switchbacks before hitting the intersection with the Watrous Gulch and Bard Creek trails. Soon after the intersection, the trail begins to climb steeply, and continues like this for about the first half mile. Eventually, the trail begins to parallel the creek and soon flattens out in a series of meadows. At this point, the panorama of Herman Gulch opens up with impressive views of the surrounding area’s twelve and thirteen thousand foot peaks. To the west, Pettingell Peak (13,553 ft) marks the Continental Divide and the trail’s eventual destination (Herman Lake is just below the Divide). The next roughly 1.5 miles passes through the meadows, rolling gently over hills and through forested areas. The creek remains a constant companion along the left (southwest) side of the trail. The last mile up to Herman Lake involves another very steep climb like the beginning of the hike. The trail eventually passes above the tree line and flattens out again just before reaching the lake. On the way back down, look to the south east for a brief glimpse of Torreys Peak (one of the most popular 14ers in the state) on the other side of the valley.

While the Herman Gulch Trail ends at Herman Lake, the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail branches off about a quarter mile before the lake. From here, the trail climbs over an unnamed 12,000 ft pass before connecting with the actual Continental Divide for several miles. The trail crosses Jones Pass and briefly enters the small Vasquez Peak Wilderness Area before making a sharp turn to the east. The Watrous Gulch and Bard Creek trails also offer alternatives to this hike.

As I mentioned earlier, this area experiences extreme weather during most of the year. Be prepared for fast moving storms that can still produce snow as late as July. Herman Lake is very exposed, so don’t attempt to reach the end of the trail if a storm appears imminent.

Directions: From the Denver area, take I-70 west for about 50 miles. If you make it to the Loveland Ski Area and the Eisenhower Tunnel, you’ve gone too far! Take exit 218, which is about three miles west of the Bakerville exit (Exit 221). Take an immediate right after leaving the highway and travel a short distance on a good dirt road to the large parking area. There are bathroom facilities at the trailhead.

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