Highland Mary Trail Loop is a 8.1 mile moderately trafficked loop trail located near Silverton, Colorado that features a lake and is only recommended for very experienced adventurers. The trail is primarily used for hiking and walking and is best used from June until October.
This Trail leads you to a set of "locally famous" Lakes which occupy an Alpine Basin "at the top of the Rockies". The Trailhead is at the Far Southern End of the Cunningham Gulch Road (same road as the 100 Years Mine Tour and the Stony Pass 4x4 Trail across the Continental Divide - both are 2-3 miles North of the Trailhead). Because of the aforementioned attractions, the bulk of the Road is in quite Good Condition (until the last 1/2mile and the last Creek Crossing - High Clearance but not necessarily 4x4). There is a BLM Pit Toilet about halfway along the Road - use it if needed as there is nothing at the Trailhead. The Trailhead has room for a dozen vehicles, but is often rather busy (there are 2-3 other parking areas only a little way down the road). The Trail quickly starts to climb into the Weminuche Wilderness. Shortly one reaches one of the spots where you need to "rock climb" in numerous 2-3ft "stairs" with good handholds (this trail is off-limits to stock - and probably to any short-legged Dog that you don't plan to carry up several of these places). The Trail has climbs relieved by short near-level stretches as it parallels the infrequently-seen creek, until at the 1/3 mark with an open meadow backed by a waterfall (and another climb). At about the 2/3rd point, the Trail makes an "unannounced" right-hand creek crossing (across a number of rocks/logs). Then you climb into an intermediate Basin filled with shrubs and wildflowers. The final climb crosses a talus/boulder field, and then quickly arrives at the "Smallest Lake" of Highland Mary. To the left around this "Smallest Lake" is a great vantage back down the sweep of Cunningham Gulch. To the right, the Trail creeps past the lakeshore and over a small hump to the "Middle Highland Mary" Lake (several times larger/longer than "Smallest Lake"). The Trail continues along this lakeshore about 1/2mi before crossing another hump and finding the inflow end of the "Large Highland Mary" Lake. Behind the "Largest Lake" is a rather mundane 800ft ridgeline and rounded Peak. The Trail otherwise bypasses this "Largest Lake" and proceeds beyond over a saddle to Verde Lake and a Trail that can be made into a multi-day Loop Trail using the CDT to return to the Cunningham Gulch Trailhead.
I did this loop in Sept. of 2011. Great hike and had a gorgeous day to do it. Especially seeing as it had rained the entire day before and I was stuck in my truck for the most part. I car camped the night before in upper Cunningham Gulch, and it allowed me an early start the next day. It was 38 degrees when I left the parking area and I was at the first lake in an hour and twenty minutes. Another ten minutes or so and I was at the biggest lake. Elevation here is right around 12,200'. Great views of course, but the forest ranger down in Silverton told me to climb the small knoll just south of the big lake. So I did just that and what a view from there. Sat there for quite a while taking it in. The Grenadiers are right there in front of you, and you could see further south to the Needle Mountains too. Awesome spot. Then I followed the not so well beaten path from the bottom of the knoll towards Verde Lake, and then east to where it connects to the CDT. I will say one thing about trails in Colorado, they are not very well signed. Some places have good signage , others nothing at all and you're on your own. Once on the CDT the trail starts to drop pretty quickly on its way back to the parking area in Cunningham Gulch. There were sheep everywhere in this area that day, and of course the guard dogs were out in force too. Luckily didn't have any encounters with them. I did have one chase me as I was driving out of the gulch though. They do their job for sure!! This was a great loop and I would do it again for sure.
We hiked out to Highland Mary Lakes on Saturday -such a beautiful hike! The next morning we went out to fish verde lake and caught several fish. We also passed lots of fisherman coming from that lake. We almost lost the trail coming from the lake but after some backtracking, we realized you had to follow the posts. After leaving the lake there were some incredible views! My favorite part of the trip. After you loop around and towards the end it is a pretty steep decline. I'm glad that we hiked down it instead of up it, but still very hard on the joints!
Went in August and the trail was in good shape!
One of my favorites. A "go-to" in my book.
Did this trail a few months back and it was awesome. I did not get to finish the whole trail, but I would love to accomplish this someday. The snow was beautiful and the air smelled great. We thought we saw a bear's foot prints in the snow but we did not come across any wild life.