Shelf Lake Trail

MODERATE 99 reviews
#2 of 24 trails in

Shelf Lake Trail is a 6.8 mile lightly trafficked out and back trail located near Montezuma, Colorado that features a lake and is rated as moderate. The trail offers a number of activity options and is best used from June until October. Dogs are also able to use this trail.

6.8 miles
2076 feet
Out & Back

dog friendly



mountain biking

nature trips





wild flowers



A beautiful hike to a lake on a high bench above timberline. The lake is often ice-bound until the end of June. The trailhead is at an old smelter site. The trail climbs steeply at first into a hanging valley, then climbs gradually up the valley to finish with a final short, but steep climb onto the shelf where the lake sits.

1 day ago

Overall great hike, great view and decent camping for backpacking. Road was a little rough to get there and the trail had a little bit of water from the snow melt but no water shoes required. Absolutely sick

7 days ago

Completed this trail 10 June 2018. I do this trail once or twice a year and always love it. Because we had a dry winter there isn’t as much snowpack as previous years.

The trailhead used to start next to a mound of black rocks, but they have opened a parking lot that you pass before this.

No snow until after the large river crossing. Nothing too bad until the top, near the summit.

Your feet will get wet, be prepared.

Follow footsteps in snowpack to reach the Lake.

Another beautiful hike, will be beautiful in about a month when wildflowers are in full bloom.

22 days ago

Went up yesterday (28May2018) Trail was mostly clear until about quarter mile to the lake. From there on it was pretty much a snow field up to the knees. Love this hike and look forward to doing it again in a few weeks.

27 days ago

Great hike

1 month ago

So we tried to hike this on 5-16-18. We didn't make it because the TH was bone dry, but about a mile from the lake, you definitely need snowshoes and route finding skills. Both of which we have, just didn't bring instead, we climbed up to a high point along the trail that was higher than the lake and the view was amazing! Probably even better than the lake would have been. It felt like I could touch Squartop from where we were. The trail and area are very lovely and quiet. There were zero others on the trail the whole day and one other person was fishing near the start of the road. Driving: Once you get off of Guanella pass road, there will be a fork eventually, keep right. You go past about 30 campsites then it's still down a ways. I wouldn't drive a sedan down the road unless you don't care about it. Higher clearance (jeep and 4runner are excessive) vehicles are highly recommended for parts. If it had rained hard the day before, there will be pits of water across 80% of the width of the road to the TH that are 1-1.5ft deep. The issue with a sedan would be high centering if you're bad at navigating or smashing your front end in a time or two and only slightly, otherwise it's not terrible by any means. Definitely an awesome area!

5 months ago

This is one of my favorite hikes in Colorado!!! It is rarely busy and offers a wide range of environments to trek through from forest, to boulder fields to tundra. In July the fields above tree line are covered in a wide variety of wild flowers, and there are giant patches of columbines.

The climb begins quickly. You'll accumulate a big chunck of elevation gain through the first 2 miles. The trail leads to an incredible view down the valley from a pretty exposed overlook. The next couple of miles are a more gradual uphill. It is a beautiful hike through boulder fields and forest with the sound of the stream ever present. The last third of the trip is the most grueling. It is a sustained climb to the lake.

In past years I have camped along the trail then tackled Square Top the next day.

Things to note - County Road 1038 is not well taken care of and has boulders that you will have to get over or around. There is almost always standing water a few inches thick somewhere on the road. I have seen a Prius make it to the trail head, but have been on trips where the driver of a Subaru didn't feel comfortable and parked two miles from the trial head. Be aware before you try and get there and don't be afraid to park before the road becomes brutal.

Also, the trail head isn't extremely well marked when you are heading up the road. I needed my GPS to make sure I was headed the right direction and find the trail. But, there is a very large boulder with a sign that guides you, it is just easier to see if you are looking back down the road toward the entrance from Geneva Road.

Bring bug spray or permethrin clothing. This trail is along a creek and bugs become unbearable without it. You may also want to make sure your hiking boots or shoes are waterproof. The trail has standing water sporadically and there aren't ways around the soupy parts. Lastly, once you get above tree line 7-foot-tall shrubs are grown right up along the trail and can feel like they are attacking you. Long sleeves offer a fair bit of protection.

6 months ago

So beautiful. When you think your not going to get there, that is when you are so close. Was a little erie as we spent 7 hours on this trail and did not see one human. Mountain playground all to ourselves. Went in middle of September when all the colors were beautiful below tree line. Lake see through blue, chilly but worth it.

9 months ago

Great hike, but as others have stated there are a couple places that are no joke. Beautiful views with a lot of wild flowers still in bloom.

9 months ago

the original trailhead for this trail (634) is closed. A larger parking at the TH for trail 600 is now where you park for shelf lake. Apparently there is a connector trail from the parking lot to shelf lake trail 634. Again, I'm posting this cuz I couldn't find the TH until the afternoon and too late to hike.

9 months ago

Hiked this yesterday with our dog. Very beautiful trail with some creek crossings to stop and water the dog and cool down. We live here and hike quite a bit and it was a DIFFICULT hike. Steep grades the majority of the way and cairn route finding the entire way above tree line made the way up a slog. Once we passed the false summit, traversing to the lake was beautiful with wildflowers and snow. 1.2 miles after reaching the "top" AKA the false summit. Lake is nice but nothing spectacular. There was a little snow, which was fun. Again, steep loose trail had the legs burning on the way down. Only saw 1 other group on the trail. The camping nearby was also a plus, but some spots are much, much better than others. Overall a fun but difficult hike with a lake and hiking above tree line.

9 months ago

The wildflowers we're stunning. Literally tens of thousands of wildflowers!

10 months ago

Don't pick this hike unless you have a high clearance vehicle. The road is about 3 miles, covered in rocks and many steep dips.

As for the hike, it is a great moderate hike. Forests, wildflowers, views, and the lake is beautiful as you can see from all the pictures.

10 months ago

Beautiful and just the right amount of challenging.

10 months ago

Hiked yesterday. This has been one of the prettier hikes I have done recently. I would highly suggest it and do it before the wild flowers are gone! The initial mile can be quiet challenging as it is pretty much uphill with lots of rocks and steep grade. If you're not used to Altitude / steep grades take it slow. Do not get discouraged by this, make it to the valley you will not be disappointed!! Numerous wild flower fields, that lead to one more steep incline. Once you arrive at the lake enjoy the solitude and beauty. While out yesterday only came across 5 parties (all going down the trail). The FSR you take the trailhead can be a bit rough, make sure if you have decent clearance!

10 months ago

The wildflowers were beautiful and amazing! I loved the trail, but it was a difficult one for an older flatlander. There is a new trailhead that makes this a 7.8 mile roundtrip hike. You can still get to the old smelter site trailhead, but the signs make it sound like there is no trail access, so we used the new one.

11 months ago

I love this hike. I do it once or twice a year. This was my first time in 2017 and I hiked it Saturday July 1.

Was on the trail by 730 am and didn't see a single person until coming down from the summit. I made it to the lake in 2 hours flat, but could've done it in shorter time if the snow drifts had been melted. You have to scramble around them/up them the best you can to find the trail. It's still very wet, make sure you have water proof hiking boots or your feet will get soaked from some of the run off.

Once the snow drifts melt, this hike will be wonderful.

Harder elevation gain in the beginning, levels out through most of it, then elevation gain at the end signifies you are close to the lake. Enjoy!

11 months ago

Amazing trail and plenty of dispersed camping near by. The trail head is not a traditional trail head but Google maps brings you there. the trail marker is before you cross the stream when driving there.

11 months ago

Is there a place to park at the head? Do I need to go to the ranger station first or can I just go? ( first timer, duh)

Monday, June 05, 2017

Trail head is a bit hard to find. If you use google maps, it will take you to the exact spot, however there is only one tiny sign that's easy to miss. It's located next to a pile of black rocks. We made it about 2.5 miles in, but lost the trail due to snow. Gorgeous area! I would recommend stopping in the valley and turning around at the river until the snow clears up; about 2 miles in.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Really beautiful, but with the new snowfall it's nearly impossible to complete without snowshoes or even some prior knowledge to the trail. We loved it for what it was today: a 1.5 mile walk in the snowy woods.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Cuts, small but fun

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Nice trail that can be a bit challenging in places. The switchbacks at the beginning can be a bit tedious, but worth it once you clear them. Trail can be difficult to see with the leafs on the ground. For the 4X4 fans. the road leading to the trail head and beyond is fun.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Tips to find the trailhead -- its easy to miss! Our car clocked 2,9 miles from the entrance sign at Geneva Park Campground, but there isn't a recognizable parking area and the small sign is on the right in the trees facing away from you as you go up the dirt road. We went passed it and didn't see the sign until we were driving back down (on the left as you go down). We'll be back to hike it - it ended up starting to snow so hard we decided to save it for a better day.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Pictures show an inconsiderate jerk with dogs off leash.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

amazing when you get to the top.

Monday, September 26, 2016

great hike! We only passed 4 groups of people the entire trail. Beautiful lake. The road is a little sketchy to get there. I have an outback and it did fine, higher clearance would be nice, but I also saw some little non four wheel drive vehicles on the road. Also, if you put the trailhead in googlemaps it should take you right there. The trailhead is not well marked, but googlemaps did a good job.

Monday, September 26, 2016

We went on a Sunday and only saw 3 other groups. Make sure you have a vehicle with high clearance, the road is really rocky to the trail head.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Had the entire trail to myself during Peak Autumn season. Lots of diversity. Would do again next fall.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Beautiful hike! Plenty of variety from flower valleys to climbing through rocks, if you chose.

Friday, August 12, 2016

The last bit of road up to the trailhead is pretty rough and you will absolutely need 4WD. As for the trail itself, the first and last 1/4th of the trail is fairly steep but not overly difficult. Trail features some amazing views and wildflowers. I went on a Thursday afternoon and only crossed ONE other person on it. I thought the lake itself was very pretty and a good payoff to the hike, very quiet and tranquil. The hike took me about 4-4.5 hours total.

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