Willow Lake Trail

HARD 56 reviews

Willow Lake Trail is a 8.2 mile moderately trafficked out and back trail located near Crestone, Colorado that features a lake and is rated as difficult. The trail offers a number of activity options and is best used from April until September. Dogs are also able to use this trail.

DISTANCE
8.2 miles
ELEVATION GAIN
2,752 feet
ROUTE TYPE
Out & Back

dog friendly

birding

camping

hiking

nature trips

trail running

walking

forest

lake

views

waterfall

wild flowers

wildlife

bugs

snow

Deep in the heart of the Sangre De Cristo mountains in southern Colorado, Willow Lake provides a respite for the waters draining the Obstruction Peak glacial trough, as they rush north and west toward the central Colorado basin. If you tee off from the top of Obstruction Peak, Willow Lake is in the center of the dog-leg left, with 500 yard long meadow of Willow Creek Park as the green. The trailhead east of Crestone launches you on a 9-11 mile journey that will take you through forests of fir, arbors of aspen, and skirts of skree. Depending on the time of year you make this trek the streams you encounter along the way will be trickles or torrents. In about 2.5 hours you can climb to the west end of Willow Lake. Add another half hour and tack on a mile to your shoe treads, you can reach the falls at the east end of the lake, which will allow you to see Challenger Pt, Kit Carson Mtn, and Obstruction Peak - just remember to account for the additional time and mileage for the return trip.

camping
4 days ago

This is a great, challenging trail. There’s a variety of landscapes and much of the trail is picturesque. The lake is beautiful and camping area is clearly marked. The road to the trailhead has many pull-offs for car camping, I recommend a high clearance vehicle to get to the trailhead but it’s not a long walk from any of the camp sites if you have a smaller car.

backpacking
9 days ago

We backpacked to Willow Lake Thursday 8/2 and stayed until Saturday 8/4, summiting Kit Carson and Challenger in between. The hike up to the lake was absolutely gorgeous! Once you get up closer to the lake, you have a great view of the San Luis valley. It was definitely strenuous to gain that much elevation with heavy packs, but well worth the effort!

We had a few unnerving encounters with the problem bear that has been mentioned in previous comments. It came fairly close to our camp two separate times before dark, and came right up to our tent twice in the middle of the night even though we did not have any food/toiletries in our tent or packs. It was not easily scared off even after we yelled at it and clapped our hands. I did speak with the local ranger station today, and they informed me that the bear is no longer in the Willow Lakes area so it should not be an issue for future campers.

backpacking
12 days ago

Large, noisy group in main campground before lake. Bear is easily scared away. Scenery is incredible. First 1/3 of trail easy switchbacks on dirt, second 1/3 undulating rock and dirt, final 1/3 trail steep and rocky in places. Moderate for day packs and strenuous with heavy packs. Hike just beyond the lake for incredible views!

hiking
20 days ago

Before heading up to the lake, please take a look at this link.
http://momgoescamping.com/how-to-hang-a-bear-bag/
There is a problem bear in the base camp area and everyone needs to hang their smelly items (food, garbage, hygiene stuff, etc).

camping
26 days ago

Fantastic trail. The mosquitoes weren't bad at all.
Although, in terms of wildlife -the bear is very curious; campers beware

1 month ago

We hiked to Willow Lake and then up to Upper Willow Lake today. Spectacular vistas and wildflowers and Bighorn Sheep were in abundance. It’s more than just a jumping point to 14ers.

hiking
1 month ago

As a 61 year old in not-the-greatest shape, it was truly a tough climb and descent. About 4 hours up and 2 1/2 down. But well worth the effort! Very nice occasional views as you climb, and when you get to the lake it is just stunning.
Recommend walking on trail to the left of the lake and around to the other end if you have time. The views just keep getting better. Did not attempt Challenger Point or the summit. Can only image what it all looks like from there.
Mosquitos were not a problem for us, though there were a few at the campground by the lake.
It hailed for about 45 minutes and got cold in a hurry, then let up for a while, then light rain on the way down. Rain shell and extra layers a huge plus.
No luck on the key and rings which I read about below. But if there's a way to PM me through this site, I could relay more specific directions to someone who is on the trail and at the Willow Lake campground very often.
Very happy we did this hike!!

camping
1 month ago

Wonderful, beautiful hike and well maintained trail. Concur with everone else that its about 5 miles up to the lake. We did this with a 10 and 12 year old with full packs and took us a little over 5 hours to get up. Lots of stops. Bear is still there and very persistent. At the campsite by the lake it's there every evening and followed us down to a campsite about 0.5 miles below the lake. It is very stubborn and persistent. Not aggressive toward people, just wants your food. You must hang everything, between trees and 10 feet up is the best.

1 month ago

Well maintained and challenging trail with great rewards. Lots of wildflowers and wildlife. If camping, definitely bring a bear canister or plan to bear bag it, as there is at least one bear who is playing the part of lingering camp host. Willow Lake is a gem and my sore muscles and feet loved the icy water. Unfortunately, my wife left her wedding rings on a tree branch at camp (first campsite on left, in site below the lake) when applying sunscreen before the long haul down. We discovered this once back at the car. Any help or info would be greatly appreciated.
UPDATE - My wife’s wedding rings were located and are in the process of being returned by the friendly rangers. Thanks for everyone’s help!

hiking
1 month ago

My partner and I are two reasonably in shape folks from Ohio. We did the climb to the lake in about 3 hours, spent about an hour hanging out and a 2 hour descent. It was challenging, but very worth it.

backpacking
1 month ago

Bear frequenting the camp area below Willow Lake. Approaches while you're cooking/eating. Doesn't seem to be overly aggressive yet, but bold and habituated to people. Bear has clearly gotten a hold of human food recently.
Please hang all of your food and scented items 10 feet up and 4 feet out. Or bring a bear canister. There are not a ton of trees with ideal branches, but they can be found -- worth the time and effort. Don't leave food unattended.
Day hikers and backpackers should pack out all trash and food leftovers to prevent this bear from being further enticed.
Trail is in great shape and features really good views of the valley and Sangres.

hiking
1 month ago

Great hike but we lost the keys to our Land Rover on the way down. Infinite karma to anyone who finds them and connects back with me.

backpacking
2 months ago

it's a easy trail you can runn up with great veiws of the valley and not to many poeple however don't be mislead by the Cairns all around the trail...

hiking
3 months ago

This was the best alpine lake payoff of any trail I've done. We did it early in the season so the mosquitos weren't bad yet. As others have said, the first set of switchbacks are the hardest and the ones on the rock scree were the windiest. I'm out of shape and my wife is 4 months pregnant - our total time was 7.5 hours, 5.5 of moving time. 10.1 miles total. We saw some bighorn sheep on our way down and also swear we heard a moose, though not to be seen.

hiking
3 months ago

Willow Lake was a beaut. No need for any type of traction. Lake is completely thawed and there was a huge trout in the stream below the lake. Bringing the rod next time! RT took 7 hours with a long break at the lake and lots of stops for photos. Garmin watch clocked 12 miles RT but we dink around a lot.

hiking
4 months ago

Day hiked to this gem last week with the pooch. 200 yard wide, 100' tall ice waterfalls were a site to behold. Microspikes a must in upper third of trail. Worth every step with rewards starting at meadows within first couple miles on up. Would be a nice place to basecamp with nice views if Kit Carson if one were looking to do an overnighter right now.

backpacking
4 months ago

This is a tough hike at the beginning but once you’ve gotten past the switchbacks it’s pretty easy going to the lake. Leave early the weather can turn without warning and the wind really picks up around 2pm.

5 months ago

This is a gorgeous hike, one of the best in the area. I hiked it on a one-day ascent and descent of Challenger Point and Kit Carson Peak, and so didn't have time to explore the area around Willow Lake much. I want to return to do some more photography in the area. Well worth the hike!

hiking
8 months ago

This is a well maintained trail and is somewhat challenging. The steep grade and altitude make this a fantastic workout of the body and mind. This hike has it all sweeping views, streams, waterfalls, and alpine lake, and moss covered forests. We loved it!! Give your self plenty of time as it is a very long 8.6 miles. In fact, I would say it is more like 12 miles out and back. If you go in July, BE PREPARED FOR EPIC MOSQUITOES !! You will need long pants and long sleeves and bug repellent. If you take these precautions you will be fine. We went in shorts and short sleeves and it added a layer of challenge to this hike.

backpacking
10 months ago

Great trail. Well maintained.While the hike is somewhat challenging with a full pack, the abundance of amazing views makes it worth the effort. Views of Willow Lake are a breathtaking reward.

hiking
10 months ago

Excellent hike. A little bit of everything. Challenging but not overwhelming. Beautiful views worth every step!

hiking
11 months ago

Beautiful hike with well maintained trail. Made it to the lake in 3 hours.

backpacking
Friday, July 07, 2017

Beautiful hike, but be prepared to put in some work. Did the hike on the 1st and it was pretty hot, so bring enough water for the return trip. Tons of mosquitos the entire way. Fitbit said it was more like 6 miles each way.

backpacking
Friday, July 07, 2017

Such a spectacular place! I suppose difficulty ratings are all dependent on your experience, fitness level and whether or not you're carrying a fully outfitted backpack for overnighting. We hiked up with gear in about 4.5 hours but stopped for photos frequently. This is a really long uphill grind. Mosquitos all along the way, we were saved by Repel Lemon Eucalyptus bug spray (non-Deet). Incredibly beautiful with waterfalls, streams, lake. Saw marmots and pika on the trail above the lake. Highly recommended but be prepared, we were pretty sore by the time we hiked out the next day!

hiking
Tuesday, July 04, 2017

Incredible views throughout keep you motivated up this great trail! Last bit up gets a bit difficult but worth every breath!

Sunday, July 02, 2017

One of the most stunning trails I have hiked ever. Photos are shared. BE WARNED: this trail is longer and steeper than noted. And everyone on the trail today noted this. I would say it's about 6-7 miles to the lower lake (one way). It's about 10 miles (one way) to the upper lake. We set out for a 8.9 mile RT hike, and it ended in a exhausted death march back to the trailhead getting swarmed by mosquitos despite the triple bathing in DEET. I logged 47,890 steps on my Fitbit, ran out of water with 2 miles left (even packed extra), and am the sorest I have EVER been including 14ers. This is best done as an overnight: both for the length and for the wide variety of beautiful scenery to explore. Hike in, set up camp (above the falls would be great to avoid mosquitos), and then enjoy the alpine valley and the second upper Willow Creek Lake or Kit Carson, and Challenger Peak....it's worth it. Doing this as a day hike is doable, just come prepared and know that this is not a moderate day hike, it will be one of the more challenging hikes of your year.

hiking
Thursday, June 29, 2017

Gorgeous! A few waterfalls along the way and there are lots of wildflowers right now. It is closer to 10 miles RT to the west side of the lake. Bring good bug spray!

Friday, June 23, 2017

Fantastic views. Lots of wildlife. Very difficult trail if you are not in shape. Mosquitoes are bad to meadow. Fishing was good.

trail running
Saturday, June 17, 2017

Awesome trails! Ran up to Willow Lake and then passed it almost to the summit of Challenger and Kit. Still a little bit of snow and didn't bring hiking sticks or the right shoes. Amazing run overall though!

Monday, June 12, 2017

Great hike...bring insect repellent, we needed it the first 2 miles from trail head start. Saw lots of wildlife and the weather was perfect.

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