Explore the most popular dog friendly trails near Buena Vista with hand-curated trail maps and driving directions as well as detailed reviews and photos from hikers, campers and nature lovers like you.

backpacking
10 hours ago

Be advised the trailhead has been moved 1.1 miles south from the location marked on All Trails. The old roadbed up to the old trail head has a pretty good grade, but is smooth and covered in small gravel. Really easy to hike! All my distances are from the new parking lot. I didn't hike all the way up to the loop, but I did upload a track from the new trail head for reference.

Rating this trail as moderate is generous. It is largely smooth and flat, with a couple of rocky patches. Easy grade with exception of miles 0.0 to 1.1, and 3 - 3.75. The latter is fairly steep, BUT switchbacks have been added at the top making the last 0.25 mile or so a gentle grade. The switchbacks are also not shown on the All Trails route, but are on my track. Once on top you again face easy grades and smooth trail.

You will follow a creek between mile 1.1 and 2.75 providing easy access to water, and a surprisingly lush gulch. A surprise given how dry the overall area is! The trail meanders through a few aspen groves, overlooks a beaver pond, and winds it's way through open pine forest. Good camping spots up around 2.5 miles. You will depart water at about 2.75 miles when you start your way up to the plateau.

Once you reach the plateau you are greeted by low bushes and grassland, with pine forest along the shallow valley walls. You will encounter reliable water at about mile 4 and again follow a stream and beaver ponds to the north. The upper plateau is relatively flat and loaded with good camping spots.

Really enjoyed this trail. It was a nice easy overnighter and hooks up with a loop on the north end. You could easily make a 2-3 day there and back trip with the loop added in.

Well we woke up late but had originally planned a 14er so we had that mentality going into this hike that we chose super last minute without much research, just to put this review in perspective. We got to the monte Escondido road around 9:30 and got hiking up the road around 9:45 due to us driving a corolla we knew we wouldn’t make it up the road. Definitely requires an suv. Hiking up and back down the road was the worst part for us. Once we got to the clearly marked trailhead there’s a while where it is relatively flat and shady which is a nice break from the uphill and sunny road. Soon after the creek crossing you start heading straight up the mountain that is steep and almost completely rocky. We took plenty of water breaks and had the same amount of water we were planning for the 14er. Hiking poles also helped a ton. At the Colorado wilderness trail you go left and within a short distance you see a small lake on the right and then a little further down the trail you get to the large lake. We walked around to the far side for our lunch break which offered beautiful Mountain Views and shade. We set up our hammock - bring one! We made it here around 1, remember we were taking plenty of breaks and I was fighting a chest cold so if you hauled straight up it wouldn’t take you nearly this long. Headed back down around 2 and made it back to the car at 3:15. Very steep and slippery heading down on the rocks again hiking poles were super helpful. Overall, we enjoyed the trail. A lot of comments about it being dead and boring but we saw plenty of aspens, birds, even some wildflowers. Recommend and would do again!

hiking
6 days ago

A challenging but truly epic hike & summit. The dirt road up to the trailhead was barely passable at 5-7 mph in a Honda Civic – by comparison, it was much better than the Grays/Torreys road from hell – but you’d be tempting fate in anything less than a high-clearance 4WD. Parking spots were still available at the trailhead (North Cottonwood Creek) at 7 AM on a Monday in August. Only encountered four or five other hikers all day.

This trail has basically four parts: in the forest, in the valley, ascending to the shoulder, and the final ascent to the summit. Each section is shorter but steeper and more challenging than the last; the last two sections have probably 2000-2500 feet of elevation gain across <2 miles. Beware of the two unmarked forks along this trail – at the first, it’s left to Harvard and right to Columbia, and at the second, keep right for the Harvard trail and go left for Bear Lake. Lots of marmots and pikas towards the end, and we saw some mountain goats from the summit. Goats aside, the summit views were absolutely spectacular – with minimal wind and clear skies, we spent 40 minutes up there.

Bottom line: definitely harder than some other 14ers but, with proper planning and expectations, totally worth it.

camping
10 days ago

Great climb. Camped in the basin. Summited the next morning with my 12 and 9 year old.

Because of the previous review saying that the road was closed, I called the ranger district and a young lady told me the private road was closed but the public road was open. The public road was Cottonwood Pass, which is closed. We talked to many local people and they said there’s no way to get to Lost Lake Trail this summer until Cottonwood Pass opens back up.

backpacking
29 days ago

Harvard was a great hike. We hiked up to near the tree line the day before and enjoyed great temperatures in the trees. The elevation change is mild up until the last 2.5 miles. After this it was challenging and quite steep. The only problem we had was that the trail was a little confusing at points. Look for the rock piles to guide you. The last 300 yards require you to scramble and the most obvious route is not the best and if you go
A little to the right it is easier. The way down does not require trekking poles but they do help. Great views of many small lakes and a picturesque stream. Great hike with a small overnighter

hiking
29 days ago

I took my mother who is visiting from the east coast on this hike as an intro/easier hike at altitude so she could acclimate. We started around 8:30am on a Sunday morning and there was no one around. For the duration of the hike, we only saw 4 people total, which is rare for this time of year and type of hike.

Specific directions and tips:
— If you don’t have a high-clearance vehicle, I would park at the base of the road and walk up the 0.9 miles to the sign reading “3 Elk Trail.” I have a Honda Accord and didn’t want to risk it.
— Nowhere on the hike will you find any signage saying “Harvard Lakes trail.”
— At the sign reading 3 Elk Trail, turn left and continue along the logging trail.
— You’ll cross the creek a few times and meander through the woods, before the trail intersects the Colorado Trail. This is about 1.7 miles from the 3 Elk Trail sign.
— Turn left (West) onto the Colorado Trail, and you’ll hit the first, smaller lake on your right. Continue along the trail and you’ll soon see the second, larger lake on your left.
— There’s an unofficial trail that loops the lake, with a few remnants of campsites.

There weren’t many wildflowers along the trail since the climate has been so dry. Still a wonderful, beautiful hike. I recommend getting an early start since it gets hot quite quickly.

hiking
1 month ago

Amazing hike. Did this in two days, second 14er. First one was La Plata, which I thought was harder. But then again I learned my lesson and took ibuprofen and tylenol every 6 hours to prevent the pounding headache that I had with La Plata.

This was part of a bachelor party! We arrived Friday at trailhead at 11AM, hiked up the trail to the second campsite about 3.7 miles in (much better than first), and arrived around 2PM. First campsite super crowded, had about 7 groups. We had the second one to ourselves pretty much. Set alarm for 1:30AM to go outside and find a sky lit up with stars and a great view of the milky way and some sweet shooting stars.

Woke up next day, lazying around and left at 9:30AM. Summited with day packs around 2PM because we are out of shape. Tough hike with the elevation, with a small 5-10 minute technical climb at the end but definitely doable. Views on top are of course, unbelievable. Shared some celebratory scotch at the top.

Things to keep in mind:

- You need a 4x4 to get to the trailhead, Definitely. A miniSUV might make it, maybe.
- Plenty of water along the trail. Bring iodine pills, a pump, or what have you. No need to carry tons of water.
- Campfires are usually allowed, except when it's super dry in the summer and there's a fire ban in place

We did not do Columbia too, but ran into some people who summited Columbia, and hiked across the ridge to Harvard. They had said Columbia is the toughest they've ever done after 12x 14ers. Take care with attempting to bag 2 peaks in a day.

10/10 would do again

hiking
1 month ago

This was my first 14er and it lived up to my expectations and extensive research I did. Haha. Definitely challenging and I can feel it in my body days later. Initial 4 miles is a moderate level trail which only took about 2 hours. Once you hit tree line it gets a little steeper but still moderate level hiking with some amazing views and streams. The last 2 miles is where the true incline is. From start to finish adding in the lake we hiked about 14 miles in 10 hours.

There is a lot of contradictory information about this trail in reviews. Here is the truth. Number one, the road to the trailhead is less than a mile and drivable if you have a high-clearance vehicle. Just go slow. If you do not it's a pretty short walk. The distance is 5.4 out and back with the road walk. Number two, the trail name is 3 Elk, not Harvard Lakes, and you do need to go left at the Colorado Trail sign. The vast majority of the trail is a fairly steep incline and not at all scenic. There are tons of dead trees and juniper bushes and no wildflowers or wildlife. There are a couple of short stretches where you are along a stream that is very pretty. The lakes at the top are pretty with a nice view of Mount Columbia but I would say not worth a subpar hike to get to them. If you want a good workout that's pretty short this is ok. If you're not in good shape, this will not be fun. If you are doing this as a substitute for Ptarmigan Trail because the road is closed you may want to reconsider. I am from Colorado and this is a very meh trail.

I’ve done several fourteeners this season and so far, this one has been my least favorite and was definitely the hardest. For the first 4 miles, you’re in treeline and it’s pretty mellow and then as soon after you break out, it gets a lot steeper. Me and my friends had to take several breaks along the way. At the top, the views are gorgeous. It’s just a super long hike. It took us over ten hours to do the whole thing so be prepared for a really long day if you plan on doing this one. It’s also about 15 miles round trip, not 12.4.

1 month ago

road is closed 8 miles from the trailhead 7/3/18

hiking
1 month ago

Great hike along creek to the lakes with some Colorado ladies! At times it was steep and rocky. Definitely make sure you turn right up the road to the 3 Elk Trailhead so you don’t have to hike the extra mile in and out.

6/30/18. Great moderate hike for weekend hikers. Uphill all the way and rocky in places. Follows a stream in the beginning for just a brief time then again during the last 3rd of the trip. It’s hot and dry currently so get an early start; carry plenty of water. The road up is pretty rocky but any higher clearance vehicle should be fine.

hiking
2 months ago

A group of five vacationing from Iowa enjoyed this hike! Parked on the County Road suggested in earlier comments. Took our crew about an hour and 10 to get to the first lake, and it was worth the incline up to view it! Overall, all enjoyed this hike. Bring water and prepare to do some heavy breathing as you work your way up.

hiking
2 months ago

Completed this hike on 6/14/18. This is an easy hike but has a lot of mud to navigate through. The payoff in the end is well worth it and it does not take a very long time to get to the lake. Once we got to the lake we saw a herd of elk to the south a little ways. Great Hike!

hiking
2 months ago

The road leading up to the trail is terrible so be prepared to add about a mile both ways (2 miles total). The trail is very well managed and easy to follow. In terms of difficulty it leans more towards easy. There are a lot of bugs so bring repellent of some sort if you don’t want to be annoyed by them the whole time. Butterflies are very easy to spot by the lake. Extremely low traffic on the trail as I only saw one other person the whole time. Overall it’s a good forest trail but because of the irritating bugs and lack of a distinct feature or view I would go to other trails during the summer.

hiking
2 months ago

It's June 10. It was a great hike with ups and downs. Mud patches here and there but ways around and through it. Beautiful lake!

hiking
2 months ago

My teenage boys and I spent several days in the Collegiate peaks Wilderness area last summer. On the 27th of July we made it to the summit of Mt. Harvard. We stayed the night along the trail at tree line and did the summit early. It was worth it. It was my 14 year old sons first 14er. Later in the week he would summit Mt. Sherman. In researching our trip for this year I noticed I didn't post anything from last year. We started at Denny Creek TH and spent our first night at Hartenstein Lake. From there we took Browns Pass over the CD and spent the second night at Kroenke Lake. The third day we went up the Horn Fork trail and camped at tree line just below Bear lake. The fourth Day we did the summit of Harvard very early then walked out past the North Cottonwood TH and picked up the Colorado Trail (Avalanche Gulch) going south back towards Highway 306. We spent the fifth night along the Colorado Trail and slowly came into the Avalanche Gulch TH the next day. I was having some knee problems by this point. This was my first multi-day backpacking adventure and although I had done extensive research and had a sub 30 lb pack, I still overpacked and didn't properly condition for the strain the descents would have on my knees. Other than Mosquitos at the lakes and my old knees the trip was great!!

Beautiful views and trails!

hiking
2 months ago

Nice hike exactly 18.1 miles outside of town. TH isn't marked and there is a paved pullout on the opposite side of the street with enough space for two cars. Early spring conditions included mud (that required wading throug) and some snow patches that you could go around. Lake is beautiful. See pics and more detail here: https://etbtravelphotography.com/2018/06/06/roadtrip-to-the-rockies-hiking-in-buena-vista/

hiking
2 months ago

I will be doing this again until I can reach the summit but this trail is really the Three Elks Trail. Make sure you follow the signs for just that, there really are no other signs., until you hit the Colorado Trail segment 12. Take a left to go to the lakes. The road to where the trailhead starts is really bad and I personally would not drive it no matter what vehicle I had but folks do. So because of that you have to park on the road below which adds another 1.5 to the lakes. So count on 3 miles each way. Steep and calf killing but not as bad as others make it sound. I got to the lakes in about an hour even with the added miles. The lakes are beautiful and I preferred the smaller one to the bigger because it had beautiful reflections. There is no snow left at all. Hiking sticks come in handy for the way down with all the rocks. Enjoy!

I’m a little apprehensive about off-road driving, but the road to the trailhead was fine with a 4Runner. From there it took me about 45 minutes to hike to the lakes. I didn’t realize I should have turned left at the Colorado Trail sign so I overshot a bit. This was a pretty hike and would be great for dogs with the stream close. Don’t forget your bug spray!

Nice hike and good one for flatland ders still adjusting to altitude. early spring requires you to trudge through a pretty swampy and muddy section, but it is short...maybe 30 feet or so.

hiking
2 months ago

June 1, 2018 - nice hike, lot of patches of snow 1-2+ feet deep to slow us down, That added more work to what should have been an easy hike. All in all it was worth the scenery.

hiking
2 months ago

My girlfriend and I did the hike today, and wow what a climb! Great workout! However getting there can be a little tricky if you have a little car! The road you have to take, isn’t much of a road. Unless you consider a bumpy rocky road! Luckily I have a cx-5 and got a little farther in on the road so we wouldn’t have to walk the road! I would plan on hiking another .5 mile to get to the trail head if you are in a little car!

Clear trail all the way in. Be ready for a moderate climb on the back half lasting about 45min. Views and camping we’re worth it though! Cheers :)

hiking
3 months ago

What a climb!!! Steep and a bit on the rocky side but the reward at the end is breath taking an so worth it.

nice quick hike. last half mile is still snow covered and icey as of 4/14. you'll need a vehicle with high ground clearance to drive to trail head.

4 months ago

great hike but all on atv trail heavily used by them on week ends

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