Explore the most popular forest 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.

1 day 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

7 days ago

My wife and I headed to Buena Vista to hike Ptarmigan Lake Trail, only to see construction had closed the road. So we pulled out the AllTrails app, and found this nearby. What a great find! Water running by the trail, or you can hear it if you don't see it. It rained hard for awhile, so we found shelter in the trees. Rained off and on coming back, but a great hike! Walking thru all the trees was amazing! Yes, the smell of a dead animal is still present, but just a short area of the trail.

8 days 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.

11 days ago

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

11 days 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.

15 days ago

I camped up here for 1 night. Getting up to the TH in my Honda Civic was definitely a little stressful, but doable. I went in about 4 miles, found myself about halfway up the trail to Mt Columbia with my 30 lbs pack and decided to tough it out. Didn't realize that the trail I was on was still in the process of being built, haha, and ended up having to cut across a slope to reach the old trail up Mt Columbia, which was terrible (I see why they're building a new one--should be done next year!). Gave up at about 13800' still with my giant pack and came back down to treeline (the descent on the old Mt Columbia trail was really rough, lots of skidding down a rocky slope) to camp for the night; lots of beautiful spots in the basin at treeline, close enough to walk for water. Plenty of people, but everyone was quiet and respectful and overall just so relaxing and gorgeous to watch the sunset over the mountains. Headed up to Bear Lake the next morning, ate some snacks, and came all the way back down. I'll have to try Mt Harvard next, but I was so pooped from Mt Columbia I didn't want to try!

Currently a dead horse is lying next to the trail. It's only going to get funkier.

16 days ago

This trail is very busy and overall a bit underwhelming.

- Well marked
- Very moderate incline
- Easy to get to the trailhead with any car

Not so good:
- In between trees without views until almost to the end
- So many campers at the lake that it’s hard to enjoy the views there.

Love this. We always do it as an overnight. I wouldn’t rate it as hard unless you’re doing it in the winter or when there’s significant snow on the ground. First time I did it was with my son who was 7 at the time and carried a small pack. Some great spots around the lake to camp at. Fun overnight.
Last time we were there (July 2017) we saw a moose! That was awesome as my son was just 15 at the time and it was the first time he saw one in the wild.

The most amazing time I had, I have never climbed any mountain in my life. This was the first one. Despite of all the warning which fellow AllTrailers were giving. I became ignorant and took my body very lightheartedly. It was hell experience. Let me explain my amateur climb to the summit.

I wanted to challenge myself to complete the trail at any cost (even if I get hurt). So all I packed was my drone, GoPro, Alltrails map, 1 gatorade, 1 Candy bar. I was wearing a pair of jeans, nike running shoes, my country shirt and a baseball cap. Thats all I had and was pretty lightweight.

I begin my climb at 6am sharp, slowly climbed the high elevation, lost my way twice and tried to figure it out without using any GPS or maps (Just to see how nomadic people did back when Jesus was alive) - Tell you what that the worst IDEA possible. Please carry your GPS or AllTrails off-line map. My offline map won't work because I couldn't afford a Pro Subscription. Regardless, getting lost is the fun part but not when you are surrounded by nature and rattlesnakes.

One thing for sure is that any time you see a human when you are lost, you have such high appreciation of mankind that you will become their best friend even they were a serial killer. Regardless, I never saw a human. But I was few clicks away from tree line when I saw knee deep snow and the moment when snow enters your shoes and makes your warm feet cold like the arctic. You just wanna yell at the top of your lungs. Nobody cared for my yelling because I was alone.

I somehow reached the tree line and there it was the summit. My left lung almost gave up but the summit was close by so I beat my chest like a caveman I am and started climbing a 75 degree incline on the OTHER SIDE OF THE MOUNTAIN. Half way through the climb I realized, "Hmmm how did people climb this mountain when they have such difficulty??" I don't even have climbing gear. But I imagined that people climbed this side of the mountain so I did too. But in reality no one did climb because there were no footsteps and the snow was mint perfect.

Moving on I reach to the top from the WRONG SIDE and started taking the drone shot. WARNING: If you are a drone user, your drone will be unstable during the flight due to cold weather and altitude. After my work, a lot of black clouds started hovering over me. This reminded me of an other thought which an old man told before I went to Mt.Yale. YOU DO NOT WANT TO BE ON THE SUMMIT WHEN THE BLACK CLOUDS HOVER OVER YOU. I don't know why but I believe the old man.

I reached the tree line after brushing my elbow because now I am defending a 70 degree inclination on just 2 legs and no support. I made it alive and it started snowing like it was hogwards and I am Harry Potter(Just Indian style)

This time I was on the right trail coming down because I know what the wrong trail looks like. I found a camper and his husky called Boomer and I left my life on that 4 legged animal, hoping that he will get me to my car. The dog did his job after making me wait for 20 mins while he searched for pooping spot.

I reached my car and thanked god for this experience, then I started planning for more epic trips of Mt. Princeton and Mt Rainer ... I love mountain climbing now!!

17 days ago

My wife and I hiked this on 6/29/18. Amazing experience!

First, the bad news: After planning this hike for 2 months, we arrived in CO to discover the road to Denny Creek trailhead was to be closed for construction. We called several state agencies, however, and were assured the road would still be open on 6/29. Great! But as we drove up the road at 5:30am, it was most definitely closed, just past the Avalanche Gulch trailhead. So we had no choice but to begin our hike from there...which turned our 10-mile hike into a 16-mile hike and added 800+ feet of elevation gain.

Now, the good news: We had the whole freakin’ mountain to ourselves! Not another human in sight the entire day. Began the ascent from Denny Creek around 6:35. Passed treeline about 9:00. Reached summit about 11:30. Breathtaking views the whole way up, especially just before treeline and on up through the tundra. Wildflowers everywhere and we saw lots of curious marmots, including one that tried to take my pack at the saddle. Last half mile is the hardest. OMG there’s no oxygen up there! Scrambling the last 100 yards to the summit is tricky but doable. Stay in the middle and go slow. Weirdly it wasn’t windy at all up there but was quite windy 100 feet lower. Began our descent at 12:00. It was harder than I expected, steep and super windy the first half. Made it back to Denny Creek trailhead about 2:45 and then began our 3-mile hike back to the car. We asked some DOT and construction workers for a lift but no luck.

So if you want your own private mountain for a day and don’t mind adding 6 miles to your hike, do Mt. Yale while the construction is going on.

Great hike, hard did it June 7th lost a gold ring right after the switch backs where it flattens out before you hike to the top. Very important.

Beautiful hike...get out there early, storms roll in quickly in the afternoons.

Please not your map is not accurate for the end of the trail. It is almost unbelievable but for 4 or more miles at the end you have to walk on a busy paved roads. Hikers should be warned of this as it is dangerous. It is embarrassing this is a part of the Colorado Trial

Great hike, and wonderful views. I would rate the hike as moderate. Really enjoyed the aspen stands and although pretty much straight up, there are some breaks in the uphill with the trail leveling out in spots. Very nice up at the lake.

27 days 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.

28 days 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!

This was my second visit to this trailhead. The first time I hiked to Columbia’s summit, and it was brutal. Most low clearance vehicles should be capable of getting to the trailhead. It starts off fairly easy-going and increases in intensity over the duration of the hike. There was quite a bit of post-holing going on over Memorial Day, but I would assume no issues going up now. The vegetation below tree line looks great, and there are several great campsites along the way. Next time I visit I’ll be hiking in a couple miles and stay overnight to get a head start on Mount Harvard.

1 month 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.

Great weekday hike. Not crowded. Great conditions. No real snow except a few patches towards top. Amazing amazing amazing views! Wildflowers are out also. Dry, dusty, sandy hike with loose rock/gravel and numerous sections with both and small boulders to navigate. Mostly exposed. Couple of small stream crossings with narrow log bridges. Road to Denny trailhead is open, construction hasn’t started yet. Got hiking by 6 AM. Took us about 7 hours of actual hiking (4.5 to summit); 8.5 hours total with all stops included. Last mile or so is challenging. Rock scramble to summit and hard to see which path is best, so be careful. Stay towards the middle as you reach summit; sides of summit were more dicey with loose rock/gravel and fewer footholds. Enjoy!

No snow, nice steady incline to the top

1 month ago

One of my favorites yet. The views all the way up are spectacular. You can see all the work that has went into maintaining this trail over the years.Trail is 9.2miles round trip. Dogs on leash are allowed but they should be very good scramblers to make this summit. If your dog gets scared from exposure, large rock gaps, or water crossings, leave them at home.

1 month 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!

1 month 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!!

1 month ago

I couldn’t find the trail head that these directions lead you to.. it took me up a private road with no forest access. I found another trailhead off my atlas, it starts on ranch property and they ask you pay a few $$ to get in ($1 per human, $2 per dog). It was a nice shaded trail with access to the creek in places, my dog loved that. Good incline, not many people out there.

Beautiful views and trails!

Trail was surprisingly dry for early spring conditions. No snow. The beginning is steep, but the aspen groves were pretty and there is a nice overlook about half-way to the lake. The lake wasn't as pretty as I had hoped with the green-brown color and marshy conditions that attracted lots of bugs. Most people take this TH to Yale, however, so we had the lake to ourselves. For more info and pics visit: https://etbtravelphotography.com/2018/06/06/roadtrip-to-the-rockies-hiking-in-buena-vista/

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