Explore the most popular lake 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.

hiking
2 days 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
8 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.

hiking
9 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.

12 days ago

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

hiking
13 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.

hiking
16 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.

hiking
17 days ago

This trail is very busy and overall a bit underwhelming.

Good:
- 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.

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.

hiking
28 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.

hiking
29 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.

hiking
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.

hiking
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!

hiking
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!!

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/

hiking
1 month 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
1 month 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!

Some elevation but overall an easy hike, not too hard and great for a half day trip

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
1 month 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.

Good trail, would love to do it again and fish! Water was cleared of snow and ice as of Memorial weekend.

off road driving
1 month ago

An outstanding adventure on my Honda CRF450X. The views are stunning and the trail allows for some faster riding and some technical but nothing overly difficult or challenging. The trail seems like it would be easy for almost and 4x4 right until you near the summit which is when the rating seems accurate.

Many, many places to set up a tent along the way.

As of today, May 31st, 2018, the trail is snowed over at the top of Tin Cup Pass. I did reach the summit without a problem but that is where the fun ended. Zero chance of a Jeep going around it but I ~might~ have been able to find an alternate route around and back to the trail. BUT I ALWAYS STAY THE TRAIL!!! Please do the same!!!

I can’t wait to get back and try again, this time I plan to go at least as far as Taylor Reservoir. If the trading post has gas I’ll stretch my journey even further but I’m limited on fuel when traveling on my motorcycle.

I would guesstimate that the snow would be gone in a week or so.

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