Explore the most popular wild flowers 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
1 day 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.

My tenth 14er and goes down as my favorite because the scenery is absolutely gorgeous. It’s a little deceiving because you’re surrounded by a forest and creek for about half the climb and you can’t see the exposed tree line area at all, but it’s nice this trail spoils you a little bit before the hard work starts. The trail was nice until the very top of the summit where there were big boulders. We had a Boston Terrier who struggled on this part a bit, definitely more class 3 terrain at the top. We only saw 4 other people and had the summit to ourselves, a first for me! The descent was nice and easy since it’s not too steep and you also end in a beautiful forest to reward yourself from the tough climb! Highly recommend.

backpacking
2 days ago

I just got back from a backpack trip to Kroenke Lake August 12th. kroenke is no longer the pristine alpine lake it once was. it is over used and trampled with little fire wood. People are camping and building fire rings within a few feet of the lake. What is more distressing is that there is used toilet paper everywhere in the forested areas along the east and south sides of the Lake. When did the hiking/backpacking community decide its ok to just leave their toilet paper behind? Come On People! Its easy to pack out your toilet paper with your other trash, or burn it in your fire pit. If you love the outdoors enough to drive to a trailhead and hike somewhere, you should care enough not to degrade the environment and diminish the experience of others.

Beautiful half day trail. The end is worth the effort.

This was a fantastic hike! We did this as a day hike and had lunch at the lake. Magnificent views. From the time you cross the stream and enter the Horn Fork basin until slightly before the turn off for the lake, the rate of climb is very manageable. The last bit before the turn off was steeper, but not all that long. I’m not sure that I would agree with the review below about most low clearance cars being able to make it to the trailhead, at least based on the condition of the road when we were there in July this year. We did make it using a garden variety small SUV, but I would have felt a lot better in something with more clearance and a stick, particularly coming down. That being said, there were a couple of low clearance passenger cars at the trailhead and one apparently disabled SUV being hauled off on a flatbed tow truck...

camping
5 days ago

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

Great quick climb. Loved this hike but the lack of signage at the the “top” was not good. Kept liking down the other side to be sure and then back to the clearing. Someone awesome left a rock and wood sign pointing the way to the Yale approach. The view from there was amazing and you can continue and summit Yale!

*closure!* came across road closure signs a few miles before the TH, however they were only blocking one lane so we continued on. Got to the TH at 930 and were told by road construction that the road/hike is not open to the public, only certain resorts. However they did end up letting us in.
The trail was well-maintained and easy to follow, other than the last mile which was a scramble over rocks. Lots of wildflowers and great views the entire way up! Had the mountain to ourselves the whole time. Clocked 9mi total.

Backpacked in a few miles Thursday night and woke up at 330 Friday to hike Mt. Columbia. The trail is being worked on and I wouldn't recommend using this route until the new trail is finished. Hiking up and down the gulley at the bottom of the mountain was definitely dangerous and very slippery, steep and filled with loose rocks and dirt. The summit was beautiful and the views were amazing!

I haven't climbed Mt. Yale yet. I just wanted to thank Shubham for his review. That's one of the best trip reports I've seen in a long time.

backpacking
16 days ago

Nice a steady climb to the lake. It was little hard for me coming straight from Illinois to the mountains. But i would say this is a good one for Plenty of campsites along the lake. We camped on a Sunday night in July and there were 3 other campsites along the lake. Even with the other campers it was very quiet, and scenery was beautiful Seemed like there was good fishing too. I don't fish often, but I caught a couple. It got pretty chilly at night and in the morning, so bring some layers if staying overnight.

Nice hike with good fishing at the end. Went mid-July, so there were plenty of other campers around the lake, but my campsite was definitely peaceful and solitary. You can bank on having afternoon storms and rain, so bring an extra tarp to sit under and plenty of warm clothes.

first bit is really exposed and medium steep, then you get into some thick woods. pretty much stays heavily wooded till the ridge with a few peeks of peaks along the way. there is a short break in the steep along the way, but it's pretty much uphill through woods the entire way. view at the top is definitely worth it.

backpacking
24 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
24 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.

I’m going tun

hiking
28 days ago

The moderate trail rating is very accurate. The majority of the trail is hiked in the woods. The trail opens up to bogs and meadows as you get close to the lake. We hiked in late July and the wildflowers were in full bloom. The lake is small but very scenic. Later in the day, on our way down, there were a good number of backpackers setting up camp around the lake. We hiked an additional 35 or 40 minutes past the lake towards Browns Pass. This portion of the trail was strenuous but afforded some really great views of the lake and meadows. The additional effort was worth the views.

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

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
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.

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
1 month 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
1 month 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.

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!!

hiking
1 month 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.

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