It can be hard to find a peaceful mountain lake on a weekend in the summer, especially one that’s just 2.5 miles from the trailhead, but Gibson Lake is that and more.
At the trailhead (directions below), you’ll find a parking lot with about 15 spaces and a sign that says “Gibson Lake 3 miles.” My GPS registered the hike at about 2.5 miles. To start the hike, wind your way through the trailhead’s meadow, then through the trees to a bridge over the South Platte River.
Now get ready to climb. The trail is on an old mining road and it can get steep. There’s 1,500 feet of elevation gain over the next 2.5 miles. Fortunately, the trail is in a thick forest, providing lots of shade, until you get to treeline. When we visited in late July, we found lots of downed trees along the trail making for some fun climbing up and over, occasionally around and even a little limbo play along the trail.
As you hike, listen for the sound of the nearby stream. About a mile into the hike, the cascades are right next to the trail.
At about 1.75 miles, the trees begin to thin out and the flowers become more plentiful as you start up a scree field. You’ll know you’re getting close to the lake, when you reach the willows. The willows are thick in this area, however there is a trail through them. Wear pants though, or you might get scratched up a bit. At the top, expect to hike through a wet bog to reach the lake.
At the top of the trail, you’ll find scenic Gibson Lake in a bowl below a mountain range that includes the 13er Whale Peak. Walk around the lakeshore until you find a good spot with a reflection of the surrounding snowcapped peaks. Come in late July and you’ll be treated to a colorful show by the smallest alpine flowers at this 11,900-foot lake.
Look closely at those snow fields hugging the sides of the mountain range, you may catch one to three (maybe even more) cascades streaming into Gibson Lake. Turn around in a circle and enjoy the views all around this peaceful spot.
If you’re ready for more, consider climbing Whale Peak. Or enjoy your lunch, maybe even a nap, before you head back to civilization.
Details: From the trailhead the hike is 5 miles RT with about 1,500 feet of elevation gain. Gibson Lake is at 11,900 feet. If you do not have a 4-wheel drive vehicle, expect to hike an extra 1.25 miles each way.
Directions: On Highway 285, drive about 3 miles west of Grant to County Road 60 and turn north. Take County Road 60 to Forest Road 120. When the CR appears to end, turn left, then take a right on Forest Road 120C. Find a spot to park if you don’t have a 4-wheel drive vehicle. Otherwise, drive the last 1.25 miles to the trailhead. (The trailhead is about 6.4 miles from Highway 285.)
Important note: Anyone who tells you this hike is easy is wrong. The hike is short, but it’s steep and it’s at a high elevation. I would call it moderate to strenuous.
To find more great hikes in Colorado and through the west, click out Great hiking ideas in Colorado.
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