Why we love it: Front Rangers love ’em some fourteeners, but sometimes it’s nice not to worry about bagging another peak. The long upslope to the Chicago Lakes lets us stretch our legs without needing to stake a claim.
When to go: Anytime you are ready to take a dip in an icy cold, high altitude lake.
I’m from the Windy City and these lakes are nothing like “the lake” I’m used to. In Colorado, I replace the murky, three-eyed-fish invested waters of Lake Michigan for the sparkling (and pristine) Chicago Lakes. The hike starts with a quick, switchback descent from Echo Lake to a mile-long forest service road that beelines towards the wilderness boundary. A mild climb through a forest still devestated from a long ago fire gives way to the Chicago Creek’s lush greenery.
First, you’ll spot the Lower Chicago Lake and think it’s time you stop to put your toes in the water (I did), but don’t. Keep hiking about 350 feet to the Upper Chicago Lake. The last push is the steepest of the day and it’s worth the entire hike. Granite walls surround the upper lake, where there are plenty of shallow places to wade in thigh-high. On a day of record-breaking heat in Denver, we were among just a handful to reach the upper lake of the more than 100 people who were at the trailhead.
Getting there: Head west on I-70 to Idaho Springs. Take the Mount Evans Road to the Echo Lake parking area. Park, walk halfway around the lake, and look for the sign pointing toward the Chicago Lakes.