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Length: 2.4 miles
Why we love it: This scenic lake loop offers a quick jaunt to stretch the legs before or after a bout with I-70 traffic
Nearby Nosh: The Mountain Lyon Café in Silverthorne serves crave-worthy breakfast and lunch classics that are worth the wait, like an enormous, smothered breakfast burrito and hearty chicken-fried steak platters.
When to go: Year-round
Restrooms: At the trailhead
Dogs: Allowed on leash
Green Mountain Reservoir near Silverthorne is popular for hot weather activities like boating, fishing, and swimming, but no visit is complete without exploring some of the area’s scenic hiking trails.
On a recent camping trip to the reservoir, I was determined to balance out a leisurely weekend of paddling and floating with some lower-body exercise before heading home. After packing up camp on Sunday morning, we ventured down Cataract Creek Road in the tiny town of Heeney to check out the trailhead we had stumbled upon while searching for a campsite a few days earlier.
The trailhead, located in the Eagles Nest Wilderness Area, wasn’t crowded except for a group gearing up for a backpacking trip to Upper Cataract Lake, a little more than five miles away on the more difficult Surprise Trail. For a moment, we envied their journey to this remote alpine lake, but our fear of Sunday afternoon traffic snapped us back to reality and we promptly headed in the direction of the short, yet surprisingly sweet, Lower Cataract Lake Trail. I wasn’t expecting the two-mile loop around the lake to offer much scenery due to its short length and minimal elevation gain, but I was wrong about the beauty and charm of this seemingly basic trail.
We started out clockwise around the lake and spotted a family of ducks paddling along next us. We watched them for a few minutes until the trail broke away from the shoreline and ascended a small hill into an aspen grove. Here, butterflies bobbed and weaved across our path, sampling nectar from a rainbow of wildflowers. The rolling trail gently descended into a cool, shady pine forest where narrow footpaths jutted down to the water’s edge and small clearings offered perfect places to cast a line or snap a photo. We poked our way down one of the trails and paused for a moment to listen to a symphony of birdsongs that echoed loud and clear. Except for the mosquitoes, it felt like a scene out of Disney’s Snow White.
On the far end of the lake, the trail crossed a stream and passed through a short meadow before surprising us with a series of steep switchback turns. We paused to catch our breath at the top of a ridge that offered a spectacular view of the trail’s namesake waterfall in the distance. The undulating ridgeline led us away from the lake and back down to the trailhead. Although this portion of the trail was the toughest, it was by no means difficult, and I was grateful for the brief leg burn lacking in most typical lake loops.
Getting there: From I-70, take exit 205 for Silverthorne/Dillon and turn north onto Highway 9. Take a slight left turn onto Heeney Road/CR 30. Turn left on Cataract Creek Road/FSR 1725 and drive past the campground where the road reaches a dead-end at the trailhead.