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Length: Anywhere from 3 to 8.6 miles out-and-back, depending on how far you want to go and where you park
Elevation Gain: 1,740 feet to Mohawk Lake from the Spruce Lakes Trailhead
Why We Love It: Challenging at sections, this Rocky Mountain hike rewards visitors with stunning views, waterfalls, alpine lakes, and remnants of the area’s mining history.
When to Go: July through September is high season, but we prefer the shoulder seasons when you’ll share the trail with a handful of devoted locals. If you plan on going all the way, make sure to get an early start, take heed of the weather, and pack well. Consider bringing Yaktrax.
Distance from Denver: 90 miles (11 miles from downtown Breckenridge)
Dogs: Allowed on leash (horses are also permitted)
Post-hike sustenance: Warm up at Soupz On, where the seasonal soups—think Mom’s Chicken Noodle and Lentil Tikka Masala—rotate daily.
OK, so this one’s a little farther from Denver, but hear us out: It’s worth it. The high-country color show is vibrant, and this Summit County trek—which actually includes two trailhead options and multiple destinations—is a sort of choose-your-own-adventure.
If you’re in a 2WD vehicle or looking for a longer hike, park at the Spruce Creek Trailhead and follow the path that leads immediately out of the parking lot. You’ll know you’re on the right track if you’re periodically seeing blue diamond tree blazes. The first 1.5 miles of trail follows Spruce Creek through the woods, gradually going up hill as you pass by spruce, but also pine, aspen, and fir trees. Eventually you’ll come to the junction with the Wheeler Trail near a large, marshy meadow. Be on the lookout for wildlife.
Continue straight through the trail junction on Spruce Creek, emerging from the woods at another parking lot. You’re now two miles in at the Mohawk Lakes Trailhead, accessible to those with 4WD. The trail continues at the end of the parking lot past the dam and after about a half mile, you’ll come to another intersection for the Mayflower Lakes Trail. If you have the time, or are looking for an easier hike, head right and visit Mayflower Lake. Otherwise, keep left and look out for the remnants of old mining cabins just off the trail. Immediately after, the incline begins to increase dramatically as you approach Continental Falls.
As you approach the waterfall to the right of the trail, you’ll see the remnants of an old mining operation, including one fully intact cabin, on your left. There’s more mining history spread out further up, but exercise caution around any mine shafts or old equipment. At this point the view will be hard to miss, so take it in and evaluate whether you want to head back—a wise idea if there’s a lot of snow and the trail isn’t immediately obvious. If you’re continuing on, it’s uphill, past more waterfalls, until you even out on a shelf at Lower Mohawk Lake (a little under three miles in). If you lose the trail, head for the old mining equipment at the top and pick it back up from there.
Lower Mohawk Lake is stunning, with Mount Helen visible in all her glory to the north. You’re now at 11,850-feet, exposed above treeline, so be prepared for wind. If the weather is holding, don’t miss the upper Mohawk Lake, which is another 260-feet gain over a half mile. The views continue to get better and during summer high season, this is the first point where you’re likely to lose the crowds. Take in the pristine lake on one side and expansive views of the Tenmile Range to the other.
From here, you can reach several more lakes, but the path eventually tapers off, and it’s a fragile ecosystem to be blazing your own trail on. When descending from the lakes, return to your car the way you came, stopping to look out over the glacial valley as you go.
Getting there: Take I-70 E for 68 miles until Exit 203, and follow signs for CO-9 S in Summit County. Stay on CO-9 for 14 miles, passing through the town of Breckenridge. About 2.5 miles from the southern end of town, turn right onto Spruce Creek Road. Follow Spruce Creek Road, turning left at most intersections, until you arrive at the trailhead about a mile in. If you have a 4WD vehicle and are continuing on, go for an additional 1.5 miles until the road ends.