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Length: 4 miles round-trip
Difficulty: Easy to moderate
Why we love it: The steady, well-graded climb leads you through a mixed conifer forest dappled with aspens, past small waterfalls, and ends at a scenic lake with mountain vistas.
When to go: Summer through late fall or year-round with snowshoes or touring skis
Pre-hike fuel: In the charming hamlet Nederland, stop by Salto Coffee for a cortado or chai, plus a monster breakfast burrito.
Post-hike buzz: Any visit to Nederland is incomplete without artisan wood-fired pizza and craft beer on the creek-view deck at Crosscut Pizzeria (a longtime 5280 fave).
As the weather crept past 85 degrees in Boulder a couple weeks ago, my friends and I struggled with what to do with our day. None of us belonged to a swimming pool, but we were anxious for some water, exercise, and fresh air. Google told us Nederland was a full ten degrees cooler, and Eldora, which sits at 8,700 feet, hovered around 60 degrees. We headed toward Boulder Canyon.
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Past the ski town of Eldora (“town” is a generous term) lies the Hessie Trailhead and the beginning of the Lost Lake Trail. This short hike is popular, and for good reason: It’s close to Boulder, relatively easy, and the scenery is Colorado at its best. Lost Lake Trail connects to several longer, more strenuous hikes that are perfect for those who are looking for an added challenge. There are some rough, rocky sections (we wouldn’t recommend trail running here, although we’ve seen groups doing it), but in general—if you’re accustomed to the altitude—this is a moderate hike. Bring plenty of water and a hat, as the steepest portions offer no forest cover.
You’ll begin your hike with views of Eldora Mountain Resorts’ ski lifts in the distance and the gurgling Middle Boulder Creek to the left of the main trail. Pass through aspen groves (peak foliage around the end of September) to an old, rocky road. Feel the burn as you climb 1.5 miles, covering some 800 feet of elevation from the trailhead, where Lost Lake sits. Along the way you’ll pass several pristine waterfalls, and two forks in the road leading to longer trail options. Follow the signs for Lost Lake, although if you’re in the market for something longer, we recommend the 12-mile round-trip King Lake Trail.
You’ll know when you reach Lost Lake; the forest clears and the trail ends abruptly. Take in the stunning view by looping around the lake and its nine campsites, and, if you’re interested, climb higher up the adjacent mountainside for a view of some old mines.
We especially like this hike for families. It makes for a great first-timer’s backpacking trip, complete with rustic campsites and a rewarding view at the end. (Lost Lake is outside of the Indian Peaks and therefore doesn’t require a permit; read our guide to backpacking in the Indian Peaks.) Little ones who are just getting used to the idea of hiking with everything they need on their back will feel challenged by the trail, and if it gets to be too much, it’s a short enough distance that mom or dad can drop their pack at camp, double back, and help them finish the trek. Kids will also appreciate the forest surrounding Lost Lake, filled with small woodland creatures, as well as the fish jumping about in the water. The spot is idyllic, and its close proximity to Nederland—and quality post-hike grub—makes returning to civilization all the easier.
Getting there: From Denver, take I-25 North to U.S. 36 West and exit at Baseline Road. Take CO-119/Boulder Canyon Drive to Nederland. From Nederland, head south on Colorado Highway 119 for 0.6 miles. Turn west onto County Road 130, signed for Eldora. Follow the paved road through the valley to Eldora, where the pavement ends. Continue beyond the end of the pavement for 0.75 miles to the fork in the road. The left fork goes to Hessie Trailhead where the Lost Lake Trail begins. Consider parking at the Nederland school and hopping the free shuttle; the parking lot fills early on weekends and prime foliage days.