Rocky Mountain Region Viewing Area

LOCATION and PHOTOS

daisy fleabane forming a carpet of pale pink and yellow at the base of the basin containing Shelf Lake.
Several species of daisy fleabane form carpets of pale pink and yellow at the base of the basin containing Shelf Lake. Photo by Steven Olson, botanist, U.S. Forest Service.

western Indian paintbrush and splitleaf Indian paintbrush coloring the tundra with pale yellow and bright pink.
At just the right time in between late June and August, western Indian paintbrush and splitleaf Indian paintbrush color the tundra with pale yellow and bright pink. Photo by Steven Olson, botanist, U.S. Forest Service.

from the Shelf Lake Trail following a small creek up to the alpine. There are places where the creek widens out to form small ponds surrounded by dense willow thickets.
The Shelf Lake Trail follows a small creek up to the alpine. There are places where the creek widens out to form small ponds surrounded by dense willow thickets. Photo by Steven Olson, botanist, U.S. Forest Service.

Shelf Lake Trail

Forest: Pike National Forest

District: South Platte Ranger District

Description: The Shelf Lake Trail #634 follows a small stream to its source in the alpine. The 3.2 mile long trail to Shelf Lake starts at 10,000 feet in a spruce-fir forest and rises to 12,000 feet in the alpine tundra in Clear Creek County, Colorado. During the summer, this trail offers superb views of the surrounding landscape. There are lots of wildflowers for those willing to spend some time and effort.

It’s a long walk – mostly uphill – to the lake, but worth the effort. On the bright side, coming back is mostly down hill!

Viewing Information: Head to the alpine in July, but beware of the afternoon thundershowers. Plants here are very slow growing because of the short growing season. Among the showier wildflowers are western Indian paintbrush, splitleaf Indian paintbrush, American bistort, and whitish gentian.

Safety First: Rapid weather changes occur year round without warning, so carry extra clothing and rain gear with you. Be prepared for anything, even snow in the summer months. Beware of hypothermia (body temperature lowered to the point where brain and muscle activity are impaired). Hypothermia can be fatal! Oxygen levels in the high country are about half of what they are at sea level. As a result some people experience headaches, dizziness, shortness of breath and nausea. If you are affected, rest! Avoid alcoholic beverages and drink plenty of water. Your body will usually begin to adapt in a few days. Young people or the elderly may be especially at risk for altitude sickness. If symptoms become worse, seek medical assistance. Lower humidity and higher winds in Colorado often cause dehydration, so drinking plenty of water is important even if you are not adversely affected by the altitude. In mountainous country, UV radiation is twice as high as at sea level. Avoid over-exposure to the sun, and always use sunscreen. High altitude often pose a threat from lightning. If you are traveling and see a storm moving in, retreat to lower ground. DO NOT SEEK SHELTER UNDER TREES!

Directions: From Denver, head southwest on US-285 to Grant, then turn north (right) on CR-62 Guanella Pass road for about 5 miles to NFDR 119 past the Duck Creek Picnic are and the Geneva Park Campground, continue up NFDR 119 (slowly and carefully – it can be rough- high clearance vehicle is necessary) for 2.5 miles to the trailhead.

Ownership and Management: U.S. Forest Service, Pike National Forest; South Platte Ranger District, (303) 275-5610.

Closest Town: Grant, Colorado.

For More Information: Visit the Shelf Lake Trail web page.