Highland Mary Lakes Loop

Trip Report

The Plan

People have been raving about the Weminuche Wilderness and I haven’t done any hikes there yet so my next adventure is the Highland Mary Lakes trail. This trail can be hiked as an out and back or a loop. Per usual, I’m planning to do the loop!

The Adventure

The Drive

I wake up to the aftermath of a rainstorm and the air outside is cool and crisp. I step in a puddle on the way out to the car, soaking my Birkenstock. Great start!

As I wind along the road to Silverton, fog rises up from the road in waves. Fall is in the air!

The full moon is out and in its light, as I climb higher up red mountain pass, I notice the summits of the peaks around me seem brighter than usual. And they have a blue hue rather than their mineral rich red. Could that be snow?!

As the summit approaches, my suspicions are confirmed. It’s a winter wonderland at the top of the pass. The trees and rocks are covered in a pristine layer of snow. I was not expecting this!

I wind down the pass and continue on to Silverton. Reaching the dirt road that heads out of town, I bumble along for a few miles. The driving directions say to park at the mine but I’m not seeing it near the reported mileage. I continue on until the road becomes too steep for my car and my engine kills. Oops. I park there, about 0.6 miles from the 4WD trailhead. I can tell these adventures have made me more confident in my skill on 4WD roads because I’ve never pushed my car to that point before.

The Ascent (via the CDT)

The morning air is cold as I trek up the remainder of the road. Anticipation is building. I’m hopeful the snow will still be there when I reach the top.

At 7:25 a.m. I’m at the trailhead. Per recommendations I read that said to hike clockwise, I head left toward the CDT.

As I hike up, the fog descends. Morphing and changing shape with the land. Obscuring my view below and darkening my path above, but for a few spots still illuminated golden by the sun. It feels like something out of a Disney movie.

I press on along the trail and the willows transfer their dew droplets to my leggings as I brush past.

Cresting a small ridge, I’m rewarded with a breathtaking view of the fog swirling around the mountains across the valley.

I’m an hour in to this hike and I have not made much progress because the fog keeps changing the scene below, demanding a fresh set of pictures.

Never been so glad to get to a trailhead later than planned

As I reach higher elevation, the heavy frost burdens the green summer leaves of the vegetation, causing them to droop. 

I cross the threshold between shade and sun and the beauty of this frosty sparkling field is indescribable.

Birds chirp and flutter about. A calm mellow steam gurgles. I feel zero sense of urgency.

Sun glittering on the snow
the fog working it's magic
I tried to catch the fog but I mist.

The trail has been very steep to this point and finally flattens out a bit around 3 miles. At 9:05 I reach the CDT split for Bear Town to Stony and continue straight toward Highland Mary Lakes.

In the silence, I can hear the frost starting to melt and drip off the leaves.

First snowfall

The Descent (via Highland Mark Lakes Trail)

At 4.7 miles, the CDT trail splits left. I continue right onto the Highland Mary Lakes trail. Or so I hope. Trip reports warned of a plethora of off shoots and the snow is covering much of the trail. I use the Hiking Project app and check in on my GPS dot regularly. So far so good.

Arrow and Vestal Peaks have come into view and they. are. stunning. These are the peaks I saw from the summit of Handies Peak! I’d love to climb those one day. Clockwise was a winning decision because now I get to stare at these unique beauties for this whole stretch of trail.

Arrow and Vestal Peaks in the distance

A ways on, the snow totally obscures any resemblance of a trail so I blaze straight through a field toward where I see trail pick up again in the distance.

I complete the last of the climb up Whitehead Trail and stop to soak in the views and eat a snack. I wonder how far away the nearest human is right now.

At 10:45 a.m. I start moving again, eager to see what other views await. Fifteen minutes later, I crest the final ridge and see the first lake. What a beaut! Clockwise for the win again. My favorite lake views are always from above!

As I get closer to the lake shore, for a second time the trail vanishes under my feet. I see where the trail picks up but decide to branch off for a detour down to the lake. I do a bit of off trailing in the hopes to find a good vantage point for a picture with the Arrow and Vestal behind the lake. After an effortful hunt, I find a spot that will do. What do you think? Was it worth it?

Option 1
That view though!
Option 2

After the picture detour, the GPS indicates I’m almost back on the trail but there’s still no trail in sight! I see a wooden post ahead though so I steer in that direction and successfully join up with Highland trail again again.

The trail crosses a flat basin then descends down to the next lake. Another beaut! I contemplate putting my feet in but recall last night’s snow and think “mmm…better not”.

I hop across a creek at 7.8 miles and then the next lake pops into view. And the next! Lakes upon lakes here.

Highland Mary Lakes
Lake #3

The final lake has a little island. I can’t resist the flat rock on the edge and venture out for a sit and a snack.

The Island. Snack rock is on the other side.

Belly full, I make my way back to the trail. The rocks out to the island are a bit sketchy. Most wobble under my feet and some are even under the surface of the water. By some miracle I keep the inside of my boots dry.

The trail descends through a boulder field and crosses a river offering plenty of solid rock to step on.

I follow the cairns through the rest of the boulder field and follow the trail downhill on the other side.

The trail continues down through some willows, now dry from the sun, and crosses the river a couple more times.

I see what trip reports meant about off shoots. They are everywhere! I unknowingly take a couple detours but enjoy the waterfall views and eventually rejoin the main trail.

At 1:35 p.m. I reach the junction to head back down to the trailhead. Ten minutes later, I reach the car. Another great hike!

The Stats

Stats (per Strava, check out the full stats here):

  • Distance: 11.4 mi
  • Elevation gain: 2,889 ft
  • Total time: 6 hr 48 min
  • Moving time: 4 hr 47 min
  • Average speed: 2.4 mi/h

The Details

  • Trailhead: Highland Mary Lakes
  • Car driven: Subaru Impreza hatchback. Low clearance was okay but could have used more power!
  • Day of the week hiked: Tuesday
  • Trailhead arrival time: 7:15 am
  • Parking: 4 cars at arrival, 11 at departure, still more parking room
  • Restroom at the trailhead? No
  • Crowd count: 18, most were around the lakes

Gear Recommendations

Trekking poles recommended? Yes! This is a great trail for trekking poles.

Shoe verdict: Hiking boots.

Curious to see what other adventures I’m getting into during my 5 weeks living in Montrose, CO? Check it out here!

Other adventures in the area:

Do you have a hike recommendation in Weminuche Wilderness? Leave a comment below!

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