Lodge-Based Day Hikes in the Colorado High Country

Sierra Club Outings Trip # 14255A, Lodge


  • Enjoy beautiful hikes in the Twin Lakes region
  • Relax with fireside chats, music, and star gazing from outdoor Jacuzzi
  • Visit historical Colorado towns or sites: Leadville, Aspen ghost resort of Inter-Laken


  • Cozy lodge and large cabin at the base of Mt. Elbert, highest 14er in Colorado
  • Van transportation from Denver airport & on trip
  • Yummy meals cooked in our lodge kitchen


DatesAug 23–30, 2014
StaffJulie Koivula

Trip Overview

The Trip

We'll stay at Mt. Elbert Lodge, a cozy lodge and large cabin set amidst mountains, alpine flowers, hummingbirds, and a rushing mountain stream. We will do day hikes in the San Isabel National Forest, with spectacular views of mountains, sparkling with snowfields (elevations at 9,000 & up). After our hikes we can visit the old mining town of Leadville, the ski resort town of Aspen, or visit Colorado historical sites. In the evenings we can play games or read by the lodge fireplace, listen to music, or enjoy hot tubbing under the stars. On our free day you can chose to kayak at Twin Lakes, horseback ride, take the Leadville historical train, white-water the Arkansas River, pick a hike, or just relax.


Day 1: On Saturday, August 23rd, the group will meet at the LaQuinta hotel near Denver International Airport.  You can take the free shuttle service that LaQuinta offers from the Denver airport, or join the trip leaders' 2:00 p.m. pick-up from the airport. At 2:30 p.m. we will drive to Leadville for dinner and will then check into Mt. Elbert Lodge at Twin Lakes. It is recommended that you fly in on Friday, August 22nd and spend the night near the airport (Tower Road) or fly in early Saturday. If you miss the group shuttle, you will need to provide your own transportation to Twin Lakes.

Day 2: Following breakfast at our lodge, the leaders will drive the group to Leadville, where you can start acclimating to the altitude and visit museums or historical buildings while the leaders grocery shop. After returning to our lodge and eating a relaxing lunch on the porch, we will adjust to the elevation of 9,200 feet with an easy hike to the turn-of-the century ghost resort of Inter-Laken (built in 1870s) with only a 120-foot elevation gain. The lakes are beautiful with views of some of Colorado’s highest peaks.

Day 3: We will drive south toward Buena Vista, where we will go to Browns Creek trailhead and start hiking at 8,870 feet. We will have an overall elevation gain of 1,000 feet. This trail offers beautiful scenery with changing vistas and vegetation. We will pass a lovely meadow (great for photographs) with a couple of small stream crossings and then enter a pine forest. The Colorado Trail will cross our path. We will encounter switchbacks with great views of the valley to the east. We will end up at the falls --  a little-known gem in the Sawatch Range -- and enjoy our picnic lunch. Another option is Tennessee Pass and the Mitchell Creek Loop.

Day 4: We will chose between Timberline Lake Trail or North Half Moon Trail. Timberline Lake is five miles round trip with a 700-foot gain. The trail enters Holy Cross Wilderness. It is a scenic hike that follows a creek to a wonderful, very picturesque lake. We can eat lunch and soak our feet in the cool water, hike around the lake, or go off trail. North Half Moon Lake Trail is a rather obscure trail that leads to a pair of alpine lakes below the west face of Mount Massive. This is the most remote corner of the Mount Massive Wilderness and receives less travel than the eastern slope of the range. For climbers, a challenging scramble route leads from this basin up to a saddle just south of the peak, from which the Mount Massive Trail continues to the summit. During the ascent, we'd see waterfalls, trees, wildflowers, and absolutely stunning scenery as we ascend. We'd hike between 10,500-12,220 feet over 6.4 miles, gaining 1,835 feet.

Day 5: This is our free day. If people want to hike, there are many trails to choose from. We also could opt to kayak or canoe Twin Lakes, go horseback riding, white-water raft if rivers are still up, take the historical train ride from Leadville, rent mountain bikes, go fishing, or just stay at our lodge and relax all day. Activities on this day are not included in the trip price.

Day 6: We will chose between Native Lake or Willis Gulch trails. The Native Lake Trail enters a thick forest of conifers and starts climbing the ridge. The trail crosses a stream several times and ascends a series of long switchbacks on moderate grades up the forested hillside. Well-watered meadows around the stream crossings support dense displays of flowers. Openings in the trees provide great views of the Continental Divide. At the top of the ridge, the trees thin and views unfold to the west. The trail wanders across a high tundra clad plateau with wonderful views of Mt. Massive and the peaks and ridges along the Continental Divide. During our descent to Native Lake, we will eat lunch and take in the Mt. Massive vistas. Our alternative hike would be Willis Gulch or Hope Pass.

Day 7: Despite its close proximity to the resort town of Aspen, the Hunter-Fryingpan Wilderness Area is often overlooked as a prime hiking area. Its special attraction is the high glacial river valleys on the western slopes of the Continental Divide. Roaring Fork River, Fryingpan River, and Hunter Creek all originate within the boundaries of Hunter-Fryingpan, and the high open valleys at their headwaters are exceedingly scenic. After our hike, if there is time, we can drive over Independence Pass to Aspen. This is a very popular ski town, which was founded as a mining camp during the Colorado Silver Boom and named because of the abundance of aspen trees in the area. The city boomed during the 1880s, its first decade of existence.

Day 8: After breakfast we will return to Denver International Airport. Return flights should be booked for after 3 p.m.



Getting There

Fly into Denver International Airport. The trip leaders recommend you arrive a day early (Friday, August 22nd) to avoid complications due to late flights or lost luggage. The leaders will stay at LaQuinta Inn. The hotel is not listed in the trip price and you can chose to stay elsewhere.  On Saturday, leaders will drive the group by van to the lodge, an approximately three-hour drive, stopping in Leadville for dinner. If you miss our afternoon departure on Saturday you must arrange your own shuttle transportation to Twin Lakes. You can also drive yourself to Mt. Elbert Lodge; parking is available. 

Accommodations and Food

We will stay at Mt. Elbert Lodge, originally an old roadhouse. We will have the lodge exclusively and probably also make use of the Barn, a large quaint four-bedroom cabin (depending on group size). All rooms have double or queen beds. Each room can accommodate a single person or a couple. Some bathroom facilities will be shared. The lodge is very clean with a cozy/comfortable living room with fireplace and game table. There is a reading library and an outdoor hot tub, where we can soak our muscles after hiking or watch the moon set behind the south ridge. We can eat in the dining room or our outdoor porch as the sun washes the mountain peaks pink. We have exclusive access to the lodge’s kitchen, where we will take turns preparing scrumptious meals.

Trip Difficulty

Participants need to be in good physical condition. This trip is not geared toward expert hikers, but someone who enjoys hiking and wants a challenge. Mt. Elbert lodge is at 9,200 feet and most hikes will go up to 10,000 to 12,526 feet. Our beginning hike would be classified easy, then days three, four, and six would be moderate, and day seven would be classified as strenuous.  

Equipment and Clothing

An equipment list will be provided to registered participants.



  • Martin, Betty Woo and Don W., The Best of Denver and the Rockies.
  • Dawson, Louis W., II, Dawson's Guide to Colorado's Fourteeners, Vol. 1: The Northern Peaks. 
  • Jenkins, McKay, The Last Ridge: The Epic Story of America's First Mountain Soldiers and the Assault on Hitler's Europe.   



Environmental challenges in Lake County, Colorado include:

  • Grassroots recycling issues
  • Rapid growth and development in high-mountain towns
  • Old mining sites leaching toxic metals into the water
  • Diversion of the water supply (The high mountains receive more precipitation than anywhere else in Colorado, but most of this water is used by Front Range cities and eastern Colorado agriculture.)
  • Mountain Pine Beetle invasion

We will have fireside chats discussing Colorado environmental issues and participants can share issues from their own regions. Hopefully, a ranger from the Leadville Ranger District will be available to speak to us during the week. We also will be emphasizing the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act.

In 2014 America celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act. The Sierra Club, various other organizations with a wilderness focus, and the four federal wilderness management agencies are vigorously planning this celebration. The goal of the effort is to assure that a broader public knows about the concept and benefits of wilderness. Sierra Club Outings is a vital part of the celebrations for wilderness.
While the Act was far in the future when our outings program started, we were already promoting the principle behind it: to forever set aside from human developments certain special places, by civic agreement. This is the basic principle on which the Sierra Club was founded. The wilderness anniversary gives us an opportunity to highlight our organization’s leading role—in publicizing this principle, in passing the 1964 Act, and in achieving more designated wilderness since then.

Sierra Club National Outings is an equal-opportunity provider and will operate under permits from the San Isabel and White River National Forest.



Julie has been a Sierra Club member for more than 25 years. She is retired from teaching and coaching at the high school level. She also taught swimming and is a first aid/CPR instructor for the American Red Cross. She has her wilderness first aid certificate, and she loves to hike, bike, canoe, kayak, ski and play many other sports. She now leads and assists on a variety of Sierra Club outings, including backpacking, canoeing, service, biking, and archaeological survey trips. Julie has hiked and skied in the Twin Lakes area many times. She is the Midwest Outings Subcommittee Co-Chair.


Richard Fite has extensive experience leading backpack trips for the Sierra Club and other organizations, and is certified as a Wilderness First Responder. With 20 years of backpacking experience, Richard has hiked in many western states and climbed most of the high mountains in his home state of New Hampshire. Richard is employed as a risk analyst for the United States Department of Agriculture.

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