Spruce Creek Trail -> Continental Falls Trail-> Mohawk Lakes Trail:
Starting Elevation: Approximately 10,400 ft
Final Elevation: Approximately 12,120 ft ( 1700 ft gain)
Trip Length: According to the trail head and all research, 7 miles round trip ( 3.5 out and 3.5 back) According to my fitbit 8.5 miles. We really took our time and took a ridiculous amount of pictures, if not for our awe-delay we would have been done in 4 hours likely….however we managed to spend about 2 extra hours just taking in all the spectacular sights at so many different points.
Trail Uses: Hiker, Biker & Horses
Degree of difficulty: Moderate to Difficult due to altitude and the last 1.5 miles.
Bathrooms: No, as in none anywhere along the way or at either end of the trail. ( A challenge for those of us who cannot randomly pee outside and don’t want to get dehydrated)
Pets: Yes, and on six-foot leash under control at all times. I don’t care how well-behaved your pet is, use the leash. I was almost knocked over twice by unleashed dogs at tough parts of the hike and the owners seemed to think it was “cute” that the dog was so excited to get to the end. Yeah, not from my perspective.
I have confession, I picked this hike for 2 reasons, first ( and probably the reason with the most weight) I needed a change of scenery for a few days and Breckenridge is one of my favorite places to spend time. Second, this hike was one many other people said was amazing and they were all right! The above reflection picture was one I caught while we were still on the lower part of the hike. I have always loved pictures like this where you can get a perfect reflection in the water, this was my first time doing it myself! So when I proposed this hike to my husband I tried to focus on how it would really help with getting us better at higher elevation hikes to keep us on the road to our first 14ner by next summer. But really I was thinking, “Yay, a break from my own 4 walls and a hot tub”! Oh and of course looking forward to a new adventure, really I swear….
Ok, let’s talk trail. This is a high altitude trail in the mountains, which means we were starting higher than we had ever even hiked up to before, 10,400 ft so we knew we would need to take our time in order to deal with the higher altitude. The other challenge, and this one is true of all summit hikes at this altitude, is that weather comes in fast here so be prepared. We tried to be on the trail by 7 but we were moving slower then we wanted and didn’t get started until 8AM. I knew by the weather reports that there was a good chance rain would roll in around noon. The trail head is not very far from Breckenridge, the road in, Spruce Creek Rd, is a well maintained dirt road through a residential area with the trail head a little over a mile in. You can’t miss the parking lot, on the other side of the parking lot is a 4×4 road which if you wanted to do the summit only you could drive up it as far as you can go and do the final 1.5 miles ( 3 miles roundtrip) up only. You can also hike up this 4×4 road, if you prefer that type of hiking to the forested Spruce Creek trail.
We took the Spruce Creek trail head:
While Aaron was dealing with a wardrobe malfunction, I actually read the trailhead board mainly because it looked like one of the people getting to hike was a hunter and I wasn’t sure if this was a hunting area and/or a hunting area. It wasn’t as far as I could tell. What I did learn was that the Spruce Creek trail is marked by squares carved into the trees, which did come in handy throughout this early part of the trail. There are also blue diamonds placed along the trail as well. The first 2 miles is through this beautiful wooded forest is so different from what we had been hiking through along the foothills. I actually felt like I was in all those Grimm fairy tales where it seems all the magical stuff happens. It starts out going along a stream, which you will cross over a few times. I have to post a few pictures here, just because it was so pretty:
We were getting pretty excited at this point because we knew the Mohawk Lakes trail was not too far away. What we didn’t expect was the small pond shortly past this intersection, it was reflecting Mount Helen perfectly. We killed a solid 20 minutes taking pictures of this. I felt so proud to have actually captured these images, although is was more likely the quality of camera then any talent of mine….
So the next trailhead is not too far from here and we popped out of the wooded coverage onto the 4×4 road I mentioned earlier. We saw a couple hiking up the road and they said it was very exposed so on the way back they would take the way we came from to avoid extra sun exposure. The wooded trail was shaded and so nice and cool the whole way.
Just follow this road around the curve, there is fence and the trail picks up again just past that on the left:
From here the incline increases greatly, the couple we met on the road was still with us and they both had hiking poles. This is a good time to point out that if you have poles and want to do this hike, bring them along maybe not a big deal at this point but later on they will be so helpful…. It is not to far to the next split, you have Mayflower lake on the right and then the Mohawk Lakes and Continental falls on the left…go left!
Ok, from here on out it is quite a hike. There are the lower falls, then the Continental falls and then all long the way are remains of the old mining operation. We took about 30 minutes taking pictures at the lowers falls and when we popped back out to the trail our beautiful blue sky was starting to get cluttered with clouds. At this point we made the decision to focus on getting to the top to avoid weather changes and then we would take our time going down capturing more images. Here is what the lower falls had to offer:
So from here you get back on the trail at some old cabins, one is restored and used by hikers who get stuck when weather comes in too fast. Something to keep in mind when planning to do this trail, make sure you are prepared for any weather. We had on layers of clothes and more in Aaron’s backpack just in case. It is always easier to take off clothes then to try to figure out how to get warm when things change.
From here we tackled the last part of the trail, and I read everything I could find on this hike there was a constant term used to describe this last part….a scramble and I don’t know about you but I have no idea what a scramble is. I googled it and it was a climbing term that recommended bringing a rope. I could only find 1 picture of this scramble and it was the very beginning where it is a series of large rock(s) you have crawl up but then it is not AS bad as I had imagined. I was determined to get pictures but on the way down…. unfortunately Mother nature had a wicked sense of humor after we headed back down. Every time I pulled out my camera it started raining and hailing, yep hailing! I wanted to kick myself for not taking the time to capture the “scramble”, but here is my advice take your time and look around. They have adjusted the trail recently, before you would scramble up along the falls using the cable left over from the mining operation to pull yourself up. The new path is not easy but it is easier, it would have been nice to have poles to help navigate it and add some stability for my poor knees that are fighting with all my extra weight already. Now it takes a series of steep switchbacks over lots of rocks and boulders up to the lower Mohawk lake ( I think) which a is a beautiful destination on its own.
Along the left of this lake the trail continues up to the next lake and at the time I thought this was upper Mohawk lake from all the pictures I saw but I am not so sure any longer it could be Mohawk lake and we failed to make it to the upper lake. But it is where we stopped and spent almost an hour taking pictures because it looked like everything I saw for Upper Mohawk lake:
Where this other hiker is located is where the path comes up to the next lake, you can also see behind her the trail that goes up to at least 3-4 more lakes. I understand from this lake on it is pretty challenging to get to the remaining lakes and actual rock climbing skills would come in handy. We stopped here and took pictures like crazy people. The views were just amazing, everything we moved to Colorado for. We could see Breckenridge in the distance along with the surrounding mountains and ranges.
We are really proud of ourselves on this one, it was a new and exciting challenge. Unfortunately we took too long at so many different points during the morning, we headed down at 11:30 with our cameras out and it started to rain big alligator tears sized drops. We captured a few things but had packed away our cameras because of the rain. Then we started down the scramble he sun came out and went to the top of the continental falls, took out our cameras to catch how beautiful they were and it started hailing. We stayed there for a while thinking it would stop and then finally gave up and as soon as we got back to the trail the sun came out blazing hot….I think you get the point, it was like this the rest of the way down until we actually gave up pulling out the camera and then I think it drizzled only one more time.
This is a spectacular hike, I think it should be on everyone’s bucket list as it has some of everything that makes Colorado so special. Take your time doing it and don’t ignore the changing weather, it was a tough time getting down the scramble when it was wet. Start early and know the weather for the day. It is really only a summer hike although I have read it can be a good snow shoe route, really the beauty is best now! I think snow shoeing would be quite a challenge, one I am not ready for yet.
How to get there:
From Breckenridge, drive south on U.S. Highway 9. From the last stoplight in Breckenridge to Spruce Creek Road is about 2.4 miles, turn right on Spruce Creek Road. Drive about 1 mile to a well-marked parking area and trailhead.
Here are just some more pictures from the day: