It was almost high noon when I started the Silver Dollar Lake trail. A bright summer day, the sun cast the forest in extreme contrast, with sharp shadows from the trees falling over each other, the green pines highlighted and vibrant, the trail itself vividly lit from the sun beating straight down from above, and all with the surprising sound of a running stream just off trail.
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Located off Guanella Pass road, the trail is not a summit hike, but a brief trip through a forest leading to three beautiful lakes, starting already at 11,235’.
Directly off the road is a small, only four or five car parking area, but there is a dirt road that goes up to the trailhead with more parking. The road is a bit rough, but easily doable — there’s no large potholes or extruding rocks. I went on a Wednesday afternoon and it was already almost full, so earlier may be better.
The path does not stay in the forest for long, as it eventually rises above the treeline, almost completely falling away to reveal the valley, and how sharply the sides fall down. Laid out is the bowl of the valley that holds Naylor Lake, with giant patches of snowmelt covering the sides of the valley as well.
As of writing, there were two snow crossings on the trail — giant patches of snow covering the trail — neither very difficult. Once the path starts to approach the other side of the valley, about 10 minutes away from Silver Dollar Lake, it does get a bit muddy. While it may become rather deep mud in some parts, it's not shoe-filling. Keeping to the trail is the best way to protect the sensitive alpine nature that fills the area, some of which were beautiful blooming yellow, red and blue flowers.
Approaching the lake, the valley appears fantastical, like a giant beast may walk through any moment. It looks small and yawning at the same time, with the north being an almost featureless rolling hill the height of a mountain, and the south a snow covered towering wall of stone.
Silver Dollar Lake itself is beautiful, filled with the snowmelt coming from above. Silver Dollar and Murray Lake further on are both popular for fishing, allowed with a Colorado Fishing License.
The trail finishes at Murray Lake, which lies past a final steep ascent over a short hill. The path may be steep, but the top reveals the valley even further, giving views straight across, with Mount Evans and Mount Bierstadt towering above. This last stretch brings the final elevation gain to almost 800’.
It may not be a summit hike, but that doesn’t make it any less fantastical and full of worthy views. It’s also relatively easy compared to other nearby hikes, with a view of the valley along almost the entire way, rather than being blocked by the forest until the very top.
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