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Michigan Lakes, Colorado State Forest, July 4, 2010

August 21, 2010


Headed up to Cameron Pass (up Hyw 14 in the Poudre Canyon) Sunday morning, July 4, 2010 for a hike into some new country.  I’ve seen the signs for the Michigan Lake trailhead for years, but never gone.  Probably because it was in the Colorado State Forest and you have to pay a daily fee.  Turned out that it was well worth the $3 : )

Before I go any further in the trip’s description, here is my standard comment. Please check my photo galleries here for all the larger and higher quality photos for this trip. The photos in the gallery are a quantum leap in size and quality compared to the little teaser photos I put in this site’s trip narrative (and there are more of them). In addition, I have two other links that will help locate the area if you are interested in making the hike yourself. A Google Earth map can be found here. Use the scale bar on the left side of the Google map to help zoom in or out to help locate the area based on where you live. (If you want to see all my trips, this link will direct you to a Google map that shows ALL my trips.) In order to help you with the actual trail itself, you can use this link to view a topo map (care of the great National Geographic TOPO program( ) that one of my sons purchased for me : ) of the Michigan Lakes trail. Please note that all links open a new browser window.


There are two Michigan Lake trailheads that I am aware of.  One starts at the top of Cameron Pass (the trail I’m describing here).  You park in a national forest parking lot, walk across the highway (watch your little children don’t get hit by a car; pretty good visibility, but it IS a highway), and start walking up the Michigan Ditch.  That was what I did.  Mostly because the other trailhead begins about 500 feet lower in elevation down on the other side of Cameron Pass (still, it might be a pretty trail).

You immediately get to the self-pay station.


In addition to the Google map link above, below is a Microsoft Live map. The red tack shows the general location of the trail from Fort Collins, CO. You can click on the map to bring it up in a “live” mode and zoom in or out (and move the map around) to get more detail.

Map image

So, for the first one to two miles the “hike” is along a dirt road that follows the ditch.  This water ends up in the Joe Wright reservoir which ends up in the Poudre River (which provides for farmers and Fort Collins).

History and current events pause/
I think the Joe Wright Reservoir was built in 1905.  Some interesting history of the Poudre Canyon area and water projects can be found at this site and also here for the front range of Colorado in general .  Note that unlike the Grand Ditch , this ditch does not take water from the  west slope and move it to the east slope.  It  rather diverts water that is bound for Wyoming’s east slope (Laramie River which flows through Laramie, Wy) to the east slope of Colorado.  These types of projects would never be allowed during the current times.  Well, not without a lot of court room battles.  There is a project, still under review, that would carry water from Wyoming’s Green river through a pipeline to Denver, CO.  Here are a few links to the project details.  Pretty interesting stuff (and it will become even more so after another drought or two : )
/back to the hike : )

I saw no vehicles and only two people along the way.  Even better, the views were great and there were a lot of pretty flowers along the “stream”.


I did pass by a nice looking cabin.  Probably used by state workers that keep the ditch in good repair.


Did I mention the views?  Nice views.  One thing is I really didn’t know where I was headed.  I figured it was towards that area that you can see in this photo  So, the lakes would be right under those snowfields.  I was wrong.  Michigan Lakes is on the other side of that ridge and mountain.  In fact, I eventually came up on the trail from the other side, stood on that ridge to the left of the peaks……….


,,,,,,,,,,,,,,Zoom in a little.  So, I think I was on the far ridge all the way to the left.  From there I took a photo of myself with the Rawahs in the background.  I’ll remind you when I get to that point.


Zoom even more.  The Crags.  I did check on the topo map and there does not appear to be any lake up there below those snowfields.  But, neat looking place.  Could do a little summer snow boarding on that snowfield (not sure that is legal, as St. Mary’s glacier used to be (may still be open during the summer for all I know), so if you think about doing it, check with the state forest officials first).


Oh, yeah, the flowers.


Eventually you reach the trail intersection.  The Michigan Lake trail takes off to the left here.  For the first half mile or so, the “trail” is an old jeep road.


Detail of the signs.  Yeah, American Lakes is the same as Michigan Lakes.  Not sure where they came up with “American” Lakes.  Probably decided to do another “Freedom Fries” trick a few years ago.  Hard to say.


You soon get to a very nice view of the upper Michigan River meadows.  I took off my pack at this point and spent a few minutes just enjoying the view, eating a snack, and absorbing some Gatorade.  Very nice.  Took some more photos on the way back down later in the afternoon as the lighting was different (any excuse to take more photos : )  This is also where I began to suspect that I was going to experience some quality “high country” hiking.


The “trail” continues up the valley and then bends to the right as the river heads towards the west and the lakes.


This is looking back towards a small bridge (I’ll have a photo of it on the way back down) where the trail crosses the Michigan River.  At this point you are no longer following a jeep trail, but an actual walking trail.  This is also where the trail begins to gain real altitude.  Nothing extreme, but you will be going uphill and using some occasional switchbacks to get up into the timberline country.


Even though you are gaining altitude, the trail is pleasant enough that it rarely, if ever, becomes any sort of a trudge.  I was seeing an occasional group of people.  But, nothing like Rocky Mountain National Park. Very nice.  Especially considering this was the 4th of July.


Crossing a few small streams keeps the spirits up.


There are some intriguing overnight (or, very long one day) hikes in the area.  Some of which would be best done with two vehicles in a shuttle mode (so, you drop one vehicle off at the “end” of the hike, and use the other vehicle to get to the beginning of the hike).  Looking up one valley across the way I could see where a faint trail goes over a pass (into the Bennett Creek drainage, I think).


Zoom some.  Still faint.  You can see it much better on my smugmug site where the photos are the much larger variety.


Looking more to the NE, towards Iron Mountain, I could see another trail going over a ridge (into the Neota Creek Drainage, I think).


Zoom.  Note that these faint trails are NOT marked with signs or maintained.  At least I didn’t see any signs.


And then, the trail gets into timberline country.  Oh yeah.  My suspicions were correct.


I could now look across the upper meadows of the Michigan Lakes area.  Nice place.


The Crags looked a little different from this angle.  Still inspiring.


As can be seen, there were still a few snowfields in the area.  And, a few people playing on them.


I wanted to get a photo of the Rawahs, but had to ask this character to remove himself from my scenery.  The nerve.


So, remember way back when I said “that’s where I’ll be taking a photo from” (or, something similar)?  Well, I got to that place and this is what you can see.  That’s Hwy 14 in the distance snaking around up from the west side up to Cameron Pass.  You can see the ditch I hiked along cutting across the mountain.  The mountains in the far distance are the Rawahs (Rawah Wilderness).  Not sure what all the yellow dots in the grass are.


Zoom some.  You can just see the parking lot on top of Cameron pass.  The ditch/road (which starts right across the highway from the parking lot) can easily be seen in this photo.

Hmmmm.  Lets talk about field of view.  So, that photo above looks like a hell of a long distance to hike.  That’s because the lens that I used allows me to “widen” the field of view so as to take in more of the surrounding country.  But, it also means that it makes things look further away than they really are (compared to what it looks like when you are actually standing there looking with your eyeballs).

The photo below goes the other extreme.  I’ve zoomed in way past the normal field of view (that a person sees with their eyes) so things now look much closer than they actually are.  The “real” field of view is somewhere in between. I’ll have to start taking an occasional photo with a “normal” field of view so you can see the difference.


The trail heads up through those trees and up to the right.  Hmmm.  More yellow dots.  Strange.


Here is the first view of Michigan Lakes.  The trail heads pretty much straight towards that small lake in the distance and then forks.  The left fork will go across the valley (and crosses the lake outlet) to Thunder Pass.  If you continue straight you will go past the two Michigan Lakes.  If you continue on past the two lower lakes, you will head up into that bowl in the distance to Snow Lake.


Here I’ve turned to my left to look over towards Thunder Pass.  It’s the lowest “gap” on the distant ridge.


Zoom.  On the other side of that pass is Grand Ditch and the upper Colorado River.  Both in Rocky Mountain National Park.


Coming up to the lower lake.  I’m finding the scenery quite, uh, photogenic.  It’s all I can do to keep walking instead of just standing in one spot and looking everywhere for a long time.  The weather was perfect (just enough clouds to be eye catching, but no rain), tshirt really, and there were, get ready, nooooooooo bugs : )


Zoom in a little.  So, you can see (mostly) the fork in the trail.  The left fork crosses the stream on some rocks and heads towards Thunder Pass.  The other way continues straight on past the two lower lakes and then up a rather steep pitch to an upper lake called Snow Lake.  I decided to go to Snow Lake.


Ummm, yes.  The, uh, “trail” to Snow Lake.  Well, it’s kinda funny.  Here I am walking alongside the second lower lake and figuring I would be able to spot, easily, the trail switch backing it’s way up and over that ridge to Snow Lake.  You can see the outlet of Snow Lake as a pretty little falls.  But, where was the trail?


So, I finally got over to the rock field you can see in the prior photo.  All the way over to the right.  And, well, here is the trail.


Yes, it sorta just, well, sputters out.

The “trail” to Snow Lake/
So, here is the deal. If you look carefully, you can see small bits and pieces of the trail as it winds it’s way over the rock field and then goes (mostly straight) up the slope to Snow Lake.  It starts to go up before you get to the outlet stream.  So, look around and you can spot the traveled areas.  At the point from this photo it goes towards the outlet for another 50 yards or so and then heads (to the right) straight (mostly) up the slope.  Just take little steps, be cautious, take your time and look around.  However, unless you have nerves of steel, and are very fast on your feet, I don’t think I can recommend taking small children up to Snow Lake.  And I would not recommend anyone doing it at night or in the rain/snow.
You should also be able to spot small piles of rock here and there.  Or, if not, just look for a safe looking route (going mostly just straight up), and that will do also.  I saw quite a bit of sign on the way up, and saw a few other people on the way (most people do not, for some inexplicable reason, go all the way up to Snow Lake).  That said, there “may” be another trail that I missed.  Possibly across the way but still buried under the fields of snow.  Anyway, it was well worth the climb.  Hmmm.  Should I mention the girl calling for her boyfriend (both looked like college students) to come show her the way after getting halfway up?  No, I guess I won’t.  Of course, there was that one young man I saw leading around 10 other college students up the wrong trail after the jeep trail ended.  I let them go since I figured it would be a very good learning experience and there really wasn’t any danger involved.  They did make it (in fact, they beat me : )  Now that I think about it, maybe they weren’t on the wrong trail?  No, my way had the bridge.  So, yeah, I must have been on the trail.  Well, I just won’t think about it.

/end “trail” detail

Snow Lake, 4th of July, 2010
Made it to Snow Lake and enjoyed the view for quite some time.  Ate lunch.  Enjoyed the view some more.  Really neat (helped that no one else was up at the lake at the same time).


Here’s looking back down at Michigan Lake, Thunder Pass, and the Colorado River valley beyond.


Headed back down.  Part of the trail I came up.  It’s a little steeper than it looks in this photo.  Go slow, don’t trip, use an occasional handhold, and you’ll be fine.


Looking back towards where I needed to go.  That orange blob near the lake is a tent.  Per regulations, that’s much closer to the lake than you are supposed to be camping.  But, such is life.


Had to cross a couple of small snowfields on the way up (and back).


Looking back before I leave the lake.




The fork in the trail to Thunder Pass.  I had to hold myself back from walking in that direction.  No time this trip.




More vistas.  Shadows starting to grow.


Looking down the valley.  Valley in the sun, Iron Mountain in the shade.


Heading back down the trail.  I think that’s Iron Mountain in background.  Valley in the shade, Iron Mountain in the sun.


Looking back at the Michigan Lakes area one last time.


And a zoom of the Crags.


Nice reds.


Raging waterfall.


At the end of the old jeep road, on the way up, I saw a place where the trail looks like it forks.  I decided to take some photos on the way back down to help clarify the trail.  Actually, it does fork.  And, there is an old sign post.  Don’t get confused.  Stay to the right on the well worn trail.


You will then shortly come to a bridge.  Once crossing that, the trail will look as if it is angling away from the Michigan Lake valley.  Just stay on the trail and it will shortly veer to the left and head back towards the Michigan Lake area.


One more look up the valley before I hit the drainage ditch road.


Flowers along the ditch.


Close up.


Some of these snowfields may last all summer.


Looking west down Hwy 14 as it winds it’s way towards Gould and Walden, Co.


One more view of the Crags.  There is another trail that goes around behind it (to the right) to Lake Agnes.  I think I may hike it next summer.  The trailhead is further down Hwy 14 from Cameron Pass.


Looking through the trees at Hwy 14 just below (to the west) of Cameron Pass.  It’s still a bit of a walk along the ditch before I make it back to my car.  I’d forgotten the walk along the ditch was so long : )  But, it is a very pleasant stroll.


There’s my little blue ride.  Waiting patiently for me in the distance.


Looking back one last time before getting into the car for the the trip back down the canyon to Fort Collins.  Looks nice, right?  What’s interesting is that I got down to Fort Collins (roughly two hours later) and found them in a storm, tornado, and flash flood advisory status (saw an interesting rainbow just exiting the canyon).  I met my son Will in a torrential (well, heavy) rain outside of Coops in Fort Collins.  We feasted on their great pizza and brewery beer and watched the rain fall.  Good stuff.


All in all, Michigan Lakes is a great hike (whichever route you take).  Lovely scenery, pretty trail, close to Fort Collins (relatively speaking).  What’s not to like?  I wouldn’t recommend hiking this prior to July 4.  The possibility for spending a lot of time trudging through snowfields is quite high early in the summer.  Normally, as this time, July 4 is a good bet for the high country in northern Colorado.

Also, I did luck out with the weather.  Quite often you will get pretty intense afternoon thunderstorms rolling through during the summer.  So, starting a little early so as to be at the lakes by noon (if not before) might be a good idea.  Or, keep your eyes on the weather and wait for a system to blow through.  Normally the day after that happens it will skip the afternoon thunderstorms.  Finally, you can go during the early fall when thunderstorm activity is rarer.  The high country fall colors are nice.  This is state forest, so they may allow hunting during the fall (wear orange : )

– Geoff Weatherford

8 Comments leave one →
  1. August 28, 2010 7:40 pm

    Another set of beautiful photos! Thanks for the trip!

    We just visited on a location ‘only’ 1750 miles from you, but got to do one of these hikes next May when we’ll come to Colorado. 🙂

    • September 4, 2010 4:57 pm

      Well, there are lots of other pretty areas outside of Colorado : )

      Not sure that Michigan Lakes would be the best “hike” in May. Probably mostly under snow. Every year is different, so you never know.


      Geoff Weatherford

  2. April 23, 2013 6:48 pm

    I’m really loving the theme/design of your web site. Do you ever run into any web browser compatibility issues? A handful of my blog visitors have complained about my blog not operating correctly in Explorer but looks great in Chrome. Do you have any ideas to help fix this problem?

  3. April 12, 2015 10:42 pm

    Oh Mr. Weatherford ~ I absolutely enjoyed your text and photos of a place about which I’ve often heard. Family members have had many fishing trips at Michigan Lake, but while they really enjoyed their “catch,” I wonder how much more pleasure they would have experienced hiking on the trails. Your easy method of writing made me feel as if I was just steps alongside you and I had a blast! 🙂 Thanx for your gift of self in this informative article.

    • April 13, 2015 8:09 pm

      Glad you enjoyed the trail. I went back last summer, but this time rode a bike up the ditch road to where the trail started. Hid the bike and walked the rest of the way. Quite a bit faster that way. I did see two people riding their bikes all the way to Thunder Pass. Too rough for me : )



      • LISA permalink
        April 14, 2015 11:00 am

        Dear Mr. Weatherford ~ This comment is between you and me ONLY because I couldn’t/wouldn’t mention on your website that I am a senior with four disabilities and flit along on my electric scooter within the confines of our retirement facility.  In having lunch with another resident recently, we discussed hiking/fishing locales near Steamboat, Walden, etc., and for the life of me, I couldn’t remember “Michigan Lake”!  😦    So on the laptop I “traveled” and found YOUR WONDERFUL WEBSITE.  See?  Even though this is not an ad for Yellow Pages, they will let me use their slogan of “Let your fingers do the walking.”  Never can tell what high tech will display on your screen that brings so much pleasure.  Your camera’s eye is so clear that I really think I could feel the soft breezes wafting through the land shots you shared.  Just wanted you to know how very much I enjoyed your journey and will look forward to more of your website’s offerings.  Many thanx!  Lisa


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