Want to get away from the crowds and see something spectacular in Rocky Mountain National Park? Then head for Mirror Lake. This remote lake may be a long drive and a long hike, but that also cuts down on the number of people hiking this trail. On a Saturday in mid-August, we saw three groups of backpackers, a trail crew and a few fishermen, but that was it on the 13-mile roundtrip hike.
The lake is on the far north side of Rocky Mountain National Park. It’s so far north, you access the trailhead by driving through Poudre Canyon (directions below).
From the trailhead, the trail follows Corral Creek, off and on, as it winds through a wide valley. You’ll pass the Comanche Peak Wilderness sign as the trail wanders through meadows and forest sections, occasionally close enough to the creek to hear the cascades and occasionally a little further away.
In the first 1.3 miles from the trailhead, the trail drops about 300 feet in elevation. That’s nice in the beginning, but tough on the way out.
When the trail flattens out, you’ll pass the Big South Trail turn off, but follow the arrow for Rocky Mountain National Park. It’s just a short distance from this turnoff that the trail crosses a bridge over Corral Creek, which is now La Poudre Pass Creek. On the other side of the creek you’ll enter Rocky Mountain National Park.
Soon you’ll find yourself in another large meadow, following a creek. This is the Cache la Poudre River. Cross over another large bridge and then the uphill climb begins. After hearing creeks and rivers for the first two miles, that goes away as you head up the Hague Creek Valley.
At 2.45 miles from the trailhead, you’ll come to a large meadow and a turnoff for several backcountry sites. Now the main trail really begins to gain elevation as it climbs along the side of the valley. Most of this trail is in the shade, but if you look closely you may notice that in some spots 80-90 percent of the trees are dead. You may be so busy watching your feet on the rocky trail that you may not notice that.
After another 2.5 miles, you’ll come to a small opening with several trail signs. This is where the trail splits for Mummy Pass and Mirror Lake.
You’ll continue hiking another 0.6 miles in the forest until you suddenly come to a wide-open valley with a view of a large meadow and nearby rocky peaks. After being in the darker forest, this is a sudden change of bright sunlight.
A few more steps and you’ll pass the Comanche Peak turnoff. (An extra 4 miles or so roundtrip.) Hike on because you’re less than a mile from Mirror Lake!
Start the climb up the Mirror Lake valley passing a nice cascade and the turnoffs for the camp sites. The trail gets a little faint as it approaches the lake, but just keep going up the valley until — there it is!
Mirror Lake is a large lake in a glacier cirque with tall, rocky peaks. The lake is so large, you can’t get a photo showing even one side of it completely. After hiking 6.5 miles, this is a great reward. Sit, take it in and enjoy this place so few see.
As you try to figure out the best photo of this incredible place, ask yourself if you’re ready for more. There’s an unnamed lake on the other end of Mirror Lake, about 70 feet higher in elevation. And up that rocky valley above Mirror Lake are two small ponds.
The next lake up is worth your effort. There’s actually a faint trail around the east side of the lake. (When tempted to go higher, don’t. The faint trail is pretty close to the shoreline.) When you get to the north end of the lake, just find the best you can up. That might mean some rock scrambling and climbing through willows and over rock faces.
While it takes some time to get there, it’s only a third of a mile to the lake above Mirror and on your way back down, you’ll get great photos of Mirror Lake below you.
You can continue up to the two higher ponds or return the way you came.
Details: The hike to Mirror Lake is 13.1 miles with 2100 feet of elevation gain with all the ups and downs. Adding the upper, unnamed lake makes the hike 13.9 miles with 2,350 feet of elevation gain.
If you’re looking for hiking in Poudre Canyon, my favorite hikes are Lake Agnes, Lake Emmaline and the B-17 crash site. Find more Poudre Canyon hikes, Rocky Mountain National Park hikes and hikes across the state in this list of 400+ Colorado hiking trails. Don’t miss any of my trip reports, sign up for an email alert by clicking on subscribe at the bottom of this article and follow me on Facebook.
Directions: From Fort Collins, take Highway 14 through town. When Highway 14 makes a left turn at a gas station (Ted’s Place), zero your odometer. Drive about 53 miles and turn left on Long Draw Road. From here, it’s about 8.5 miles to the Corral Creek Trailhead, across from an old cabin/Visitor’s Information Center. Note, Long Draw Road is dirt, and at times bumpy, road.