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Willow Lake Trail

Intermediate/Difficult
 4.8 (9)

A beautiful approach up to Willow Lake and a gorgeous alpine plateau.


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Map Key

4.8

Miles

7.8

KM

Point to Point

11,598' 3,535 m

High

8,945' 2,727 m

Low

2,759' 841 m

Up

125' 38 m

Down

11%

Avg Grade (6°)

34%

Max Grade (19°)

Dogs Leashed

Features Fall Colors · Lake · River/Creek · Swimming · Views · Waterfall · Wildflowers · Wildlife

This trailhead isn't too far outside of the town of Crestone, so winter access isn't terrible.

Description

In the San Luis Valley, take CO 17 to the town of Moffat. South of town, look for a sign for Crestone. Turn east on the RD T road. You'll soon see a USFS sign for the South Crestone Trailhead, 15 miles ahead. Drive 11.4 miles to a junction and turn left, following the main road into the town of Crestone. Once in town, turn right onto Galena Ave. It will go uphill for a short bit and then turn to dirt. From here, it's a hard 2WD/easy 4WD 2 miles to the Willow Creek trailhead.

From the trailhead, hike a short distance to a junction. Follow signs for Willow Creek and take the trail to the right. Pass through some meadows and cross some streams before coming to a set of large switchbacks in the forest. About 1.25 miles from the trailhead crest out on a small hill, briefly leaving the forest. Much of the route can be seen ahead.

Descend briefly along some clearings before returning to dense forest. Follow switchbacks on the clear class 1 trail from around 10,000 to 10,800 ft. Up to this point, the Willow Lake Stream has been below you and to your right. Cross the stream at around 10,900 ft and switchback up a headwall of talus to reach 11,100 ft.

Re-enter the forest and cross another stream. From here, it's under a mile to the lake. Continue up the trail and hike up a brief class 2 section of boulders embedded in the trail. Top out and pass through a camping area just west of the lake. There are many small offshoot trails toward campsites, so make sure to stay on the main trail. Finally, come to the lake at around 11,400 ft.

To continue toward Kit Carson and Challenger Peaks, follow a trail around the left side of the lake and above the waterfall, 200 ft above the lake's east end. There are incredible views to be had here, even if the mountains themselves aren't your cup of tea.

Flora & Fauna

From lush forests and wildflowers to marmots, pika, and bighorn sheep, this hike has got it all. The views from the Willow Lake cliffs are truly world-class.

Contacts

Shared By:

Tyler Prince

Trail Ratings

  4.8 from 9 votes

#1

in Crestone

#307

Overall
  4.8 from 9 votes
5 Star
78%
4 Star
22%
3 Star
0%
2 Star
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1 Star
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Trail Rankings

#1

in Crestone

#63

in Colorado

#307

Overall
536 Views Last Month
10,736 Since May 1, 2015
Intermediate/Difficult

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Photos

Looking east toward the peaks above Willow Lake.
Sep 5, 2017 near Crestone, CO
Willow Lake moonrise.
Sep 5, 2017 near Crestone, CO
Willow Park, about a third of the way from trailhead to Willow Lake, is a one hour walk. This is early winter. The trail goes right by Willow Park so you can't possibly miss it. Challenger Point is seen in the middle; Willow Lake is in the bowl on left.
Apr 10, 2019 near Crestone, CO
Views abound along the Willow Lake Trail ascent.
Sep 5, 2017 near Crestone, CO
Willow Lake, its cliffs, and waterfall. Kit Carson and Challenger are up to the right, obscured from view.
May 10, 2015 near Crestone, CO
Approaching the headwall on the way to Willow Lake.
May 10, 2015 near Crestone, CO

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Check-Ins

Jul 19, 2019
Sean Dillon
2019 backpacking trip 5.2mi — 5h 16m
Jun 18, 2019
Morgan Vlasse
Some mud and tricky creek crossings. Snow required some scrambling to skip a few switchbacks on the headwall. Time included hauling 40 lbs of gear. 5mi — 3h 30m
May 14, 2019
Chris R
Backpacking overnight, too much snow to reach the lake. Camping spot at 2.84 miles up the trail. 3.2mi — 12h 07m
Mar 11, 2019
Derek Bowden
Sep 9, 2018
Allegra Waterman-Snow
9.6mi
Aug 9, 2018
Bradyn Fedak
4.8mi
Jul 28, 2018
Jaime Jennings
We camped at Willow Lake. It was stunning, but there is a problem bear up there that wouldn't leave people's campsites alone. Campers be safe!
Jul 1, 2018
Amy Thompson