“Cradled deep inside a glacial cirque, Mill Lake is a true hidden gem of the Gunnison National Forest.”
— Caroline Cordsen
Birding · Fall Colors · Lake · River/Creek · Spring · Views · Wildflowers · Wildlife · Commonly Backpacked
A short and easy approach makes Mill Lake a good family destination.
Camping is popular in this part of the state. Follow all Fossil Ridge Wilderness regulations, and practice Leave No Trace techniques to keep it wild.
Though the trail is short–only three miles round trip–don’t let that fool you into thinking this is just another walk in the park.
Leaving the Gold Creek Campground behind, the first .8 miles from about 10,000 feet to the switchbacks at 10,500 feet pass easily enough, but as the altitude hits, so does the trail’s headlong approach to Mill Lake.
With each passing step, treeline becomes inevitable, but for one fleeting moment, the trail levels with a short-lived rest. The dense tree cover recedes to views of the cirque’s western wall before quickly ducking back into the woods, where another set of switchbacks crosses the creek, then heralds the trail into its hardest push to the lake at 11,400 feet.
This high alpine lake rests right on the edge of tree line, which offers the best of both worlds: a thick web of pines to the south and east, and unbreakable views of Fossil Mountain in the northwest. As you might guess from the Mountain's name, ancient marine fossils still surround the lake from Colorado’s ancient aquatic history.
Flora & Fauna
Cutthroat trout have been introduced into all Fossil Ridge Wilderness lakes, and the easy approach makes Mill Lake a popular fishing destination. Elk, deer, bighorn, mountain goats, fox, bobcats and mountain lions are also known to thrive within the Fossil Ridge Wilderness.
Fossils of Cretaceous and Jurassic sea creatures can be found along the banks of Mill Lake. If you do find anything, leave it as it is.