“A long and arduous trek to a high alpine lake in the heart of the Fossil Ridge Wilderness.”
— Caroline Cordsen
Birding · Fall Colors · Lake · River/Creek · Spring · Views · Wildflowers · Wildlife · Commonly Backpacked
Camping is popular in this part of the state, but follow all Fossil Ridge Wilderness regulations.
The Henry Lake Trail itself is a short two-mile excursion both ways, but either approach – from the Lottis Creek Campground in the north, or a much steeper approach from the Gold Creek Campground in the south (both using the South Lottis Trail #428
) – makes for a long day (or couple of days).
The Lottis Creek Campground is by far the most common approach, and is the approach described here.
Need to Know
Crossing Lottis Creek can be difficult and dangerous both in the spring when creek levels rise with the snowmelt, and in winter as most logs become (and stay) icy. I did find some good contenders upriver both seasons.
At the onset, the high waters of Lottis Creek present its challenges in crossing to the southern banks, but once to the other side, the South Lottis Trail #428
takes its lead from its namesake creek along grades that never grow too steep.
Five miles from the campground, the South Lottis Trail #428
comes to a fork with the Henry Lake Trail #429. Turning right, the route continues along South Lottis Creek, ascending a shallow basin below Henry Mountain.
The elevation climbs more rapidly throughout this segment, with only two miles to gain the final 1,000 feet to the lake, compared to the 1,600 feet of gain conquered over the course of the previous five miles along the South Lottis Trail #428
1.5 miles from the split, the woods grow sparse as treeline nears, bringing with it your first good views of the 13,254 foot Henry Mountain, which makes up the southern wall of the basin. After a brief respite, the final half-mile grind to the northern inlet of Henry Lake at 11,704 feet brings with it a grueling set of switchbacks.
Topping out, the high clearance allows for wide views into the heart of the Sawatch Mountain Range, most notably Jenkins Mountain and Grizzly Peak. From the lake, head back the way you came or continue south along the South Lottis Trail #428
to the Gold Campground for a point-to-point shuttle.
Flora & Fauna
Fossil Ridge Wilderness is heavily wooded with pines, aspen and firs. Elk, deer, bighorn, mountain goats, fox, bobcats and mountain lions are known to thrive within the wilderness.
History & Background
The valleys and basins of the Fossil Ridge Wilderness were carved out from retreating glaciers, including the wide drainage of the South Lottis River. The name, Fossil Ridge, lends itself to the ancient sea fossils, hundreds of millions of years old, which can still be found in the limestone of a high ridge that forms the southern edge of the wilderness.
The area was also once home to past gold mining efforts.