Hiking the Chicago Lakes Trail: A Scenic Journey to Mount Evans, CO

hiking the chicago lake trail
Explore the Chicago Lakes Trail for stunning Mount Evans views, essential hiking tips, and camping spots.

Ready for a day on the Chicago Lakes Trail? This trek isn’t just a walk in the park—it’s a ticket to awe-inspiring views on the way to Mount Evans.

Think mirror-like lakes and meadows dotted with wildflowers. Whether you’re here for the peaks, the wildlife, or the perfect snapshot, we’ve got the lowdown on gear, tips, and the best spots to pitch your tent.

If you’re itching for fresh air and ready for a challenge, grab your water bottle and follow us into the heart of Colorado’s wilderness!

The trail through Chicago Lakes Trail and Mount Evans

The Chicago Lakes Trail is a 12-mile out-and-back trail. It is a scenic hiking trail that leads to the summit of Mount Evans, the tallest mountain in the state of Colorado. 

The trailhead is located just outside of the city of Denver, making it a popular destination for city dwellers looking to escape the hustle and bustle for a day or two. 

Mount Evans chicago lake trail

The trail itself is relatively short and easy, making it perfect for beginner to intermediate hikers. Although the trail can be challenging at times, it is rewards hikers with stunning views of the surrounding mountains and lakes.

Essential Gear for Hiking the Trail

gear chicago lake trail

If you’re planning on hiking the Chicago Lakes Trail, there are a few essential items you’ll need to bring with you to make the journey enjoyable and safe. Here’s a list of must-have gear for hiking the trail:

Sturdy, comfortable hiking shoes or boots: You’ll be doing a lot of walking on the trail, so it’s important to have footwear that will support your feet and keep them comfortable.

Plenty of water: Make sure to bring enough water for yourself and any companions you’re hiking with. There are no water sources along the trail, so it’s important to come prepared.

Snacks: Hiking can be strenuous, so it’s important to have some snacks on hand to keep your energy up. Pack some high-protein snacks like nuts or granola bars.

Sunscreen and insect repellent: The sun can be intense at high altitudes, so make sure to apply sunscreen before heading out on the trail. And don’t forget insect repellent! There are plenty of mosquitoes in the area.

A map: Be sure to pick up a map of the area before starting your hike. The trail is well-marked, but it’s always good to have a map handy in case you get off course. 

Rain gear: Mother nature can be unpredictable, so it’s a good idea to bring some rain gear with you just in case. A lightweight waterproof jacket or poncho will do the job.

Photo Opportunities Along the Way

The Chicago Lakes Trail is a stunning hiking trail that offers plenty of opportunities for photography. Here are some of the best photo opportunities along the trail:

Echo Lake: Before you even start the trail, be sure to snap a photo of the beautiful Echo Lake. The lake is surrounded by lush forests and towering peaks, making for a stunning backdrop.

Chicago Falls: About a mile into the hike, you’ll come across Chicago Falls. The waterfall cascades down the rocks, creating a beautiful photo opportunity. Be sure to get up close to the falls for a dramatic shot.

chicago falls chicago lake trail

Chicago Lakes: The two Chicago Lakes are the highlight of the trail. The lakes are nestled in a beautiful alpine valley surrounded by towering peaks. Be sure to snap a photo of the lakes from above, as well as from the shore for a different perspective.

Wildflowers: In the summer months, the Chicago Lakes Trail is lined with beautiful wildflowers. Be sure to capture a shot of the colorful blooms against the backdrop of the mountains.

Mount Evans: If you decide to continue on to Mount Evans, be sure to snap a photo from the summit. The view from the top is truly breathtaking, and you’ll be able to see for miles in every direction.

Wildlife: The Chicago Lakes Trail is home to a variety of wildlife, including marmots, pikas, and mountain goats. Be sure to keep your camera handy in case you spot any of these creatures along the way.

The Chicago Lakes Trail offers plenty of opportunities for beautiful photography. Just be sure to respect the natural environment and stay on the trail to avoid damaging the delicate ecosystem.

Safety Tips While On the Trail

One of the most important things to remember while hiking is to be aware of your surroundings and be cautious of potential hazards. Here are some safety tips to keep in mind while on the trail:

Stay on the trail and be aware of your footing at all times. Loose rocks, roots, and uneven terrain can easily trip you up.

Watch out for wildlife, including snakes and bears. If you see any animals, do not approach them and give them a wide berth.

Pack plenty of water and snacks, and take breaks often to stay hydrated and fueled.

Wear appropriate clothing for the weather conditions, including layers for cold weather and sunscreen for sunny days.

Pack a first aid kit in case of any injuries. 

Let someone know where you are going and when you plan to return.

Bring a phone or other form of communication in case of emergencies.

Camping on the Chicago Lakes Trail

When you arrive at the Chicago Lakes trailhead, the first thing you’ll want to do is set up your campsite. This can be a bit tricky, as there are no designated campsites along the trail. However, with a little bit of creativity and some basic knowledge of Leave No Trace principles, you can find a great spot to set up your tent and enjoy the incredible views.

Backcountry camping is allowed along the Chicago Lakes Trail in the Mount Evans Wilderness, but there are specific regulations and guidelines that must be followed to ensure the safety of both campers and the environment.

backcountry camping chicago lake trail

Here are some things to keep in mind if you plan on backcountry camping on the Chicago Lakes Trail:

Permits: Backcountry camping permits are required in the Mount Evans Wilderness and can be obtained from the Clear Creek Ranger District. You’ll need to reserve a permit ahead of time and pay a small fee.

Campsites: Backcountry campsites must be at least 100 feet from lakes, streams, and trails, and at least 200 feet from any road or developed area. Camping is not allowed above treeline, so you’ll need to find a suitable site below the tree line. Be sure to follow Leave No Trace principles and pack out all trash and waste.

Water: There are several streams and lakes along the Chicago Lakes Trail, but you should always bring your own water purification system to ensure safe drinking water.

Bear safety: The Mount Evans Wilderness is home to black bears, so it’s important to take precautions to avoid encounters. Store all food and scented items in bear-resistant containers and hang them from a tree at least 10 feet off the ground and 4 feet from the trunk. Do not store food or toiletries in your tent.

Fire restrictions: Campfires are not allowed in the Mount Evans Wilderness, so you’ll need to bring a stove for cooking.

Weather: The weather can change quickly in the mountains, so be prepared for rain, wind, and cold temperatures. Check the weather forecast before you go and bring appropriate gear for the conditions.

Backcountry camping on the Chicago Lakes Trail can be a rewarding experience, allowing you to immerse yourself in the beauty of the wilderness. Just be sure to follow regulations and guidelines to ensure that you have a safe and enjoyable trip, while also protecting the natural environment for future generations.

Spotting Native Wildlife on the Trail

The Chicago Lakes Trail in the Mount Evans Wilderness is home to a variety of native wildlife. Here are some of the animals you may encounter on the trail:

Mountain goats: Mountain goats are one of the most iconic animals of the high alpine environment, and they are commonly seen on the Chicago Lakes Trail. These sure-footed animals have thick white fur and long curved horns.

wildlife chicago lake trail

Marmots: Marmots are large ground squirrels that are often seen basking in the sun on rocks along the trail. They have a distinctive high-pitched whistle and are known for their pudgy appearance.

Pikas: These small, furry creatures are known for their distinctive “meep” call and are often found in rocky areas. They are closely related to rabbits and are known for their cute, round ears.

Bighorn sheep: While less common than mountain goats, bighorn sheep can also be seen on the Chicago Lakes Trail. These impressive animals have large curved horns and are well adapted to life in the mountains.

Black bears: While less frequently seen, black bears do inhabit the Mount Evans Wilderness and may be encountered on the trail. Be sure to take precautions to avoid attracting bears, such as storing food in bear-resistant containers and hanging it from a tree.

It’s important to remember that these animals are wild and should be respected from a distance. Do not approach or feed them, and be sure to follow Leave No Trace principles to minimize your impact on their habitat.

Be sure to remain alert for signs of wildlife activity, such as tracks and scat. You may also be able to find evidence of animal homes and shelters or food sources that serve as great indicators of where to look for wildlife on the trail.

Fun Activities at Mount Evans Summit

Mount Evans chicago lake trail 1

The summit of Mount Evans offers a variety of fun activities for visitors to enjoy. Here are some of the most popular things to do at the summit:

Take in the views: The summit of Mount Evans offers some of the most spectacular views in Colorado. On a clear day, you can see for miles in all directions, with stunning panoramas of the Rockies and the plains below.

Go for a hike: There are several hiking trails that begin at the summit of Mount Evans, including the Mount Evans Summit Trail and the Chicago Lakes Trail. These trails offer a chance to explore the alpine environment and spot native wildlife.

Visit the Summit House: The Summit House is a historic building that sits at the top of Mount Evans. It houses a gift shop, a snack bar, and a museum about the mountain’s history and ecology.

Drive the Mount Evans Scenic Byway: The Mount Evans Scenic Byway is the highest paved road in North America, reaching an elevation of 14,130 feet at the summit. Driving this road is an unforgettable experience, with breathtaking views and hairpin turns.

Photograph the scenery: With its dramatic mountain vistas, alpine lakes, and native wildlife, the Mount Evans summit is a photographer’s paradise. Be sure to bring your camera and capture some of the stunning scenery.

Go stargazing: The high altitude and lack of light pollution make the summit of Mount Evans an ideal place for stargazing. Bring a blanket and a telescope and enjoy the beauty of the night sky.

Go snowshoeing or skiing: In the winter months, the summit of Mount Evans is covered in snow, making it a great place to go snowshoeing or cross-country skiing. There are several trails that are accessible in the winter, including the Mount Evans Summit Trail and the Echo Lake Trail.

Whether you’re looking for a scenic drive, a challenging hike, or a chance to spot wildlife, the summit of Mount Evans has something for everyone.


Hiking the Chicago Lakes Trail is an unforgettable journey to Mount Evans! With its beautiful wildflowers, serene lakes, and challenging elevation climbs, this trail has it all. 

Not only that but you will also get to appreciate stunning views of Denver and its surrounding landscape. Whether you are a seasoned hiker or just looking for some adventure, the Chicago Lakes Trail is sure to be the perfect excursion for your next outdoor escapade. 

So what are you waiting for? Grab your backpack and hit the trails!

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