Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Wheeler Lakes

Distance: 6 miles round trip
Elevation: 9, 700 ft - 11,095 ft
Elevation Gain: 1, 486 ft (cumulative)
Date Hiked:19 July 2015
Bathroom at Trailhead: No
Dogs: Off leash until the Wilderness Boundary
Tags: #coloradooutdoors #nature #lake #summitcounty #coppermountain
Second Wheeler Lake near Copper Mountain Colorado
Wheeler Lakes, near the Copper Mountain Ski Resort, are two shallow lakes nestled in a large meadow surrounded by towering Spruce and Fir trees. In summer the route is damp, muddy, and filled with wall-to-wall wildflowers. Occasional views of Copper Mountain and the western side of the Ten Mile Range add an additional flair.  The route follows the Gore Range Trail until a turn off to Wheeler Lakes.

Parking at exit 196
Start of the Gore Range Trail
There are three places to park near Wheeler Lakes, each resulting in a slightly different round trip distance. The official trailhead is located at a scenic overlook (exit 196) 0.8 miles west of Copper Mountain. The advantage of this location is plenty of parking. The downside is an extra slog along the less than scenic I-70. The second option is right at exit 195 (north side). There is room along the side of the road for 10 or so cars. Finally, you can always park in one of Copper's parking lots and cross I-70 over the bridge. On this trip I scored a spot right on the exit. Measured from my parking spot, the turn off to Wheeler Lakes was at 2.6 miles.

Sagebrush hillside filled with wildflowers
Looking down on the Copper Mountain ski resort
The first 0.5 miles of the route follows I-70 along a Sagebrush hillside dotted with drier climate wildflowers. Once the trail reaches the wilderness boundary at 1 mile, the trail becomes more shaded and damp. Rivulets may run down the trail until late in the season creating tiny bogs. Good water proof shoes will entice you to trod through the mud and not expand the trail to avoid it.

Heading away from the highway and into the trees
Lupine grace the forest floor
At 2.0 miles, the trail skirts the edge of a very large meadow. The ridge leading to Uneva Pass is visible in the distance. Hang out until September and you might glimpse Elk congregating for the annual rut. At 2.5 miles is a shelf with expansive views of the western side of the Ten Mile Range including the craggy peaks of Mayflower Gulch, one of the best destinations in the area.

Large meadow
View of the west side of the Ten Mile Range
Shortly past the plateau is the well marked turn off to Wheeler Lakes. The first lake, at 11,085 ft, will come into view almost immediately. It is surrounded by verdant marsh grasses and towering Fir trees. On this trip the water was still as glass and the only sound was the continuous chirping of forest birds. Due to the marshy ground, there are only a few place that you can approach the water and it may be best to continue on to the second lake, at 11,065 ft, which is 0.4 miles further on and off to the left.

Trail sign for the Wheeler Lakes turn off
First Wheeler Lake
A small, drier hillside dotted with Pine and carpeted with wildflowers borders the second lake on is northern side. You can explore the lake from either the southern or northern sides, but a large marsh to the west prevents a total circumnavigation.

Rosy pink paintbrush
View of Uneva Pass
Instead, climb the hillside (11,095 ft) and wander a short distance for unexpected views of Uneva Pass and Officers Gulch/I-70. On this trip, wildflowers graced every inch of the area. There are numerous rocky outcropping suitable for a private lunch.

Wildflower collage
Wheeler Lakes is one of the wetter destinations in the area even in the heat of summer. Despite this, parking along the exit can get crowded particularly at the peak of wildflower season. Continue 1.8miles further on the Gore Range Trail to Lost Lake for a longer hike.

Once last glimpse of the first lake


Donna Nuce said...

Love your flower photos!

sylvia murphy said...

Thanks Donna. Go see them in person!