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Pets allowed
Yes-restrictions
Elevation Gain
?
Trail type
There-and-back
Distance
12.00 mi (19.31 km)
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The Hessie Trailhead just west of Eldora, Colorado, is one of the toughest trailheads in the state to get a parking spot. Several very popular trails go off this trailhead with many options for hiking, camping, running, and more. For those who may want a quieter day out in the woods, the trail to Woodland Lake and Skyscraper Reservoir can easily suit your needs. Most people will be hiking up to Devil’s Thumb Lake or King’s Lake, so enjoy a much more peaceful time in the Indian Peaks Wilderness by taking the Woodland Lake trail all the way up to Skyscraper Reservoir.

This hike can be done as a strenuous day hike or a leisurely overnight with excellent camping options between Woodland Lake and Skyscraper Reservoir. A stream connecting the two lakes makes for easy water access for anyone camping in that area. Above Skyscraper Reservoir is an easily accessible ridgeline with some mild scrambling just north of the lake with superb views of Devil’s Thumb, South Arapahoe Peak, and many other mountains along the divide. Keep in mind that snow storms can come any time of year at this altitude, so caution should always be advised when weather forecasts are iffy.

The trail begins at the Hessie Trailhead, which has a two-wheel drive parking area along the gravel Fourth of July Road that fills very early. A free shuttle from nearby Nederland helps supplement this issue if you can’t find a spot and don’t want to circle. With a four-wheel drive vehicle with good clearance it is possible to continue on the rougher road to the actual Hessie Trailhead, which normally does not fill up due to the roughness of the road. From here, everyone shares the same trail for a short time until coming to a paved bridge at a signed intersection. The sign says to go straight to get to the Woodland Lake Trail, but better views can be found by taking the Devil’s Thumb Bypass trail to the right; it only adds an extra 100 to 200 feet to the hike and is well worth the lower crowds and better trail.

The first half of the hike is the prime place for wildflowers (from May through July) and fall foliage (from late September to late October). The leaves turn quickly, so you may only have a couple of weeks depending on the weather. The primary tree to view here will be the quaking aspen (Populus tremuloides), which is a very interesting tree due to the unique lifecycle compared to similar trees. Each "stand" of aspen consists of clones of the same tree from a combined root system. This makes the trees very resilient, since they are able to share resources and thus do not directly compete for resources like other clumps of trees do. As such, each group of aspens are really the same tree! They are the most widely distributed tree in North America, stretching from central Alaska down to central Mexico, and they can be found in a wide range of altitudes from 1,500 feet to 12,000 feet depending on the weather and latitude.

After reaching the next intersection about 1.4 miles later, turn left and cross the stream that has been on your left the whole time, to quickly find the signed intersection to Woodland Lake. It is at this point that the crowds should really start to lessen, as most people will be going to Devil’s Thumb or Kings Lake. Continue upward for another few miles until you arrive at Woodland Lake, with excellent views of the mountains above. The views just keep getting better as you make it all the way to Skyscraper Reservoir, which still has the old dam from when this was an actual reservoir for water managment. Whether camping, climbing Skyscraper Peak, or just relaxing for the afternoon, you can simply return the way you came back to the trailhead when ready.

Logistics + Planning

Preferable season(s)

Spring
Summer
Fall

Congestion

High

Parking Pass

Not Required

Pros

Great Views. Low Crowds. Camping Options.

Cons

Crowded parking. First part of the hike is crowded.

Trailhead Elevation

8,991.00 ft (2,740.46 m)

Net Elevation Gain

2,244.00 ft (683.97 m)

Features

Backcountry camping
Historically significant
Big vistas
Old-growth forest
Wildflowers

Location

Field Guide

Nearby Adventures

Nearby Lodging + Camping

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