All good words to describe the Lost Man Loop hike on Independence Pass between Aspen and Leadville. The hike takes visitors past two lakes, one reservoir, over one 12,800-foot pass and through amazing scenery.
The hike starts at the Linkins Lake Trailhead, in a bend in the road on Highway 82/Independence Pass (directions below). The scenery along Independence Pass is impressive, so just standing at the trailhead is great. The trailhead starts at a sign board near the west end of the parking lot. Take a few steps up the trail and you should see a sign for Linkins Lake Trail #1979.
As you walk this very beginning of the trail, don’t be surprised if you’re out of breathe. The parking lot is at 11,506 feet and there’s a lot less oxygen up here. While there’s a climb ahead, the trail soon flattens out a bit as it comes to a stream crossing, then the trail split where the Linkins Lake Trail goes left and the Lost Man Trail goes right. A second sign here tells hikers they are entering the Hunter-Fryingpan Wilderness.
Continue hiking up the trail as it winds through a scenic valley. The trail is pretty rocky, so you’ll want to wear comfortable hiking boots for this trek.
About a half mile from the trailhead, the trail goes over a nice stream. While you’ve probably spent most of the first half mile looking at the view up ahead, and likely watching your feet on the trail, this is a good spot to turn around and look at the view behind you. Since we’re hiking this trail as a loop, you won’t be coming back here, so take in the views in every direction.
Now the trail starts to climb. In the next 1.25 miles or so, you’re going to climb about 750 feet. While that’s not much, it can be much harder at this elevation. When you need a break, take a picture of the wildflowers, take a picture of the mountains or just turn in a slow circle and take in the views all around you.
At 1.8 miles from the trailhead, you’ll suddenly spot a lake in the meadow. This is Independence Lake, sitting below Lost Man Pass. This is a great spot for a snack before you tackle the pass. From the lake, it’s a half mile and 300 feet of elevation gain to the top. As you hike up, make sure you turn around occasionally and enjoy the view of Independence Pass and the surrounding mountain peaks and meadow.
At the top of Lost Man Pass, it’s time to celebrate! You’re standing in an incredible place. This is the spot you’ll want a panoramic camera to take pictures. On the south side of the pass is Independence Lake and the trail you just climbed. On the north side of the pass in Lost Man Lake and some stunning mountain ridges.
Now, it’s decision time. If you turn around here, you’ll enjoy a hike of about 4.6 miles roundtrip. However, you can continue another 6.7 miles to the lower trailhead and make this loop. You’ll need to have pre-parked a car there to do this loop. I know people who have hitchhiked back to the upper trailhead, but some have waited awhile to get a ride and it’s really not safe. You don’t want to walk back up because the shoulder can be nonexistent in this stretch. If you’ve got a ride, then let’s continue on,
I loved the hike down to Lost Man Lake. I loved the scenery and I enjoyed seeing this beautiful lake. The trail gets steep at times and at times, it’s pure scree, so take your time and watch your footing. You’ll drop about 300 feet from the top of the pass to the lake.
At the lake shore, consider finding a spot to eat a snack or lunch and take in the view. When you’re ready to continue on, the trail goes north and then turns west to drop down in the valley north of the lake.
Standing at the top of this valley is incredible! The mountain ridges behind you, ahead of you and to your sides are great. It’s hard to put all this scenery into a photo, or even two or three photos.
From here the trail drops down the valley, winding through the willows and over occasional streams caused by the melting snow in the area and the outflow of Lost Man Lake.
From the lake it’s about two miles to the next trail split. You’ll know you’re close when the trail suddenly gains about 50 feet of elevation. The next trail split is for South Fork Pass. South Fork Pass goes to Chapman Gulch Trail and eventually Fryingpan Road, but I did not go there. Other articles say the hike is about 0.3 miles to the top of the pass with 140 feet of elevation gain. I napped at the trail split while friends hiked to the top. They said the wildflowers were good, but they didn’t rave about the view. Before you leave the trail split, do a 360-degree turn and enjoy the mountain views in each direction.
Now, the Lost Man Loop Trail turns south and begins dropping down another valley. While there are some trees here, you’re mostly going to be hiking through the willows still. The trail isn’t too steep going downhill, but there is another 1,100 feet of elevation drop in the next four miles.
The trail winds through willows, meadows and flowers. At times, there’s a nice stream next to the trail. Around 7.25 miles from the trailhead, the trail goes into a forest, but it’s only for a short time before you’re back in the meadows again.
About eight miles from the trailhead, you’ll spot another lake. That’s Lost Man Reservoir. The reservoir is owned by Twin Lakes, according to AspenJournalism.org and its water is diverted to Grizzly Reservoir. Once you spot the reservoir, it’s probably another half mile until you get to the shoreline.
As we arrived at the reservoir, we were surprised to hear the sound of horses. We looked around and found a group on a trail ride on the other side of the reservoir. I’m not sure if they came from the nearby campground or somewhere else.
After a break at Lost Man Reservoir, it was just another half mile or so to the parking lot for the Lost Man Trailhead.
Details: The hike around the loop is about nine miles with 1,300 feet of elevation gain and 2,300 feet of elevation loss if you start at the upper trailhead. Don’t forget to pre-park a vehicle at the lower trailhead.
On Independence Pass, consider hiking Independence ghost town, the grottos/ice caves and Weller Lake. Find more great hikes in Aspen, Leadville and across Colorado in this list of 200+ hikes across the state. Don’t miss any of my trip reports, sign up for an email alert by clicking on subscribe at the top of this page and follow me on Facebook.
Directions from the Forest Service: Lower trailhead: Drive 14 miles east of Aspen on Highway 82 to the parking lot directly across from Lost Man Campground. The trailhead begins on the left (north) side of the road. Upper Trailhead: Drive 18 ½ miles east of Aspen on Highway 82 to the parking lot at the last switchback before the top of Independence Pass. The trailhead is on the left (north) side of the road.