When you’re ready for a long hike into the backcountry of Rocky Mountain National Park, consider hiking in the Mummy Range to Crystal Lake. Actually there’s two lakes there — Little Crystal Lake and Crystal Lake — and a pond, too.
The hike starts at the Lawn Lake Trailhead on the northeast side of the park on Old Fall River Road near the Alluvial Fan Trail and Horseshoe Park (directions below). Because of the popularity of the Alluvial Fan, created when the Lawn Lake flood waters reached the valley floor in 1982, finding a parking space here can be difficult. Once you get a spot, the trail starts next to the bathrooms. Crystal Lake is about 1.5 miles past Lawn Lake, but Crystal Lake isn’t listed on any of the signs along the trail until the end, so you’ll be following the signs for Lawn Lake.
Pass the trailhead kiosk and begin hiking up the trail. A short distance from the trailhead is a trail split with a sign. Continue heading west for the Lawn Lake/Ypsilon Lake Trail. Soon you’ll notice you’re hiking a series of switchbacks. The trail “switchbacks” or winds back and forth above the trailhead parking lot and Horseshoe Park gaining about 530 feet in the first mile. As you go back and forth in the forest, occasionally the trees open up and you’ll get a view of the valley below.
About one mile from the trailhead, the trail reaches the top of a plateau of sorts and makes a big right turn. Soon you should see the Roaring Fork Canyon and the Roaring Fork River below. Horseshoe Falls is also below you, but I don’t think it’s safe to get close enough to the end to see it. Better to see it from the Alluvial Fan Trail. However, as the trail follows the rim of the canyon, you will see a few cascades in the canyon below you.
About 1.4 miles from the trailhead, you’ll come to another trail split. Here is where hikes going to Ypsilon Lake turn off. But for us, take a right turn and continue following the Roaring Fork River up canyon.
A half mile or so from the trail split, we started noticing more and more debris between the trail and the river. There were piles and piles of old trees that had been washed down the canyon in 1982. The trees are still stacked up as Mother Nature left them more than 30 years ago.
As we hiked on, about 2.3 miles from the trailhead, we noticed our trail abruptly stopped at the canyon’s edge. A couple steps back, we had missed the logs across the trail. It turns out, the flood in September 2013 once again sent water down this canyon, taking out more of the river bank and parts of the hiking trail. At this spot, hikers have to jog to the right a bit and utilize a new trail.
Another half mile from here, a sign marked the turnoff for the backcountry campsites.
It wasn’t far from here that the switchbacks began again. However, these are longer switchbacks than we saw at the beginning of the hike and the trail never gets very steep.The trail just winds back and forth between the canyon rim and the forest. Each time you return to the canyon rim, you’ll likely see a nice cascade in the canyon or a place where the water is carving its way through the rock. I’m sure in late spring/early summer, the cascades are very impressive.
Most of this hike is in the forest, until about 5.25 miles from the trailhead, when you suddenly get a view of a mountain peak up ahead. As you continue up the trail, the trees begin to open up more and more and the views of the surrounding mountain peaks improve.
At 5.7 miles from the trailhead, you’ll know you’re getting close to the first lake when you see the Black Canyon Trail split. Veer left and you’ll see the valley you’re heading for. You still need to go a bit more north, turn west, do a bit more hiking in the forest, then the trees open and you’ll see where the Lawn Lake flood started. Hike up the next hill and you’ll arrive in the valley that holds Lawn Lake and Crystal Lake.
While Lawn Lake sits in a good-sized valley, it’s surrounded by several 13ers (peaks over 13,000-feet high) — Hagues Peak, Fairchild Mountain and Mummy Mountain — adding to the scenery. I especially liked the shorter, but pointy peak on the west side of the lake because it added a nice feature to my lake photos. If you have a wide angle camera, bring it on this hike, so you can capture the entire lake. If you have a camera with a panoramic feature, you’ll want that, too, to take a photo of the valley.
A short distance after arriving at the lake, you’ll start seeing trails and trail signs. Do not take the right turnoff to the campsites, but don’t hike that social trail to the left next to the shoreline either, look for a trail in the middle. This is the trail that will take you first into the trees slightly above Lawn Lake, then up the northwest end of the valley to Crystal Lake. If you take the shoreline trail, you’ll soon find it ends in the willows and marsh at the outlet and it can be difficult to find the trail. Yes, that’s what happened to us.
The trail to Crystal Lake does go through quite a few willows and over a few streams — it’s likely you’ll get your feet wet hiking through here. Because there are not as many people hiking up here, the trail is a bit overgrown.
Soon the trail comes into a wide open area. Turn around as you hike up the hill and enjoy the view of Lawn Lake and the valley below you.
About a mile from Lawn Lake is your last trail split. A sign here says Crystal Lake is to the left, The Saddle to the right. The Saddle is a Saddle between Hagues Peak and Fairchild Mountain. I’m told there’s great views from The Saddle, but for this hike, I was heading to Crystal Lake.
In this next section, the trail passes a few cascades, drops down a bit, before arriving at small lake. This is a beautiful spot with large boulders in the water and Fairchild Mountain towering over the scene.
However, this is just a pond, the lakes are still ahead.
Hike over the outlet stream and continue following the path to a lake surrounded by rocks. This is a small lake, but a nice lake. Stand on a nearby rock and see if you can get a photo of Fairchild Mountain reflected in the water. This is Little Crystal Lake.
After a photo or two, it’s time to hike on. Continue up the path about another 1/8 of a mile to the actual Crystal Lake. It’s larger than the pond and Little Crystal Lake and it sits right below the slope of Fairchild Mountain. You may want to walk and explore a bit to get the best photo of the lake and the peak towering 2,000-feet above.
This is a great spot for lunch and a nap, just make sure you watch the clouds coming over the mountains, so you don’t get caught in a storm up here. When you’re ready, return the way you came. If the weather is clear, you may want to make a side trip up to The Saddle or one of the nearby peaks.
Details: The hike to Crystal Lake is about 15.7 miles roundtrip with about 3,000 feet of elevation gain.
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Directions: From Estes Park, take U.S. 34 to the Fall River Entrance Station. After entering the park, stay on the highway going past the Sheep Lakes meadow and parking area. When the road turns left, look for a right turnoff for the Alluvial Fan and Old fall River Road. Turn right, and go to the first parking lot on your right. It should be marked with a sign that says Lawn Lake.