This trail, officially known as the North Cottonwood Trail, runs a moderate 4.3 miles to a pretty alpine lake in the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness, offering a less-crowded alternative to nearby Horn Fork Basin, home of popular fourteeners Mounts Harvard and Columbia. The trail follows a creek for two (mostly gentle) miles, then bears left where the Bear Lake/Horn Fork Basin Trail begins to climb out of the valley. Kroenke Lake comes into view after just over two more miles. From here, ambitious hikers can continue another mile or so above the lake to Brown’s Pass, worth it for the views alone. Return the way you came.
Some excursions to the mountains are for conquering a peak, while others are for relaxation. On a trip to Kroenke Lake in 2015, a group of us camped at the lake and planned to ascend Brown’s Pass and then hike to the Denny Creek Trailhead, where we’d left a shuttle vehicle. Why, someone in our group asked, why don’t we just hike back down rather than humping packs over the pass? Nobody could think of a reason so we hiked out in less than two hours, picked up the shuttle car and went to some hot springs.
- Great camping can be found along the south shore of Kroenke Lake. Car camping is prohibited at the trailhead but available on the road leading into it.
- If you have the ability to leave a shuttle car, a great one-day or overnight loop can be made by leaving a car at the Denny Creek Trailhead. From the top of Brown’s Pass, it’s another four miles to that trailhead. Tack on a night camping at Kroenke Lake, and you have a classic Colorado backpacking trip.
- The trail enters the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness so travel is restricted to foot and horse traffic and dogs must be leashed.
Recommended season(s): Early summer to late fall.
–R. Scott Rappold