This arduous trail just north of Pagosa Springs takes hikers past two stunning waterfalls to a gem of a lake in the Weminuche Wilderness. The lake makes a great backpacking destination because hikers can make a classic loop back to the trailhead. Fourmile Lake Trail begins at a very popular trailhead and can seem crowded. After 2.5 miles, you realize why the crowds are there as first one and then another stunning waterfall (one 300 feet high) come into view. The trail gets steeper as it climbs past the first falls up to the second, and the crowds utterly disappear as it continues up Fourmile Creek. After four miles, turn left towards Fourmile Lake, a scenic lake at 11,000 feet hemmed in on three sides by 12,000-foot ridges and higher peaks. Have lunch and turn around or, better yet, set up camp and stay awhile.

I don’t often backpack alone. Maybe it’s the fear of bears or monsters or the fact my wife is usually tagging along. But in the summer of 2016, I sought solitude (and she was out of town) so I threw on a pack to spend a night at Fourmile Lake. Sure enough, there were not one but two other groups even though I set out mid-week. In the end, when I thought I heard noises in the middle of the night, I was glad to not be utterly alone up here.

Pro Tips

  • This trail is in wilderness so only foot and horse travel are allowed. Due to steepness, horses are not recommended beyond the waterfalls.
  • A great backpacking loop (or extremely long day hike) can be made by continuing on the Anderson Trail, which meets the Fourmile Trail at the lake’s outlet. This trail is seven miles and has plenty of uphill in the first few miles, but it’s a great way to see new and different terrain as you head back to the trailhead.
  • Most of the trees in the area are dead, the result of a spruce beetle epidemic, so beware of falling trees when conditions are windy.
  • Recommended season(s): Summer – early fall.

    —R. Scott Rappold

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