Abyss Lake trail is a hike located off Guanella Pass in the beautiful Rocky Mountains. Although this trail is a lengthy 16.9 miles (Abyss Lake via Abyss Lake Trail or 11.7 miles for Abyss Trail to Helms Lake) according to All Trails, we are reviewing this hike solely as a fall hike, which is about 6 miles roundtrip for the main fall color viewing opportunities. This is an extremely popular fall hike, but for good reason – the aspen groves here are massive and beautiful, and they offer quite the show during peak fall colors. We highly recommend arriving early or later in the day so you can skip the crowds and not add miles to your hike by having to park far away.
Guanella Pass is a high mountain pass that is paved and only accessible in the summer months. This area offers lots of opportunities for camping, dispersed camping, hiking (such as Shelf Lake and the Iron Fens), and is a great scenic drive in the summer and fall. The road connects the towns of Georgetown and Grant, with the trailhead for Abyss Lake being slightly closer to the Grant side. We like accessing the parking from Grant and finishing the day with a scenic drive through Georgetown before heading back home.
Take 285 towards Grant, then head north on 381 / Geneva Road. Continue for 5.2 miles, then you’ll see a parking area on the right accompanied by a large sign that says Abyss Trailhead. If you reach the Burning Bear Campground, you’ve gone too far. Park in this area, or if the lot is full you can park alongside the road. The trail starts near the middle of the parking lot in the trees.
The Hike – Abyss Lake Trail
Starting from the trailhead, the hike starts out as a steady but gradual uphill incline that seems to follow a washed out stream bed. The trail is wide and mostly soft, with some big rocks here and there that you must step over. Overall, I would consider this portion of the trail to be on the easier side of moderate. The trail winds through a healthy pine forest and has one small and easy stream crossing. For the most part, this part of the trail is pretty uneventful but is beautiful in its own way.
You’ll continue on this terrain for 2.3 miles, at which point you’ll reach the beginning of the aspen grove and a larger stream crossing that has a big log across the river. Balance is required, but most people should have no issues crossing. Directly after the crossing, the trail opens up and this is your first view of the massive aspen grove that covers the mountainside to the north northwest. What you’re seeing is the backside of Geneva Mountain, which sits at 12,333 feet in elevation and is completely covered in aspen trees.
Continue on the trail, which will curve slightly left before continuing on through more aspens. This section is relatively flat and easy. There’s almost always moose in this area, which is a wildlife viewer’s dream, but moose can also be scary and dangerous, so you should stay completely aware on this portion of the hike and walk slowly so you don’t surprise any creatures.
This portion of the trail is one of my favorite parts, as it goes through several different colors of aspens, which are all different shades of yellow, orange, and even red and dark purple. If you catch it at the right time, the ground will be covered in leaves too and the sun’s light shines through the leaves left on the trees. Simply beautiful!
Keep an eye out towards your left, as you’ll see the mountainside of aspens several times through the trees, each view offering a different perspective of that massive grove. Once you reach the next creek crossing, this is the 3 mile mark (or 6 miles roundtrip) and this is where we typically have a snack before turning around and heading back. Everyone we’ve talked to who has hiked farther has said that the best aspens are the ones you’ve already passed. If you’re looking to turn this into an longer hiking adventure, you can continue on and it will be beautiful. Otherwise, retrace your steps to head back to the trailhead and parking area.
The Verdict on Abyss Lake Trail
We highly recommend this as a fall hike, or even as a summer hike. We’ve been twice now in the fall during peak colors, and it’s easily one of our favorite fall hikes of all time. Just make sure you don’t go on weekends, and get there early or later in the afternoon to avoid the peak crowds. It’s just a much more enjoyable experience if you don’t have to share it with 100’s of your closest friends if you know what I mean. Because this is rated on the easier side of moderate, we would recommend this hike for most people who are able-bodied.