Just a few minutes outside downtown Breckenridge, you’ll find this popular hiking trail, which is also one of our favorite trails in the area. It features beautiful pine forest, multiple alpine lakes, and the massive Continental Falls, which is the best waterfall in the Breckenridge and Summit County area. The distance and elevation gain (and therefore the difficulty) vary greatly depending on beginning and end points, making it quite difficult to put numbers on anything. It’s important to do more research using All Trails or CoTrex using your anticipated beginning and end points to get an idea of the difficulty you’re looking at.
There are technically 7 lakes total in this valley – in order there is Mayflower Lake, Lower Mohawk Lake, and Upper Mohawk Lake, followed by four more unnamed lakes. There’s also three separate parking areas whose access depends on what type of vehicle you’re driving. Based on variations on where you intend to park and which lake you anticipate turning around at, this hike can vary greatly between a moderate or difficult, short or long hike. That being said, regardless of where you intend to park and hike to, this hike is at a high elevation and while the views are worth the effort, you should make sure you take proper precautions and preparations before attempting.
View from above Upper Mohawk Lake looking down at Lower Mohawk Lake and the mountains across the valley.
Hiking Continental Falls and Mohawk Lakes
Part of Continental Falls
If you parked in the lower parking lot, follow signs for Spruce Creek Trail and use this AllTrails listing as an example route. You can either follow the road up to the true trailhead or follow the trail through the forest to the same point. This is an easy, slight incline through a conifer forest. If you drove from the lower lot, you will see a trail post to the west of the parking area. From there, it’s a short distance to Mayflower Lake and the base of Continental Falls, though this section does have some decent elevation gain and it’s a more moderately difficult portion of the hike.
To hike to the lakes from the base of the falls, follow the trail to the clearing with the old mining cabin and follow signs for Mohawk Lakes (generally west from the cabin). This is the first portion where it would be helpful to have the trail route downloaded so you can track your progress and find this area easier without getting thrown off by all the social trails. From the cabin, the trail almost immediately goes into a series of switchbacks that go up the height of Continental Falls. You can follow the switchbacks for an easier route, or carefully scale the rocks near the waterfall so you can view the falls the whole way up. Just remember to tread lightly and stay on social and established trails instead of creating new ones.
Once you reach the top of Continental Falls, the trail levels out until you reach Lower Mohawk Lake. If this is your final destination, there’s some great rocks near the lake to have a snack and enjoy the view. If you want to continue, follow the trail along the left side of the lower lake. About 2/3 through the length of the lake, there will be a split in the trail and you will want to keep left. This trail will start gaining elevation again and will wind it’s way up past tree line to Upper Mohawk Lake. From the lower lake, it’s not much farther to Upper Mohawk Lake, and we consider it to be well worth the effort if the trek is within your ability level.
After Upper Mohawk Lake, the other lakes are more spread out, more difficult to reach, and the trail will be harder to follow since it’s significantly less trafficked. If you’re looking for solitude and increasingly better views, it could be worth the effort to continue past Upper Mohawk Lake. There’s also reports that in the uppermost part of the valley lies the Spruce Creek Rock Glacier, but I have yet to personally venture far enough to see this natural oddity.
View from above Continental Falls looking east.
Head south out of Breckenridge on Hwy 9 and turn right onto Spruce Creek Road. You’ll turn left twice to stay on Spruce Creek Road and follow it to the first parking area. If you have a 2WD vehicle or anything with low clearance, this is your parking area. From here, it’s about 7 miles round trip and 1,700 feet in elevation gain to Upper Mohawk Lake. If you can make it to the upper parking lot (my stock 4Runner did just fine) then you save about 3.6 miles roundtrip. There is also a middle parking lot that will still save you a couple miles if you can make it up there. Ideally you would want to be able to park at the upper parking lot in order to save yourself significant unnecessary mileage, but this is based on your comfort levels with taking your vehicle on the rocky, uneven road.
- This trail is heavily trafficked so plan ahead and start early. If you can, use a 4WD/AWD vehicle to save yourself time and miles by parking at the uppermost parking area on the road.
- If you fly fish, there are beautiful cutthroat trout in both Upper and Lower Mohawk Lakes. They love dry flies! Please respect the volatile alpine environment – practice catch and release fishing and don’t fish with bait.
- As with all high-altitude hikes in summer, bring plenty of water and layers since weather can change quickly and unexpectedly at elevation. Start early so you can be back below tree line by very early afternoon.
- Driving from the lower parking lot to the uppermost point saves you about 3.6 miles round trip – it’s worth it!
- Because there’s so many social trails, we would recommend having the route downloaded so you can stay on the main track.
This trail is one of our favorites in the area for a reason! The forest setting is beautiful, Continental Falls is a true gem, and the lakes are picturesque and offer great fly fishing. To top it all off, there’s amazing views of the mountains and surrounding areas! You can’t beat it! All these qualities make it one of the quintessential mountain hikes in the area, which is why it has become so heavily trafficked over the years. Start early and practice Leave No Trace so we can preserve this area for years and years to come.
About the Author
Ashley is an adventurous soul who loves all things nature, especially warm sunshine, hiking, wildflowers, and mushrooms. If she isn’t writing content for Know Nothing Nomads, she’s probably in a forest looking at big mountain views and tiny pieces of moss on the side of the trail.