Just south of Breckenridge is Hoosier Pass, one of the tallest continental divides in the country at 11,542 feet above sea level. This area offers unparalleled views of the 10 Mile Range, especially Red Mountain and is a busy area in both summer and winter conditions. There are multiple trails that leave from the parking lot at the top of the pass, such as Hoosier Ridge, Hoosier Pass Loop, North Star Mountain. One of our favorites is Crystal Lake trail – it’s an easier hike, with a shorter, more manageable length that takes you to an alpine lake and multiple collapsed mine ruins. Within minimal elevation gain, this hike is a great option for an easier hike that still offers great views and lots of things to see.
From Breckenridge, head south on Hwy 9 for about 11 miles. Coming out of Breck, the road will wind through Blue River before heading up towards the pass. At this point, the elevation will begin to significantly increase and the switchbacks will be more common. After quite a few curvy sections of road, it will open up to the top of the pass, where there will be a large Continental Divide sign and dirt parking area on the right. Park there.
Crystal Lake Hike
Start near the large posted sign with map and area information. To the right of the sign, there will be a path that intersects with a dirt road. Follow this road to the split/T, then take a right. Just before the split, the road is quite steep but this is the steepest/hardest part of the hike. You can do it! From there, there’s a 4×4 road that you will follow, but it’s usually closed to vehicles so you won’t encounter any Jeeps. This hike offers some of the most easily accessible views of the entire valley and beyond, which you will see on the right hand side during your walk.
Continue on this dirt road until you reach the lake. From here, you can continue down the right side of the lake and start your first switchback. If you follow these switchbacks up, it takes you to another smaller lake and some really cool mine tailings. You can see where the multiple mine shafts used to enter into the side of the mountain and they were collapsed at some point in the 1900’s.
You can still see sites like this near the lower lake, but there’s more and larger opportunities for viewing if you continue up. The trail is about 3 miles roundtrip to the lower lake, and you add about another one mile round trip if you continue up farther. Most of the trail stays relatively flat (or as flat as flat gets when you’re in the mountains) until the switchbacks, making it an easy option for those who can’t hike some of the other more difficult trails in the area.
This trail offers a high elevation starting point, which means there are more easily accessible views down valley without having to hike upward much. Because there’s not as much elevation gain, this hike will seem easier than a lot of the other hikes you’ll encounter in the area. Overall, this trail offers a great opportunity for a shorter hike, great views, an alpine lake, and multiple collapsed mines with tailings – all of which are sure to be a crowd pleaser.
This trail is not to be confused with Crystal Lakes, which is off Spruce Creek Road, closer to Mohawk Lakes, just south of Breckenridge and is a more moderate-difficult level of hiking and is a longer distance.
While this trail is considered easy to easy-moderate, it starts at over 11,500 feet above sea level. Those who live at a lower elevation should acclimate to the area before hiking at this height (Breckenridge is at 9,600 and Denver is mid-5,000’s – these areas are great starting points to spend a few days to acclimate before hiking at elevation).
The trail skirts along tree line most of the way, so keep an eye on weather and always cancel the hike if there’s thunder/lightning in the area.