Lake Emma Trail Review – A Hidden Gem in Colorado

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Written by: Derek Vitiello
Fact Checked by: Ashley Vitiello

Updated Apr 22, 2023

Just south of Alma, there’s a long, bumpy, dirt road that takes you up to Kite Lake (aptly named for the lake’s shape when viewed from above). From the lake, there’s multiple trailheads that leave from there, including Lake Emma and the Decalibron. While the Decalibron Loop is a grueling, long, difficult hike, Lake Emma is shorter, and while still of moderate difficulty, is a much easier option while still featuring great views and an alpine lake. It should be noted that the lake’s orientation doesn’t allow for much sunlight, leaving the lake and its ascent snow and ice covered well into hiking season. 

Trail Stats

  • Type: out-and-back
  • Distance: 2 miles
  • Elevation gain: 700ft
  • Difficulty: moderate
  • Features: alpine lake, mining remnants, mountain views

Hiking Lake Emma

The Lake Emma hike is short and sweet and the trail is established enough that it’s easy to follow. There are a couple of social trails here and there, but most re-convene with the main path within a short distance. Don’t forget to look behind you, as the views just get better and better down valley as you ascend. On the way up, there’s a couple of collapsed mine entrances with geological markers. Also keep an eye out for some mine vent shafts that have been barred over. Once at the lake, enjoy some beautiful views and crystal clear water before heading back down the parking area.

Getting There

From Breckenridge, take Hwy 9 south towards Alma for about 15.5 miles. Continue into the town of Alma and take a right onto County Road 8/Buckskin Rd. Follow this dirt road for about 5.5 miles. Towards the end of the road and near the trailhead, the road does get rockier and bumpier, so keep in mind you vehicle’s clearance and capabilities. If you reach a point where you feel like you can no longer continue, pull to the side and park as far off the side of the road as possible and continue on foot. That being said, most vehicles can make it to the trailhead. When approaching the main parking area, there will be a vault toilet on the left. Just on the far side of that structure, you’ll find the beginning of the trail for Lake Emma. The trail to the right of the parking area is for the Decalibron Loop so do not attempt that trail unless fully prepared and physically fit. 

The Verdict

This trail is only rated as moderate because there’s a decent amount of elevation gain in a short distance. There are certain points that are quite steep, making ascending and descending while upright a bit of a challenge – there were times when I felt more comfortable assisting with my hands. Otherwise, the Lake Emma trail is short and quite do-able. That being said, it is at a high elevation (the entire hike is above 12,000 ft) so we recommend acclimating to being at altitude and taking your time to help prevent altitude sickness.

Derek, Co-Founder at Know Nothing Nomads

My goal with my writing and Know Nothing Nomads as a whole is to share my passions of hiking, camping, and a love of the outdoors with our readers. Making the difficult and uncertain feel more approachable to people that might not know enough to feel comfortable taking their first steps into the wilderness is a driving factor for me. When I’m not writing you can find me on a trail, in a forest, or next to a river with hiking shoes on my feet and a fly rod somewhere close by.

Ashley is an adventurous soul who loves all things nature, especially warm sunshine, wildflowers, scenic snacking, and mushrooms. She is an avid outdoor enthusiast who has spent years enjoying time outside doing things like hiking, camping, and rock climbing.
Her goal with Know Nothing Nomads is to make these hobbies easily accessible through knowledgeable content and how-to’s based on all the stuff she’s learned on her journey. If she isn’t writing an article, she’s probably in a forest looking at big mountain views and tiny pieces of moss on the side of the trail.

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