Lower Cataract Lake is an easy 2.3 mile loop around a lake located near Silverthorne, Colorado in the Rocky Mountains. With only 223 feet in elevation gain, this hike is a great option for families with kids, older adults, or even those looking for a way to get outside and adjust to the altitude. This hike is also a great early summer hike, as its lower elevation means it’s clear of snow before most other alpine hikes.
Start of by heading north on Highway 9 through Silverthorne, which is exit 203 on I-70. Drive out of town for a total of 16.5 miles, then take a left on Heeney Road. Continue for about 5.5 miles, then turn left on Forest Road 1725. This is an unmarked dirt road that curves hard back up to the left, so make sure you take this turn slowly and use navigation. Once on this road, continue straight (don’t take any forks) for approximately 2.5 miles. You’ll first see the trailhead and parking area for Surprise Lake, but if you continue on another 50 yards or so, you’ll see another parking area at a dead end gate. Park here and walk through the gate.
P.S. – Yes, there’s a restroom at the trailhead. But there’s no phone service.
The Hike – Lower Cataract Lake
We personally hiked this lake clockwise, but we don’t see any benefits or downsides to going either way. We just thought the trail was easier to pick up going clockwise. Now that we’ve done the hike, we can see how the trail going counter-clockwise is easily picked up by following the old road, which turns into the trail.
Because this trail has minimal elevation gain or change, you can expect an easy stroll through a variety of terrain. The trail goes up and down a bit, but nothing difficult or strenuous. You’ll walk through sage brush, tall grass and wildflowers, aspen groves, and pine forest. This hike would be a great option for a fall adventure because of all the aspens.
Keep an eye out for the waterfall at the opposite end of the lake (from the trailhead / parking area). You can see the top of it from near the parking area, and at a few points throughout the hike. Once you get closer, the trees will block the view but you’ll start to hear the roaring water. It’s an easy stream crossing though, as there’s a pedestrian bridge that sits right above the rushing water.
We hiked this trail in very early June, and found no snow with lots of greenery and flower buds. It looks like it will be a haven for wildflowers later in the summer season (see picture below). This trail is a great easy hike to go birding – we even saw a hawk perched in a tree and lots of hummingbirds.
Lower Cataract Lake Fishing
While we didn’t bring any fishing gear on this adventure, we did see plenty of fish sitting in the lake. You could definitely have some luck here, but also keep in mind that the lake is fairly large and most fish will probably be too far out to cast to. If you’re looking to fish a river, you may have better luck on the Blue River at some of the fishing pull off you saw along Heeney Road on the way here.
We love this hike for an early season adventure, as well as some peak wildflower season exploring and birding. We would highly recommend this as an easy hike, especially for families or those who may not be in enough shape to attempt some of the more difficult mountain hikes in the surrounding area. Please note that this trail is in the Eagles Nest Wilderness, which has special regulations in place to protect the area from overuse. Pets must be on leash at all times and you should always follow the 7 Leave No Trace principles.
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.