Lower Cataract Lake – An Easy Hike with Lots to See

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Written by: Ashley Vitiello
Fact Checked by: Derek Vitiello

Updated Apr 22, 2023

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.

lower cataract lake
Lower Cataract Lake as seen from the trail (looking west northwest).

Getting There

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.

lower cataract lake trail
Lower Cataract Lake as seen from higher up on 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 wildflowers
These wildflowers will be massive come peak season!

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.

View of the lower part of Cataract Falls

The Verdict

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.

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.

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.

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