Petroleum and Anderson Lakes is a secluded hike that goes to two alpine lakes just outside of Aspen, Colorado. We strive to find the coolest hikes in the area and there’s a variety of factors we take into consideration in our search: appropriate length for that day and weather, sights/views, difficulty, and most importantly, seclusion. Every now and then we’ll find ourselves in a busy trail (like in Maroon Bells), but we pride ourselves on finding the coolest hikes with the least amount of people. After all, one of the best parts of nature is the ability to not bump elbows with a random nearby stranger.
In this hike, we found everything we were looking for and more. We saw only 3 people the entire day! The trail was rated as moderate, and it can be quite challenging because of the altitude: it starts at 11,200 ft and climbs almost 1,000 feet in less than 2 miles. You could definitely say that we were sucking wind, but we enjoyed every minute of it!
Hiking Petroleum and Anderson Lakes
The trails follows Anderson Creek and gradually slopes upwards on an old jeep road (not available for driving anymore). You’ll pass through fir forests and see privately owned cabins (mostly in ruins) before emerging into alpine tundra. It is extremely important to stay on the established trail since the alpine tundra is so fragile. Stay on the trail and leave no trace! After about 1 mile, the trail forks. If you go left, you’ll reach Anderson Lake in about another 1/4 mile. This lake has beautiful, clear blue water. We were there in July and there was still piles of snow around the lake despite the bright sun and warmer weather.
To get to Petroleum Lake, retrace your steps to the fork and take the right fork this time. Petroleum Lake is about another 3/4 mile from here. You’ll pass through a few alpine meadows, one of which in particular was overflowing with beautiful, alpine wildflowers! There will be two ponds on the right that you will pass – these are not Petroleum Lake. You’ll cross a small stream and then the trail will curve left and rise dramatically. There’s a very steep ascent for about 200 yards and Petroleum Lake is just past this uphill climb. You can’t miss it! This is where we sat in pure silence and just enjoyed the nature. It was one of those times where I hadn’t really understood true silence until that moment; there were very few birds and you were so far from civilization that there was no possibility of hearing any cars. Besides the occasional plane flying overhead, it was completely silent. Such a weird but incredible experience. At this point in the hike, you’re at about 12,300 ft and we could definitely feel it.
The trail slopes up to the right to a small pond and then continues up to the right to a saddle that has amazing, breathtaking views overlooking the Collegiate Wilderness and rocky knolls. This ascent is fairly steep, but this little extension to the trail is well-worth the work. To get back to to the trail head, simply retrace your steps. While the descent is easier on the breathing, it’s harder on the knees and we would recommend using hiking poles, especially if you have any knee issues.
- As with most alpine hikes in Colorado, it’s important to start this hike earlier in the day rather than later. Afternoon storms are frequent and most of the hike is above tree level, making it dangerous and lacking of cover in the event of a pop-up thunderstorm.
- Drink plenty of water and wear clothing in layers. Staying hydrated is an obvious, but it’s also important to dress in layers and stay covered. The sun really beats down on you at such a high elevation, promoting sunburn and drying out. Wearing long sleeves, pants, and a hat can help prevent this. Plus, bring a rain jacket and extra warm layers because the weather can change very quickly!
To get to the trailhead, you must have a 4×4 vehicle (unless you want to add 3 miles one way to your hike and skip the 4×4 road). To get there, drive east out of Aspen for about 10 miles and turn right onto Lincoln Gulch Road; it’s not very well marked, but it’s one of very few right hand turns on this road. Drive another 6.5 miles to Portal Campground – this is one of our favorite campgrounds ever! That section was the part where you can get away with driving a car (slow but possible), but now you’ll need 4×4. Drive another 3.3 miles to the first right fork and follow it. There’s a creek crossing and just on the other side you can find a very tiny “parking lot” to leave your vehicle. The last 3+ miles require 4×4, but they’re described as an “easy introduction to four-wheel driving” so there is no extra skills required outside of owning the appropriate vehicle.
The trail description says there’s good fishing in both lakes, but it’s not for the beginner for sure. These were some picky fish who were very easily spooked and we had trouble catching anything on fly. Plan on doing more fishing than catching and changing flies a lot before finding the right one. Once you get it though, it’s an amazing place to fish and both lakes are beautiful!
Of all the hikes we’ve done so far, this one has been our favorite. We plan on revisiting the Petroleum and Anderson Lakes in the future so we can enjoy the scenery all over again!
To see all our hikes we’ve done, visit our All Trails profile. You can see our reviews and we always recommend All Trails when you’re searching for your next hike!