While we were in Crested Butte for Derek’s birthday, we hiked two trails, Crystal Mill via Schofield Pass and Three Lakes Trail, each of which took up an entire day. While Crystal Mill Trail is a longer trail (coming in at 9 miles), Three Lakes Trail is only 3.4 miles (4.5 miles with side trips) and has significantly less elevation change than Crystal Mill. The reason why we spent an entire day there was because of the fishing. Not only is the trail beautiful and it offers three amazing lakes, but each lake offers ample fishing opportunities, especially for Brook Trout.
The trail head and campground is about 45 minutes away from the town of Crested Butte. Head west out of town on Whiterock Ave, which turns into Kebler Pass Road. Drive over Kebler Pass for approximately 16.2 miles to the signed turnoff for Lost Lake. Along this road, County Road 706, there is free dispersed camping and this is where we camped. You can pay to camp at Lost Lake Campground right near the trail head, but we prefer free dispersed camping. The only issue was that there was a lot of camp spots that weren’t flat or were really close to other camp spots. We took our time in finding the perfect spot and were very happy with our selection. Once you turn off Kebler Pass, it’s about 2.2 miles to the Lost Lake Campground and the trail head for the Three Lakes Trail.
We hiked the loop counter-clockwise, although you can go in either direction. Most of the uphill parts of the trail are described as a “gentle ascent” going this direction. There are a few areas that are a little steeper, but overall this trail is pretty easy compared to most trails in mountainous Colorado. The first body of water you see (right near the campground and trail head) is Lost Lake Slough, which is the largest of the three bodies of water. There’s a fishing dock, but that’s not where we fished.
If you continue up the trail, the second body of water you come to is Lost Lake. The trail continues around the lake for a 360 degree view of the beautiful water. We fished along the shoreline and were pretty successful. Just after Lost Lake is Middle Creek Falls, which is a small waterfall that is very easy to access. While we were there, the waterfall view was mostly blocked by downed tree debris, but I have seen pictures of the waterfall in its glory and it is small but beautiful. It’s well worth the short side trip to see it.
As we continue moving, the next part of the trail features the best vista view on this hike. Nicknamed West Elk View, you can see panoramic views of the West Elk Mountains from the trail. Once past here, you’ll find the right-hand turn off for Dollar Lake. This is possibly the most picturesque of the three lakes and also offered the best fishing of the three. It’s only a 0.2 mile side trip, and that distance is included in the 4.5 mile trail length mentioned above. You’ll backtrack the 0.2 miles, then take a right to continue the descent back down towards Lost Lake Slough.
West Elk View
One of the last portions of the trail offered more opportunities for fishing. On the east side of Lost Lake Slough, there’s a small outlet that flows into Middle Creek. The creek was dry when we were there, but the outlet part of the lake had tons of rising fish, including Brook and Rainbow Trout. If you visit this trail with your fishing rod ready, you’ll want to make sure to stop here on top of Lost Lake and Dollar Lake.
All along the trail, there is multiple opportunities for backcountry camping. This is a great opportunity to camp near a lake, especially one that fishes so well. Just keep in mind that the trail can be heavily trafficked in peak season so you’ll want to find a spot away from trail or visit in the off-season. There’s also frequent burn bans, so check local information before going. Make sure you are following the seven Leave no Trace principles when camping and hiking.
This whole trail is one of those hikes where there’s a “wow” moment around every corner. We took our time and spent quite a while fishing, but the trail could easily be hiked in a couple of hours if you didn’t make so many stops. This hike is well worth it if you’re in the Crested Butte Area.