By Deb Stanley, Examiner.com
Breckenridge has so many beautiful places to hike – Mohawk Lakes/Continental Falls, McCullough Gulch, Quandary Peak, etc… When you’re ready for something new, consider Crystal Lakes.
Crystal Lakes share the same trailhead with Mohawk Lakes (directions below). Instead of hiking into the forest on the Spruce Creek Trail, hike up Spruce Creek Road about 0.2 miles to where the road splits. Take the right fork, go around the gate and you’ll be on Crystal Creek Road #803. Yes, this is a road. While the gate was locked when we hiked here, it is possible you may be sharing the road/trail with vehicles. Because the trail is a road, it is wide enough to hike side-by-side with your friends.
Just a short distance past the gate, you’ll cross the marked Burro Trail. This trail goes north to the Peak 9 area in Breckenridge. After a quick stop to look at the trail and catch our breath, it was time to keep climbing. The road/trail here is very rocky and steep. Watch your footing and enjoy the peace and quiet. While the trail to Mohawk Lakes is often very busy, we saw only a couple other people on the trail to Crystal Lakes in the middle of the day on a weekend.
About 1.25 miles from the trail head, we came to a road split with a sign warning drivers to stay on roads with an arrow. While the main trail continues straight ahead, we took a short side trip on the road to the left. It goes to a small cascade and a diversion dam. After a quick picture stop, we were back on the main road and hiking up hill again. A short distance away is the turnoff for Francie’s Cabin. The 10th Mountain Division Cabin is a 6-bedroom cabin built in 1994. The cabin is close by, but signs ask visitors to stay away unless they are a paying guest.
Continue up the road to another trail split — this time for the Wheeler Trail. The Wheeler National Recreation Trail runs from Copper to McCullough Gulch. But again, we continued straight ahead, where finally the trail began to flatten out a bit with amazing views of the peaks up ahead.
Enjoy the scenery as your cross the valley to Crystal Lake at the foot of Crystal Peak – a mountain that’s just 148 feet short of being a 14er. Just before you arrive at the lake, there’s an old broken down cabin to explore. Go inside and use the empty window frame to frame a nice shot of the lake and the nearby peak. Then it’s time to visit the lake. Crystal Lake is nice, but it’s the cirque around the lake that make this a beautiful destination. There are three 13,000-foot tall peaks in this cirque.
After a photo stop, it’s time to decide if you want to continue on. The trail goes around the north side of the lake and climbs the side of Peak 10 another 1.9 miles and 900 feet in elevation gain to Upper Crystal Lake. Or return the way you came.
Details for Crystal Lake: The hike to Lower Crystal Lake and back is about 5 miles RT with 1,600 feet of elevation gain. Hikers going to Upper Crystal Lake should expect about 8.8 miles with 2,500 feet of elevation gain.
Directions: Drive south out of Breckenridge on Highway 9. About 2.3 miles from the last stoplight in Breck, turn right on Spruce Creek Road. Follow the round, dirt road as it winds subdivision about 1.2 miles to the trailhead.