Mystic Island Lake and Lake Charles

June 20, 2020 · Holy Cross Wilderness

The hike to Lake Charles and Mystic Lake deep in the Holy Cross Wilderness was a spectacular hike with big blue skies and incredible views. Though the first part of the trail, while clear was in dense conifers, once you get closer to treeline the views are breathtaking. The trailhead is tucked away in a remote corner of the Holy Cross Wilderness and requires a 4WD to get to. The road narrows to a single-track off-road road with no room to spare on either side of the road. Thankfully, I did not run into any traffic either way. Once at the trailhead, the signs at the trailhead make it very clear you are in bear country and that bears are active in the area; thankfully, I did not see any bears on this trek.

I was skeptical as to how far I would be able to go along the trail, as it is in a narrow glacial valley and there was still a noticeable amount of snow visible on the distant peaks - which was my destination. Thankfully, the snow I did encounter on the trail was very minimal and easy to navigate.

The trail moves quickly through the tall, thick stands of conifers and in places is steep. This trail is a thin glacial valley and there are large cleaved boulders everywhere. In a way, it seems as if towards the end of the last Ice Age, the glacier in this valley was hard at work carving a path and suddenly gave up.

For the most part the Spring Runoff has finished. The rivers are clear and copper color, though they are full and moving quickly, but slow enough to be a gentle calming sound off to the side as you navigate the trail through the conifers. There where no precarious river crossings, though there are several river crossings before reaching Lake Charles.

Just before reaching Lake Charles the outlet for the lake is still going strong and spilling out in every direction it can to make its way down the valley. Just before reaching Lake Charles, views of Fools Peak come into view and it is impressive. There is a good amount of snow on the peak and with the bright blue skies, the streaks of snow against the granite face of the peak are striking. From time to time the clouds would move in, but there was enough of a breeze that they never stayed very long.

I had the trail to myself up to Lake Charles. When I got to Lake Charles there was a couple on their way out, so I had the lake to myself. I took a long lunch along the shore of Lake Charles. It is a beautiful lake, with Fools Peak off to the left and end of the valley just off in the distance, the lake is sits at treeline, which is always a magical place to me. The weather was fantastic at Lake Charles, I would have loved to stay here for the night.

As I was getting ready to push on to Mystic Lake, a small group of three people showed up and asked where we were, when I told them, we were at Lake Charles they seemed ecstatic, they reached their destination. It was time to move one, the weather was still exceptional, though clouds were lingering in the backend of the valley a bit longer now. But they would eventually blow out.

The final push to Mystic Lake goes through a thick marsh and the trail is easy to lose from here to Mystic Lake. Though just before reaching Mystic Lake, the trail reappears and the final approach to the lake, while only a short distance took some time. Eagle Peak makes ups the back wall of the valley and has a considerable amount of snow on it as it faces North.

Mystic Lake is a classic Cirque with steep mountain walls on all three sides. The clouds would move in and linger longer now, giving off dark contrasting marks along the valley walls and on the boulders scattered along the lakes edge. The official name for Mystic Lake is Mystic Island Lake. There is a small island close the shore of the lake with a few trees and if you were willing to brave the ice-cold water, the swim from the shore to the lake is a short one. At times when the cloud cover was heavier, the entire Cirque looked like something out of Scotland. It was at that moment the little islands name became clear. An eerie calm briefly filled the Cirque, there was no sound at all. It was as if the valley was saying "stop everything and just take it in."

It was a perfect day on the trail, coming in at a comfortable 11.1 miles roundtrip. The drive to get there is a bit long, but well worth it.


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AREAS HIKED

Collegiate Peaks Wilderness9
Eagles Nest Wilderness10
Fossil Ridge Wilderness1
Fraser Experimental Forest1
Gunnison National Forest1
Holy Cross Wilderness12
Hunter-Fryingpan Wilderness3
Indian Peaks Wilderness17
James Peak Wilderness1
Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness2
Mount Evans Wilderness2
Mount Massive Wilderness2
Pike National Forest1
Raggeds Wilderness1
Rocky Mountain National Park41
San Isabel National Forest6
Sangre de Cristo Wilderness1
White River National Forest10
Zirkel Wilderness1

TRAILS BY MONTH

January3
February2
March2
April3
May5
June16
July26
August26
September27
October5
November4
December3

SEASONS ON THE TRAIL

2021

The 2021 Season has started. Though the pandemic created a challenging 2020 season, I am looking forward to building on the 2020 season to create an incredible 2021 season. The pandemic has taught me a few things about when and where to go hiking. As such planning for the 2021 se...

2020

The 2020 hiking season has been incredible, even in the face of adversity. The pandemic has made for a logistically challenging season. Somehow, I was still able to piece together an incredible 230+ miles on the trail this season and able to see some truly spectacular places. Enj...

2019

The 2019 hiking season was an interesting season, this was the first season that I started and ended the season snowshoeing and a full summer of hiking for a total of just under 225 miles on the trail. What this season has taught me is that it's winter in the mountains for a long...

2018

The 2018 Summer Hiking Season has come to an end. What a season, incredible views and just over 230 miles on the trail. Even with 230 miles, this season seems short to me, perhaps I'll add something to it during the winter season - snowshoeing perhaps. In the meantime, I hope you...

2017

The 2017 hiking season was interesting, I was able to explorer more of Colorado's National Forests and get in some camping, not as much camping as I would have liked, but hopefully next year I'll able to get in more multi-day hikes. This season came in just under 129 miles roundt...

2016

The 2016 hiking season was about spreading out and exploring more of Eagles Nest Wilderness, Indian Peaks Wilderness and touching on White River National Forest - and of course a few trips into Rocky Mountain National Park. These are amazing National treasures. This season came i...

2015

The 2015 hiking season was a big hiking season, I decided to do a fundraiser for The Red Cross (I learned a lot about fundraising - it was very interesting) with my pledge to hike over 200 miles for this season, I came in at 217 miles for the season; what a great time out on the ...

2014

The 2014 hiking season was almost all about exploring Rocky Mountain National Park, it really is a beautiful park. What I learned during the course of this hiking season is, although people may roll their eyes when you say you're going on a hike in RMNP, it really is spectacular ...

2013

2013 is the year this all started. The hike to Pitkin Lake started it all. Although it was a difficult trail, I was hooked immediately. However, I didn't have the right gear and the seasons were changing quickly. So, even though this season only brought two hikes, I new this was ...