Lower Crystal Lake
September 22, 2018 · White River National Forest
The hike to Lower Crystal Lake was a quick and relatively short hike. This hike came in just over 6.5 miles roundtrip, which for me at this point in time is a very short hike. However, the weather was perfect, not a cloud in the sky and a mild breeze from time to time, but when the wind did pickup it was a bit chilly. I got an early start, which as it turns out was a very good thing. The trailhead for Lower Crystal Lake is the same as for Mohawk Lake, which is a very popular destination. By the time I returned and stepped off the trail, which was still relatively early in the day, there were still people coming up to the trailhead looking for parking.
The trail to Lower Crystal Lake is a dual-use trail, primarily hiking and 4WD vehicles. On the way up, I got lucky, no 4WD vehicles and I only saw two groups of two people before I got to Lower Crystal Lake. Even though this is a short trail, it is fairly steep, namely because it is a 4WD recreational trail. As such, 4WD recreation off-road trails tend to be very steep and slippery - which makes for great 4WD fun but somewhat rough hiking it.
Lower Crystal Lake sits in a wide bowl rimmed by Crystal Peak and Peak 10. This trail is just outside of Breckinridge, so there is skiing on the other side of Peak 10, and I would assume backcountry skiing on this side of Peak 10 as well. It must be amazing skiing and boarding.
The original plan was to go to both Lower and Upper Crystal Lakes. However, after reaching Lower Crystal Lake, it was so peaceful there and the trail to Upper Crystal Lake was hung along Peak 10, navigating its way through talus and then there was an additional talus field to summit to get to Upper Crystal Lake. This is above 12,000 feet, and there was not a cloud in the sky. So, it's just you and the sun. Given the route to Upper Crystal Lake, I opted for taking in the amazing views at Lower Crystal Lake.
I had the lake to myself for quite some time before the first group of hikers started to show up. By then I had finished lunch as was ready to head back. It was that this time that the Jeeps started to show up as well. It's a classic Jeep trail, it's steep, slippery and very narrow, just enough for one vehicle to pass at a time; so, everybody must know off-road single-track road rules. Glad I wasn't in a vehicle for this one. By the time I stepped off the trail I had counted seven Jeeps on their way up to Lower Crystal Lake.
The colors in this glacial valley are amazing, though most of the vibrant Fall colors have faded, the valley does change color from the morning to the afternoon. In the morning there are hints of gold in the shrubs, but by mid-day the shrubs in the valley have changed to a deeper golden color. Just beautiful colors for this time of year above 12,000 feet. It seems like this would be a very lush and vibrant green valley in July and August. There are many trails in this area and most do not allow 4WD vehicles, so that would make for a great day in this area of White River National Forest.