Home | Getting Started | Gift Center | Gear Store | Topo Maps | My Wildernet | Newsletter Signup

Hiking & Walking: Colorado > Pike and San Isabel National Forests > South Platte Ranger District

Quick Facts

Shelf Lake Trail

Beginning Elevation: 10,138 Feet (3160.2 Meters) Shelf Lake Trailhead
Difficulty: Easy
Elevation Gain: 1,852 Feet (577.3 Meters)
Ending Elevation: 11,990 Feet (3737.5 Meters) Shelf Lake
Handicapped Accessible: No
Length, One-way: 3.2 Miles (5.33 Kilometers) 5.2 K
Other Maps: Pike National Forest
Recommended Season: Summer
Trail Number: 634
Usage: Light
USGS Maps: Quads: Montezuma

Satellite and Topo Map

General Description

The Shelf Lake Trail follows the Smelter Gulch drainage to Shelf Lake in a high mountain cirque. The 3.2 mile hike is on an established trail the entire distance. The trip will take approximately 2 hours of hiking at a moderate pace to reach the lake. Elevation gain is 1,842'. The last 3/4 miles is above tree line in tundra filled with a profusion of high alpine wildflowers. The lake is usually frozen until mid-June, and there may be snow at high elevations through mid-July. Because of this late snow melt the final portions of the trail remain wet and slightly boggy through midsummer. Fishing in the lake is generally rated good for cutthroat trout. There are very few areas along the trail that are suitable as campsites.

For the first 1.5 miles the trail climbs steadily in a north/northwest direction in the Smelter Gulch drainage. The trail then rises at a less rapid rate until tree line at about mile 2.4. The final .75 miles rise more rapidly in a series of switchbacks up to the shelf on which the lake is located. There are 5 major stream crossings on the trail. The first two are about 200' apart, and are located about .7 miles from the trailhead. Above the second major stream crossing, Smelter Gulch stream will be to the left (south) of the trail. At slightly over 1 mile from the trailhead, the trail makes two more stream crossings and the drainage will again be to the left (south) of the trail. At 2 miles you will reach the fifth (and final) major stream crossing. From this point onward to the lake, the drainage is to the right (north) of the trail. As you reach tree line, the trail begins to pass through willows in which there frequently appear to be several trails that come and go. Continue in a north-northwest direction and maintain your elevation if you get confused. As you leave tree line you will see, on your right, several series of cascading falls as the terrain gets steeper. The final stretch of the trail bends left (west) up a steep series of switchbacks on the tundra. In midsummer this final stretch of the trail has a spectacular display of wildflowers. Note that the trail described above varies somewhat from how it is represented on the topographic quad map.

Directions from Bailey: From Bailey drive 10.8 miles west on Highway 285 to Grant. Turn right (north) on Park County Road 62 (sometimes called Guanella Pass Road). Drive 6.6 miles to the turnoff for Geneva Park campground and Duck Creek Picnic Ground. Follow the turnoff .3 miles to the entrance sign at Geneva Park Campground. Continue traveling straight 2.8 miles from the sign on Forest Road 119 to reach the Shelf Lake Trailhead. This final stretch of road is not a designated four-wheel drive road, but there are several rocky stretches which may be difficult to negotiate with a low clearance vehicle.

Seasonal Information:
Normally Open: Early Summer through Mid-Fall .

Current Conditions & Trip Reports

Add your own trip Report! Newly re-released feature. One of the most popular features on Wildernet, trip reports allow you to share your experiences with others. This is an invaluable resource for determining what to expect on your outdoor adventure, so please participate! To prevent spamming, you must be a registered user of Wildernet in order to submit a trip report

Filed By: Travis L (Brighton, CO)
Time of Day: Morning
Length of Time: All Day
Difficulty: Hard
Number of People Encountered: 0-10 ppl
Recommend to a Friend: Not Recommended
Report: Extremely rough for horses! Also very narrow.
Conditions: Trail was very rocky and rough
Water Availability: yes couple of places
Suggested Accessories: Must have good shoes on horses.

Recreation Opportunities
Activity Remarks On Site
ICON Hiking & Walking Shelf Lake Trail
ICON Horseback Riding Shelf Lake Trail
ICON Animal Identification Shelf Lake Trail
ICON Bird Identification Shelf Lake Trail
ICON Mushroom Identification Shelf Lake Trail
ICON Plant Identification Shelf Lake Trail
ICON Wildflower Identification Shelf Lake Trail
ICON Mountain Biking Shelf Lake Trail
ICON Viewing Scenery Shelf Lake Trail
ICON Viewing Wildlife Shelf Lake Trail

Nearby Services

nearest public telephone: various (private, for profit) Directions: Grant - Drive 6 miles southeast on County Road 62 to Highway 285

fire and emergency services: (non-profit) Directions: Bailey - about 16 miles from the picnicground. Drive southeast on County Road 62 to Highway 285 turn east (left) and continue approximately 10 miles to Bailey.

Related Activities
Burning Bear Trail - This pleasant 5.5 mile trail follows the Burning Bear Creek west from Geneva Creek, over a ridge, and down the Burning Bear Creek on the west side of the ridge.

Duck Creek Picnic Ground - Duck Creek Picnic Ground consists of five individual family sites, each with a table and a fire ring. This site provides access to hiking, biking, horseback riding, fishing and four-wheel driving.

Geneva Park Campground - The Geneva Park Campground consists of 26 individual family campsites each with a table, fire ring and parking spur. This site provides easy access to hiking, biking, fishing, horseback riding and four-wheel driving.

More Information

Visitor Information:

South Platte Ranger District, U.S. Forest Service, 19316 Goddard Ranch Ct. , Morrison, CO, 80465, Phone: 303-275-5610


About Wildernet |  Email to a Friend  |  Disclaimer |  Privacy |  Contact Us  | Comments & Suggestions
Advertisers & Sponsors |  Owners & Operators |  Tourism Promotors
©1995-2019 Interactive Outdoors Inc. All rights reserved.