Lake of the Woods trail to Cottonwood Lake #1

Date hiked: 07/02/16

Mileage: 11.8 miles, 4 hr 45 min

Head Count (how many other hikers I saw): 0 groups, though I could occasionally hear ATV traffic on the far side of Cottonwood Lake.


Five lakes in only four miles – how could you go wrong with that?

Before moving here, I’d never even heard of Grand Mesa, and all I could picture from the name were the desert mesas of Grand Junction. But I couldn’t have been further off the mark. Located about eight miles south of Powderhorn Ski Resort, the Lake of the Woods trail has all the staples that Grand Mesa has to offer: heavily wooded forests, lakes, and best of all, solitude. And, as the largest flattop mountain in the world, travel on Grand Mesa is usually relatively flat.

From the parking lot, the trail pulls you into a dense thicket of aspen, firs and pines right off the bat. On a hot day, the shade under the boughs would be a great respite, but don’t forget your bug repellent, because in here, the mosquitos run rampant. I could barely even stop to take a picture before I was swarmed by a dozen of the bloodthirsty little suckers – I will say, going to the bathroom was a nightmare.


Sloughing through, this first pocket of trees makes way for a small swampy meadow which took some resourcefulness to work my way across. Quickly ducking back into the trees, it doesn’t take long for the skies to open up again, this time around a wildflower laden beaver pond – the first of many along the way.4.JPG5.JPG

In just over a mile, the first intersection in the trail will take you over to Bull Creek Reservoir #4. The calm waters of this peaceful lake make the half mile side trip well worth the extra mileage.


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Back en route to Cottonwood Lake, just one third of a mile further, Bull Creek Reservoirs #1 and 2 sit within spitting distance of each other. Popular to anglers, both are stocked bi-annually with rainbow trout. If you are coming up here to fish, bear in mind, only artificial lures and flies are allowed, and a bag limit of two trout, both sixteen inches or longer, is in place.


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From the east end of Bull Creek Reservoir #1, the trail grows slightly more steeper, and the next two or so miles to Cottonwood Lake are marked by meadow-hopping and high waters. The burly pines, firs and aspens really hold the moisture in, so wet weeks bring a lot of mud.



Get muddy! Brush up on your rock-hopping skills, and try not to hike off-trail too much.


As you reach the end of the Lake of the Woods Trail, the trail all but disappears inside this cluster of trees:18.JPG

Keep a sharp eye out for the wooden posts and orange markers to reach the Cottonwood #712 trail. Turn left, then take a right at the Bull Basin number 507 trail to loop the lake. Keep it in mind for the return trip, too, because that’s when I really got tripped up.


Follow the first wooden post on the right to the one in the distance hoisting the orange marker.


Cottonwood Trail #712. Turn left here. This is the official end to the Lake of the Woods Trail.


Bull Basin #507. Turn right here.

Just as the western reaches of Cottonwood Lake were unmasked, heavy stormclouds descended onto the wind-swept waters. With a cold dread settling as heavy as coal in the pit of my stomach, I could do nothing but wait and watch as a thunderstorm rolled in right overhead. Finding a stunted cluster of trees surrounded by the taller woodlands, I crouched on the balls of my feet, as I’d read so often before, then waited it out as the cloud-cover first brought torrential rains, then hail as the skies opened up with thunder and lightning. With each flash of lighting, I waited on quivering legs for the inevitable CRACK! to break the silence.



Eventually the storm passed, and in the aftermath, awe-inspiring clouds brought me home unscathed.


Trail Map

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(From Highway 92): From Highway 92, turn north onto Highway 65. After 33.8 miles, turn right onto FSR-250. The parking area is .4 miles beyond this point. The road is easily passable by any passenger car.

33.8 miles; 45 min


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