Date hiked: 11/07/16
Mileage: 14 miles
Head Count (how many other hikers I saw):0 groups.
As far as Western Colorado goes, Gunnison oftentimes gets a lot of flack for being cold, boring, and out of the way. But I’ve found a lot of great hikes in the mountains just a stones throw from Gunnison. Henry Lake is one of those hikes.
The Henry Lake trail itself is a short two mile hike both ways, but either approach – from the Lottis Creek Campground in the north, or a much steeper approach from the Gold Creek Campground in the south – makes for a long day (or couple of days).
The Lottis Creek Campground is by far the most common approach. The lower trailhead is just east of the campground, but a 4WD road will take you a quarter mile beyond to where the Lottis Creek Trail and Union Canyon Trail transect on the northern shores of Lottis Creek.
From here, the creek itself presents the first roadblock, whose high waters will pose a problem any time of year. I had to hunt for a place to cross over without getting my feet soaked, especially with the early morning dew turning any potential logs into an icy deathtrap, but found a calm spot upriver.
Once across, the trail passes through a cattle gate, then an easy to follow route traces South Lottis Creek along gentle grades through the thick of Gunnison National Forest on the lower peripheries of the Sawatch Mountain Range. This far off of the beaten track, the woods grow thick with aspen and pine, though every so often, the foliage thins to views of Broncho Mountain.
I hiked this trail a few weeks ago now, before the snow had really started falling, and I couldn’t believe the amount of green up there, already a week into November. But with the recent storms, this whole area is sure to be covered with at least a foot by now.
Five miles from the campground, Brush Creek breaks off from South Lottis Creek, and the South Lottis Trail comes to a fork with the Henry Lake Trail. Turning right here, the route continues along South Lottis Creek.
The South Lottis Trail wraps back around to meet up with Brush Creek, where it summits Gunsight Pass after 1.7 miles and 1,300 feet of gain, then descends into the Lamphier Creek Drainage. The Gold Creek Campground lies 4.8 miles downriver, making this alternate approach to Henry Lake a 17 mile undertaking, with a net gain of more than 3,000 feet overall.
From the intersection, the Henry Lake Trail ascends a shallow basin below Henry Mountain. The elevation climbs more rapidly through here, with only two miles to gain the final 1,000 feet to the lake, compared to the 1,600 feet of gain conquered over the course of the previous five miles.
At about 11,000 feet, the woods grow sparse as treeline nears. The last half mile grind to the northern inlet of Henry Lake at 11,704 feet brings a grueling set of switchbacks.
(From Gunnison): From Highway 50/Tomichi Ave, head north on CO-145/Main Street towards Crested Butte. After 10.2 miles, turn right onto CR-742 at Three Rivers Resort and Outfitting in Almont. Follow this for 16.6 miles and take another right at the Lottis Creek Campground onto CR-758. The trailhead is just east of the campground, .4 miles down the road. The 4WD road continues another .25 miles before dead-ending at Lottis Creek.