Brush Creek Lakes
excerpts from the book
Colorado's
Incredible Backcountry Trails 
by David Day

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Incredible Backcountry Trails
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    Distance: 8.0 miles (round trip)

    Walking time:  6 hours

    Elevations
    : 2,100 ft. gain/loss
       Peerless Mine Trailhead (start): 9,600 ft.
       Lower Brush Lake: 11,404 ft.
       Upper Brush Lake: 11,540 ft.

    Trail: Very rocky in places. Also, the trail between the lower and upper lakes is not well defined.

    Season: Midsummer through mid-fall. The road to the trailhead is usually not passable before early July.

    Vicinity: Near Westcliffe

    Brush Creek LakesBrush Creek Lakes

     

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    It is common for hikers to begin this trek at the North Brush Creek Trailhead near the end of Forest Road 337; however in my opinion it makes better sense to start at the Peerless Mine Trailhead described here. The round trip distance to the lakes from Peerless Mine is nearly five miles shorter; hence it is relatively easy to walk from there to the lakes as a day hike.

    The Brush Creek Lakes are two of the largest lakes in the Sangre de Cristo Range, and the fishing can be good. Also, they are not as frequently visited as many other lakes in the vicinity, so you can usually expect more solitude there. The lakes are situated right on the edge of timberline in a picturesque alpine cirque just east of Thirsty Peak (13,213 ft.) and Lakes Peak (13,375 ft.). Unfortunately the talus slopes below the surrounding peaks extend all the way to the waterís edge, and the jagged boulders make it impossible to enjoy a pleasant stroll around the lakes. Furthermore, good campsites near the lakes are limited.

    The trail starts behind the old mining shack on the east side of the parking area. The trail register is located in the trees 30 feet from the shack, and from there you will see a rock-strewn path that proceeds straight up the slope under a heavy canopy of aspen and lodgepole pine. Perhaps the reason this trail is not often used is because many of the people who visit the Brush Creek Lakes do so by horseback, and it would be difficult for a horse to negotiate this rocky path. After 15 minutes, however, the trail becomes a better walking path, less rocky and less steep, and soon afterward to breaks out of the trees onto the rim of North Brush Canyon. Here you will be treated to a fine view into the deep glacier-carved gorge with Wet Mountain Valley at its mouth and Lakes Peak above its western side.

    The vista is brief; within 200 feet the trail heads back down into the trees as it descends westward into the canyon. After loosing about 200 feet over the next 10 minutes you will come to a trail junction where the Peerless Mine Trail meets the North Brush Creek Trail. Here you must turn right as you proceed to the headwaters of North Brush Creek.

    For the next hour the trail remains immersed in a dense forest of lodgepole pine, gradually changing to Engelmann spruce, as it follows the north side of the canyon. The grade is generally level and the walking is easy. Then, 2.2 miles from the trail junction ,the path crosses to the south side of the creek and begins climbing up the slope toward the lower lake. From there you must climb another 440 feet over the next half-mile to reach the lower lake.

    My first impression upon gazing across Lower Brush Lake was one of disappointment. The shore of the lake is so rocky it is not easily accessed from the trail, and although Thirsty Peak makes a fine backdrop above the western shore I didnít find the lake to be particularly inspirational. There are a few reasonable campsites in a grove of trees on the lakeís southern shore, but elsewhere there is too little soil for trees.

    Although most maps show the trail continuing on from the lower lake to the upper lake, the trail essentially disappears once it enters the trees on the south side of the lower lake. The easiest way to get to the upper lake is to head upward in a southwesterly direction from a point near the outlet of the lower lake. After gaining 120 feet of elevation you will find a good trail that follows the grassy area at the base of the talus slopes south of the lakes. Following this trail for another 400 yards will bring you to the most accessible southern shore of the upper lake.

    Again, the rocks and the willows that surround Upper Brush Lake preclude the possibility of a leisurely walk around its shore. However I found this lake to be very attractive in a wild and rugged sort of way. It sits right on the edge of timberline, and the only trees you will see are stunted survivors of the harsh winter snows. The skyline is dominated by Thirsty and Lakes Peaks, the air is crisp and clear, and one cannot help but feel the spiritual presence of nature in such a place. It is a world far different from the man-made world in which most of us live our daily lives.

     

     
    The book includes more text, more photographs, and trail maps.

    If you are interested in a supplemental map of the Brush Creek Lakes
    we recommend:
    Sangre de Cristo Mountains  (Trails Illustrated, map #138)

    Click here for DISCOUNTED MAP ORDERS

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