Hooper and
Keener Lakes

excerpts from the book
Incredible Backcountry Trails 
by David Day

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Incredible Backcountry Trails
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    Distance: 7.7 miles (round trip)

    Walking time: 5 hours
    : 1,400 ft. gain/loss
       Stillwater Trailhead (start): 10,280 ft.
       Hooper Lake: 10,864 ft.
       Keener Lake: 10,780 ft.

    Trail: Generally well marked and well maintained

    Season: Midsummer through mid-fall. The higher parts of the trail are often covered with snow from late November through June.

    Vicinity: Near Steamboat Springs and Yampa

    Hooper Lake, Keener LakeHooper Lake, Keener Lake


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    The unpredictable nature of Colorado weather dictates that you should always begin your hikes as early in the morning as possible, but on this particular trail there are several additional reasons why you should get an early start. First, the Stillwater Trailhead is also where the popular hike to the Devils Causeway begins (page 144), and by 9:00 a.m. the limited parking space at the trailhead is often completely filled. Second, both Hooper and Keener lakes are situated directly east of a long stretch of spectacular cliffs below Flat Top Mountain, and the early morning views from across the lakes are outstanding. And third, as you cross over the pass between the Route and White River National Forests you will briefly be above timberline on a beautiful alpine tundra of rolling, flower-laden hills that is especially stunning in the crisp morning air. Many of the flowers close their blossoms in the heat of the afternoon.

    If time permits there are several other lakes in the area that you might want to visit, including Edge Lake and the Bailey Lakes. But in my opinion Hooper and Keener are the centerpieces of this trail. Not only are they the largest, but they are both located right at the bottom of the 600-foot cliffs that border Flat Top Mountain and, again, the views are breathtaking. If you are there before all the winter snow has melted you may also see a 200-foot waterfall that plunges down the cliffs directly east of Keener Lake. The fall is usually active until early July.

    From the trailhead at the end of the road you must walk east for about 200 feet to the trail junction between the Devils Causeway trail and the North Derby Trail. Turn left at the junction and walk along the top of Stillwater Dam for about 400 yards until you come to another sign marking the point where the North Derby Trail drops down from the dam. The trail continues to be relatively open and level for about 10 minutes, but soon afterward it enters the conifer forest and begins to gain elevation. At about the same time you will see a sign marking the boundary of the Flat Tops Wilderness area.

    After entering the wilderness area the trail continues to climb at a moderate rate as it meanders in a southerly direction toward a pass that separates the White River and Routt National Forests. Finally, 2.2 miles from the trailhead and 1,000 feet higher, the path climbs above timberline and enters the alpine tundra on the south side of the pass. In my opinion this is the most beautiful part of the entire hike. From the pass the trail makes a very leisurely 1-mile descent to Hooper Lake, loosing some 400 feet along the way and reentering an open forest just before it reaches the lake. There are flat top mountains on both sides of the trail here, however the mountain on the east side where Edge Lake is located is not as impressive as the one on the west side of the trail. The path is rather vague in a few places in this grassy alpine meadow and you may loose it. When in doubt keep to the west. If you loose the trail and stray too far to the east you can easily miss the lakes.

    As the trail approaches Hooper Lake it turns to the west, but then just before arriving at the lake it swings again to the east, away from the lake, and never actually gets closer than about 150 feet from the water. It is conceivable that if one were not paying attention he could miss the lake, although itís eastern arm is visible from the trail. Of the two lakes visited on this hike, Hooper is the best one for camping. There are plenty of nice camp sites along the east side of the lake.

    From Hooper Lake the trail follows the drainage eastward for just 0.2 mile before passing the spur that leads to Keener Lake. There are no signs at the junction and the trail is not terribly distinct, but if you are observant you will easily spot it. Look for a small stone monument, and also a collection of bleached white bones-the remains of a deer that must have died there many years ago. From the junction it is another 0.4-mile walk through the well-shaded forest to the lake. Just before reaching the lake the trail breaks out of the trees into a small clearing on the east side of the water with an exquisite view of Flat Top Mountain above the far shore. There is no need to go farther-this is the best place you will find to stop for a lunch break before heading back to the trailhead.

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

    If you are interested in a supplemental map of the Hooper and Keener Lakes area
    we recommend:
    Flat Tops NE, Trappers Lake (Trails Illustrated, map #122)

    Click here for DISCOUNTED MAP ORDERS

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