Watch: Bootprints Hiking Guide to Eaglesmere-Tipperary-Surprise lake loop

HEENEY — Summit Daily Dog Ruger and I opted for something a little different with our Gore Range lake-loop hike. Next on the Bootprints Hiking Guide agenda was a 10-plus mile loop based out of the Lower Cataract Lake area — a hike to three lakes off of the Gore Range Trail: Eaglesmere, Tipperary and Surprise.

Heeney’s my old stomping grounds. It’s an old ranching community with wireless connectivity that harkens back to the county’s yesteryears. The Lower Cataract Lake area, accessed at the end of the dirt Cataract Creek Road off of Heeney Road, provides some of the best accessible-yet-remote wilderness hiking in the county.

The Eaglesmere Trailhead parking lot is at right down a side road before reaching Lower Cataract Lake on the road. After parking here, I kept Ruger on leash. Even though we wouldn’t reach the wilderness boundary for 2.25 miles, moose, bears and other wildlife are common in the area and a leash is recommendable.

I was glad I kept Ruger on leash, as just a few tenths of a mile into the hike we heard something big snapping branches and rustling trees maybe 20 yards from us. We didn’t see the animal, but it sounded like a moose. After feeling out the situation, Ruger and I continued until 0.6 miles and 300 feet of gain in when the trail opened up to a vista overlooking Dora Mountain and Lower Cataract Lake down below. Over the next mile or so the views across and down were stunning. The singletrack trail we ascended had wildflowers and weeds that were chest deep at times, providing for a unique hiking experience in Summit County.

Follow the Eaglesmere Trail 3.2 miles where you will reach the junction with the Gore Range Trail. We hung a right here, heading west on the Gore Range Trail to reach Eaglesmere Lake. The Gore Range Trail is the main vein for wilderness hikers to follow along at the foot of these remote and intimidating mountains.

By the time we reached Eaglesmere Lake and turned around we gained 1,700 feet over 3.8 miles. Continuing south on the Gore Range Trail, the trail descends rather steeply and vistas open up for magnificent Rocky Mountain views in a few spots. You’ll soon reach a few crossings of Cataract Creek where you’ll want to remain focused so as to not lose the trail. Cairns will help you through this portion. There’s plenty of undulations along this stretch of the trail, we gained just under 2,000 feet and lost around 800 to reach this point.

If you go

Difficulty: More difficult
Distance: 12.12-mile loop
Elevation gain: 2,702 feet
Starting elevation: 8,730 feet
Ending elevation: 8,712 feet
Elapsed time: 5:19:10
Average speed: 2.28 miles-per-hour
Average pace: 26.33 minutes-per-mile
Parking: Eaglesmere Trailhead off Cataract Creek Road in Heeney
Ideal for: Hiking a shaded long distance with a dog, wildflower views, for remote, less crowded wilderness experience, access to alpine lakes

To get to Tipperary Lake, you’ll take a short side trail. It’s a pretty steep descent to reach the lake, but it only took a few minutes to reach the beautiful Alpine lake.

Between Tipperary Lake and the junction at right with the Upper Cataract Lake Trail, be prepared to climb another 400-500 feet. It’s at the Gore Range Trail’s junction with the Upper Cataract Lake Trail, which we did not go up, where you will top out on the later portion of your hike. From here, it’s a moderate descent to Surprise Lake, which has the best views, especially of nearby Dora Mountain, of any of the three lakes on this loop.

From Surprise Lake, nine miles into the hike the Gore Range Trail will meet the Surprise Lake Trail coming in from left. Hang a left here and hike down 2.5 miles, and around 1,500 feet of elevation loss, to return to the Lower Cataract Lake area. Once back, if you need to find your car at the Eaglesmere Trailhead (as I did) it’s another 0.75 miles and few hundred feet of hiking on the road. With that, if you have multiple cars, I suggest at the start of the hike parking one at the Surprise Lake Trailhead before shuttling the short way to Eaglesmere. This loop, as described, can be hiked in reverse for a similar experience.

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