Watch: Bootprints Hiking Guide to Upper and Lower Crystal Lakes
Difficulty: More difficult
Distance: 4.7-mile one-way
Elevation gain: 2,680 feet
Starting elevation: 10,328 feet
Ending elevation: 12,901 feet
Elapsed time: 2:33:27
Average speed: 1.86 miles-per-hour
Average pace: 32.21 minutes-per-mile
Parking: Spruce Creek trailhead on Spruce Creek Road
Ideal for: Wildflower views, views of classic mountain peaks, access to alpine lakes
Editor’s note: With the current air quality due to wildfires in the area, be sure to hike anywhere in Summit County, including the Crystal Lakes, with caution.
BLUE RIVER — The 13,615-foot Father Dyer Peak in the Tenmile-Mosquito Range is a stunning mountain. Gazing at National Geographic’s Breckenridge-Tennessee Pass map, the trail leading to Upper Crystal Lake, with Father Dyer towering 600 feet above, was a hike I figured would be full of classic Rocky Mountain beauty. It didn’t disappoint.
The hike to Lower and Upper Crystal Lake begins from one of the most popular trailheads in the region: Spruce Creek. When I arrived Spruce Creek Road was mobbed with dozens upon dozens upon dozens of cars. That said, most of the people parked here hiked up to Mohawk Lakes, which you get to by taking a left at a fork in the Jeep road shortly after the Spruce Creek trailhead where Crystal Lakes Road continues at right.
The climb up the washed-out Jeep Road smacks you in the face right away. Ascending the road, you’ll gain 700 feet over the first mile. The high-clearance vehicles passing by in each direction allow opportunities for you to step to the side and take an extra rest break. You’ll need them.
Before 1.5 miles you’ll get your first glimpse of the impressive rounded-dome of Mount Helen. It’s here, right as you break tree line, where you’ll come to a spur trail over to the Francie’s Cabin Summit Hut and then, mere moments later, the junction with the Wheeler singletrack trail, which climbs at the right to Wheeler Pass between Peaks 8 and 9. Stay on the Jeep road.
Just past the Wheeler Trail junction the alpine meadow views of Mount Helen’s impressive slides and Father Dyer Peak’s jagged summit are truly magnificent. If you find the beginning of the hike has been difficult enough for you, stopping here and turning around would still be well worth the trip considering the views.
Deep into a hot, dry August in Summit County there were still trickling creeks we had to hike over. With this in mind, it’s best to hike this trail later in summer, especially in big snow years.
The ascent to Lower Crystal Lake is over 1,500 feet and about 2.5 miles in. Here, it was wild to see so many different kinds of recreators: hikers, anglers, mountain bikers, Jeepers, stand-up paddleboards and even a horseback rider.
Be sure to bear right at the old cabin ruin at the base of Lower Crystal Lake, as the trail to the left leads to a dead end. From here you’ll skirt the lake before passing through a breathtaking Alpine meadow before the Jeep road becomes steep singletrack. The hiking from here to the Upper Crystal Lake terminus is slow, steady and steep.
After a few switchbacks through the talus you’ll turn back toward Father Dyer Peak and be able to see the American flag at the top of Peak 10 at right. After passing a few cairns that signify a steep scree trail at right to Crystal Peak, it’s only another few tenths of a mile on flatter terrain to Upper Crystal Lake.
Once at Upper Crystal just below 13,000 feet, you get the feeling that the summit of Father Dyer is so close, yet so far. But just being at this high-Alpine lake is a reward unto itself.
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