Winter hiking for weekend warriors at Lily Pad Lake in Colorado

Caroline Lewis
A few snowshoers heading back down the Lily Pad Lake trail to their car outside of the Wildernest neighborhood. The group of weekend warriers had come up from Denver for the weekend to ski and hike.
Caroline Lewis / Special to the Daily |


Mileage: 3.3 miles round-trip

Time: Roughly two hours

Elevation gain: About 465 feet

Gear: Snowshoes, XC skis, tele skis or splitboard

Getting there: From I-70, take Exit 205 for Silverthorne/ Dillon. Travel north on Highway 9, and at the first traffic light turn left onto Wildernest Road. Drive for about 3.5 miles to the top of Ryan Gulch Road. There is a large parking area on the left and the trailhead is across the road on the right side.

Editor’s note: This is a bi-monthly winter hiking guide. Until the trails thaw, stay tuned for more winter hiking reports from January to April.

A full parking lot can mean one of two things depending on your perspective. It can (and often does) mean the trail is a decent one. People have to be flocking to a particular trail for a reason, right?

It can also mean the trail will be crowded, which isn’t necessarily bad on a longer hike with opportunities to disappear from other hikers. I tend to prefer trails that allow for a feeling of remoteness, that allow for moments of silence and solitude.

So I was worried initially that Lily Pad Lake would be crowded from the very moment I clipped my boots into my snowshoes at the trailhead until I unloaded gear upon return. The trail wasn’t nearly as crowded as I had imagined. In the few moments when I passed other solo hikers or groups of people, I had wonderful conversations with other weekend warriors, hikers like myself getting outside to take advantage of this beautiful place we live.

The hike and the people on it seemed to paint a picture: a beautiful blend of mountain hiking, trail running (yes, there were people braving the snow in tennis shoes), cross-country skiing, snowshoeing — all weekend-warrioring Coloradans.

On the snowshoe to Lily Pad Lake, I felt a stir of gratitude for getting to share these trails with other active outdoor enthusiasts and for having trails practically in our backyard.

On the trail

Lily Pad Lake’s trailhead starts on the outskirts of a series of neighborhoods that make up Wildernest, so the beginning felt a bit residential.

As I climbed the first steep pitch for about 100 yards, rooftops and cul-de-sacs began to recede. I reached a plateau with great views looking down at Silverthorne, Interstate-70 and Lake Dillon. The trail remained level, flat and well-packed for some time as it cut across a large, completely snow-covered expanse. I was thankful then that I had remembered to bring sunglasses. The intense glare of the sunlight on the packed snow would have been hard to endure without them.

During this time, Buffalo Mountain was over my right shoulder. Every chiseled, rugged detail of its façade was visible. I’ve always been able to pick out Buffalo Mountain when driving around Dillon and Silverthorne, but I had never been this close before. What stunning views with a bluebird backdrop.

In gazing toward Buffalo Mountain, distracted, I accidentally stepped off trail a few times. Even in my snowshoes, some of my missteps put me up to my ankles in snow. If you intend to hike this trail and go off the beaten path a bit, make sure to bring snowshoes or skis — you will need them.

The trail narrowed when it reached the mouth of a dense lodgepole forest. With the recent snowfall, the forest felt like a white room. It was still, crisp and silent. There was a breeze in the pines, and sunshine peeked through breaks in the canopy overhead. Heavy boughs of snow were clinging to pine branches and glowed with golden sunshine. The trail was very playful in this section, dotted by gradual uphill stretches that meandered through the pine and aspen trees.

I so enjoyed this portion of the trail: walking in the tall trees, just going along with the wind. Farther up the trail I saw the tip of a mountain-top peaking through a break in heavy fir trees. I made guesses as to which peak it could have been, but I’m uncertain. It could have been Peak One of the Tenmile Range, or perhaps it was one of Buffalo Mountain’s neighboring peaks in the towering Gore Range.

At the lake

Shortly after trekking through the thickest portion of the forest, I came upon an opening. Underfoot was Lily Pad Lake, although during the winter, the scene doesn’t seem to fit the name.

I tried to imagine what the view would have looked like in the summer months, peeling back layers of snow in my mind. I could see wildflowers, green lily pads, and plenty of fish and frogs.

In its winter mode, the lake and space around it were tranquil, and both gave me the feeling of being very removed from all that was facing me before the hike. Small social trails wrapped around the frozen lake — I looped the shores with ease.

From here the trail continued on to another frozen lake, the second and much larger of the pair. Buffalo Mountain came into sight again; however, this time a different side was facing me. Social trails also circled the perimeter of the second lake.

I frolicked around the shoreline for some time, noticing that there was an option to continue on towards Meadow Creek while still following the Lily Pad Lake trail. The Lily Pad Lake hike itself is an out-and-back, but by continuing on toward Meadow Creek I could have hiked to Frisco (a second trailhead located at Exit 204). This is a simple way to extend your hike for a full day, but I would suggest leaving a car at both trailheads, or getting someone to shuttle from one to the other. Many of the trails in our area connect or overlap at points, making it easy to extend or create a unique hike of your own by picking parts of different trails.

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