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Backpacker Magazine – BACKPACKER.com Online Exclusive

Colorado: Gibson Lake, Pike National Forest

Tiny Gibson Lake will take you out of Denver in a hurry with its big-wilderness feel and smirking brook trout.

by: Al Marlow

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Contact Information:

Pike National Forest South Platte Ranger District 19316 Goddard Ranch Court Morrison, CO 80465 (303) 275-5610 Location: Gibson Lake is in Pike National Forest in the Front Range of the Colorado Rockies, a 90-minute drive west of Denver.

Getting There: From Denver take U.S. 285 south. About 2 miles past Grant, turn right on Forest Service Road 120, a rough road that parallels the north fork of the South Platte River. After a bouncy 7-mile ride, park at the poorly marked Forest Service picnic ground on the left, where the trail begins.

Seasonal Information: The trail opens as early as mid-June. By July, little if any snow blocks the trail.

From June through August, afternoon thundershowers are a daily probability. Temperatures at night will often fall below freezing. Daytime highs range from 50 to 80 degrees F.

October or November brings snow that closes much of the area to all but cross-country skiers and snowshoers. Access is more difficult in winter because the Forest Service road from U.S. 285 is plowed for only three miles.

With increasing numbers of visitors to the area, no season will provide a lot of solitude.

Wildlife: Bring your binoculars for bighorn sheep. And look for pikas, those small critters that look like a cross between a rat and a rabbit, busily harvesting grass for their breakfast. Marmots, deer, and elk also make their home here.

Gibson Lake is small, but it holds 15-inch, smirking brookies.

Insects: No information available.

Plant Life: After crossing an old log bridge over the north fork of the South Platte River, you'll wind through lodgepole pine and aspen forest for about 2 miles. Scattered willows, junipers, and subalpine tundra surrounded the last mile or so.

You'll want a camera for the abundant wildflowers. Blue columbines rise from pink granite surrounded by a carpet of mountain bluebells, kingscrown, red elephants, and white bistort.

Facilities: Near Gibson Lake, there are two developed campgrounds ~ Hall Valley and Handcart ~ with a fee of $9 per night. These sites provide water, tables, toilets, and firegrates May through October.

Although primitive camping is allowed, there are few areas along the trail suitable for overnight camping.

Parking: There is a small parking area at the Gibson Lake Trailhead.

Permits: No permits are needed.

Policies:

  • No fires permitted at this time; use propane stoves. Fire regulations may vary depending on conditions, so check with the ranger station.
  • Pets must be on a leash.
  • Camping is limited to 14 days anywhere within the forest.

Hazards: Watch for lightning in summer.

Leave No Trace: This area is heavily used, so if you intend to visit use lots of care not to leave any marks on the landscape.

All LNT guidelines apply.

Maps: USGS 7.5-minute Jefferson quad. Pike National Forest map available at most Denver backpacking stores or from the South Platte Ranger District Office.

Other Trip Options: For another experience, try mountain biking through the forest's Buffalo Creek area.

For another experience, try mountain biking through the forest's Buffalo Creek area.


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