From a roadside trailhead in a switchback above the Conejos River Valley (a fly fisherman’s paradise), this hike begins with a 0.9-mile warm-up on the dirt road before bearing left onto more rugged doubletrack through a bushy meadow. Bypass a left-hand trail option about 0.4 miles from the road and continue a mellow climb through the meadows to a wide-open overlook near the South San Juan Wilderness Boundary. Duck into the woods and off-trail briefly to follow the wilderness area fence northwest and reconnect with the trail for a flat meadow stretch before turning uphill more steeply toward the lake. As you climb through the meadows and below rocky slides, listen for screeching pika and look left toward the rolling alpine ridge on the valley’s south side. The jet-black waters of the lake sit in the shadow of 13,172-foot Conejos Peak—just an hour-long climb from its shoreline. If you had an early start, and afternoon storms don’t threaten, consider bagging the peak before backtracking downhill.
This route turns south at a junction 1-mile below the lake for a more direct route above Saddle Creek to the trailhead. Though the initial stretch of trail is easy to follow, it becomes less obvious heading downhill. Stay on the north side of the creek and you’ll hit the main trail before crossing back out of the wilderness area near the trailhead.
-Mapped by Kristy Holland
- Distance: 10.4
Location: 37.29582, -106.538823
There is plenty of room for parking (but no services) at this roadside trailhead. This route begins by following the road uphill about 0.9 miles before turning onto the trail.
Location: 37.30543, -106.530819
Bear left at this Y-junction where the dirt road splits. You'll follow the rougher left-leading doubletrack as it winds gently uphill to the west and south. Look around for old mining debris visible between shrubs on the open hillside.
Location: 37.306539, -106.537085
This route follows the doubletrack to the left around this curve and continues winding uphill south and west. You could follow the singletrack trail which heads north then more directly west to shave some distance from this route.
Location: 37.301726, -106.540126
The doubletrack ends at this open hilltop, a perfect resting spot. From here, head downhill off-trail to the right (west). Within 200 yards you'll hit the boundary fence for the South San Juan Wilderness Area which you'll follow north to re-connect with the main trail.
Location: 37.300727, -106.542171
The wilderness area boundary is a small, wire fence. When you reach it, follow it northwest and use it to guide you through a 200-yard stretch of forest.
Location: 37.301965, -106.543715
Climb from the trees toward the main trail, #719. Follow it to the left through an open meadow and across a stream before it curves around the hillside up ahead and begins a more strenuous climb.
Location: 37.296896, -106.547942
Headed uphill, bypass this left-hand spur trail at mile 3.2 and continue uphill to the right toward the lake. On your return trip, look for the wooden trail marker just west of this junction to remind you of the right-hand turn.
Location: 37.297523, -106.556219
There are several short, steep stretches of rocky trail as you approach the lake and pass 12,000 feet. Look for elk and deer in the sweeping valley to the left.
Location: 37.297954, -106.561632
The lake sits in a small bowl below 13,172-foot Conejos Peak. With no trees and few bushes, if it's windy or there is any inclement weather, it's not an ideal place to linger. If it's clear and crisp, stop for a picnic or consider the 2-mile round-trip add-on to the summit.
Location: 37.292935, -106.546311
The trail above Saddle Creek can be difficult to follow when the well-worn path near the trail junction peters out. Stay on the north side of the creek and continue downhill. The trail is more defined as you near the road and cross a small bridge at the wilderness area boundary.
Location: 37.303177, -106.53127
The wide, gravel road is well maintained. Expect to see occasional hunters on this stretch during fall hunting season.
Location: 37.301974, -106.536881
The rugged doubletrack that this route follows through open, but tree-peppered meadows.
End of The Road
Location: 37.301718, -106.540121
Location: 37.301991, -106.545013
Just after joining the main trail, you'll turn left toward this meadow stretch.
Location: 37.295462, -106.550592
Occasional trail markers and carins line the route. The out-and-back section of this trail toward the lake is well-worn and easy to follow.
Location: 37.29876, -106.558408
A few small creeks cut the trail, but as long as you stay on the north side of Saddle Creek on the return trip, don't expect any wet crossings.
Location: 37.298065, -106.561493
The ridge of Conejos Peak above Tobacco Lake makes for an early sunset.
Location: 37.29809, -106.561396
Looking northeast from the lakeshore. Note the dynamic clouds indicative of an impending storm.
Location: 37.296896, -106.547985
Look for this small trail marker on your way downhill. You'll ignore it by turning onto the unmarked trail, but it's a useful landmark.
Location: 37.293934, -106.545678
While in the valley and at lower elevations there are some aspen, the forested sections of this route cruise coniferous forests or pine and spruce.