Know Before You Go:
- Trailhead: Winter is a little tricky! You park on Hwy 14 at the turnoff for the Crags Campground/Lake Agnes Trailhead/American Lakes Trailhead. See State Forest State Park Winter Recreation Map for details.
- Website: State Forest State Park; Horseback Riding Trail Map/Brochure
- Length: ~5 miles round-trip (winter)
- Closest Town: Walden, CO
- Green Horse Friendly: Will re-evaluate in summer…
- Senior Horse Friendly: Will re-evaluate in summer…
- Barefoot Horse Friendly: Will re-evaluate in summer…
- Beer Friendly: Yes (3.2% only)
- Firearm Friendly: Yes, see regulations.
- Dog Friendly: Yes, on a leash. See full regulations.
- Obstacles: Bridges, water, bikes, hikers, dogs, wildlife.
- Parking: On Hwy 14 in the winter, at Agnes Lake Trailhead in summer.
The Nitty Gritty:
This was one of the first hikes I organized for the new Hike Like a Woman Locals group I’m leading in Northern Colorado. We had a great group of women join us who were eager to get out on snowshoes one last time before the snow melted. Some were seasoned snowshoers and some were first timers but all had a great time!
In winter this trail is a little tough to get to and hike. Driving up highway 14, you’ll go just over Cameron Pass and on the western slope (heading toward Walden) you’ll see the trailhead sign almost immediately on your left. In the summer, you can turn on this road and navigate to the Crags Campground and park there for a quick jaunt to the Agnes Lake Trail. In the winter, this road is closed and you will need to park at the top of the hill just off the highway adding about a mile onto your trek both directions.
There is only parking there for about 10 cars, so try and get there early as this is a popular spot for backcountry skiers and snowsport enthusiasts. At the parking area, there is a self-pay station and the fee was $7 at the time of this writing. Those fees can always be checked by visiting the State Forest State Park website.
State Forest State Park is by far one of my favorite places to hike and ride in Northern Colorado. Its a good bit off the beaten path so it weeds out a lot of the tourists, leaving it far less crowded than other options in the area. This park borders the northern edge of Rocky Mountain National Park, the southern edge of the Rawah Wilderness and the western edge of the Comanche Peak Wilderness so there is no shortage of day hikes, trail rides and multi-day trips you can make here.
I’ve done some other hikes and rides in the area, but hadn’t spent much time exploring via snowshoes until this day. It was glorious. Due the variations in this trail with the seasons, it was difficult to find accurate information on regarding winter routes and conditions so we had to wing it somewhat. The State Forest State Park site provided the closest to accurate info I could find which quoted it at a 5 mile round trip length.
Their Winter Recreation Guide provides a wealth of helpful information.
The first part of the trail heads downhill from highway 14 and follows a rough, single track road. About 1/2 to 3/4 mile down, you’ll spot a sign for the Crags Campground and the Lake Agnes trailhead directing you to the right. You’ll pass over a fair sized creek and continue following the trail upward. This is a well traveled trail and easy to follow in most places.
The lower part of the trail winds upward through dense forest until you get to the Lake Agnes cabin. This cabin was built in 1925 and was used seasonally by rangers until 2000. It was added to the National Historic Register in 2007.
After the cabin, the trail opens into a beautiful valley which, I assume, is absolutely stunning in summer since it was stunning covered in 3 feet of snow. There appeared to be several route options here – mostly for backcountry skiers which were in abundance this day – but we chose to follow the most direct route to Lake Agnes which skirts the eastern side of the meadow.
You’ll return to a brief patch of forest before popping over a small hill and dropping into a bare hillside. From here, you simply find the most comfortable route up the hill following the vein. On this day, the headwind was blowing so hard we could barely stand upright and felt as though we were climbing Everest. In reality, on a nice day, I’m sure this climb is rather quick and painless but, on this day, it seemed almost endless.
Despite that, the views from here are nothing short of spectacular. I found myself taking a few steps at a time and then feeling the need to stop (yet again) for the “perfect” shot.
Lake Agnes herself is at the top of the hill, nestled in the Nokhu Crags. The views here are absolutely amazing and there is no shortage of photo ops. We were able to catch glimpses of backcountry skiers making clean lines down the slopes to the south of us across the lake as well. We didn’t linger here due to the windy conditions, but I can assure you that a summer trip will be an order!
While a relatively short hike, this was an exhausting one on snowshoes. The trail varies greatly with the season. In summer, it is a mere 1.6 mile hike with a 400 foot gain and in winter, it increases to a 5 mile hike with a 1000 foot gain.
I highly recommend it and will definitely do it again but, be sure you wear comfortable shoes and good socks as I think we all ended up with pretty significant blisters by the time we made it back to the parking lot. In retrospect, I could’ve left the winter boots at home and just worn my regular hiking boots given the conditions of the snow.
The State Forest State Park ranger station is very helpful and can generally give you the most up to date conditions for all of the trails in their jurisdiction. This state park has yet to disappoint me and remains one of my favorites!