If you like lakes and can hike 17 miles roundtrip, then don't miss Cony Lake on the far southside of Rocky Mountain National Park. Cony Lake lies below the Continental Divide, just north of the ridge that separates Rocky Mountain National Park from the Indian Peaks Wilderness.
I recommend starting your hike at the Allenspark trailhead (directions below). Parking there is free and the hike is about 0.8 miles shorter each way and there's less elevation gain than parking at the Finch Lake trailhead in Rocky Mountain National Park.
The hike starts on a wide trail in the forest. For the most part, the trail has a slight uphill grade for the first two miles. However, occasionally you'll come to a steep section. At one point, there's even a series of stairs on the trail, so it's not easy. Watch the signs at the first trail split, make sure you go the right way.
You'll know you're coming to the second trail split when the trail starts losing elevation. At this trail split, hikers for Calypso Cascades and Ouzel Falls go straight. Hikers going to Finch and Pear Lakes turn left. I do recommend walking a few steps past the sign for a view of the Wild Basin area of the Continental Divide. You're going to the valley between the two peaks on the far left.
Now, take the trail toward Finch and Pear lakes. From here the trail climbs about 0.2 of a mile through the forest to the remnants of a burn area. A lighting-sparked fire in 1978 (the Ouzel fire) burned more than 1,000 acres. Some of the trees have blown down over the years, others are still standing. Mixed in with the dead trees are hundreds of new trees. The trail winds through the burn area for about 1/3 of a mile.
At about 3.3 miles from the trailhead, the trail crosses a creek on a single log bridge. Not far after that, the trail begins to drop. This section of trail was rerouted, likely between 2012 and 2013. The downhill section is now longer and not quite as steep. (But trust me, it'll feel steep on the way out.)
The trail drops about 150 feet. A minute or two after it levels out, you'll come to a sign directing you to turn right for the campsites and Pear Lake. At this spot look ahead, you've arrived at Finch Lake.
Finch Lake is about 4 miles from the Allenspark Trailhead and a beautiful destination in itself. The trail stops at the shoreline, but walk to your left through the marshy area to take a photo of the lake with Mount Copeland and other nearby peaks in the background. Mount Copeland is the big bulky mountain that sits at 13,176 feet between the Cony and Ouzel Creek drainages.
After taking pictures, return to the trail and follow the arrow to Pear Lake. The trail takes hikers around Finch Lake for about a 1/4 mile passing several campsites and a privy. From here it's two miles to Pear Lake. While hikers gain about 600 feet of elevation in those 2 miles, the hike and the lake are well worth it.
Pear Lake sits at the base of Mount Copeland at 10,582 feet. It's a breath taking place with dark blue water and mountain views. Take pictures from the trail, at the outlet and then walk along the shoreline to take photos from different angle.
Look closely at some of the larger rocks along the shoreline, maybe two feet up on the rocks, for what's called the "bathtub ring" or water line. Pear Lake was once a reservoir. Four lakes were dammed as reservoirs before the Rocky Mountain National Park was established in 1915 -- Lawn Lake, Sandbeach, Bluebird and Pear. The Montana Water Center says when the Lawn Lake Dam failed in 1982, the other three dams were inspected. All were leaking and/or severely deteriorated. In 1987, Rocky Mountain National Park purchased the easement for the three dams and planning for dam decommissioning began.
After taking photos at Pear Lake, backtrack a bit to the hitchrack before the lake. You should see a fishing information sign here and a faint trail. Take that trail into the meadow, then into the forest. This is the trail to Hutchinson Lakes.
In the forest, the single-track trail goes up and down. The forest is so thick, you'll only see glimpses of Pear Lake below, if at all. There are lots of downed trees in this area. Fortunately, enough hikers have come through this area, that there is a faint trail around most of the downed trees. If you lose the trail in the trees, just look a few steps ahead and you should find it again. If you're not good at route finding, I highly suggest doing this hike in the late summer after lots of other people have worn a path.
At one spot, you'll come out of the trees to what almost looks like an unmarked trail split. We saw trails going south or west. Go west (right) here. It's just a short distance from here to an unnamed pond.
After the pond, there's a steep climb back into the forest. Keep following the faint trail west as it winds through the trees, until you suddenly see a large lake on your left.
Lower Hutchinson Lake is about 0.85 miles and 250 feet above Pear Lake. You can walk through the marshy area to the shoreline. I highly recommend walking slightly east at the lake, into the trees, to get a shot of the lake with the Continental Divide.
After a photo stop at the lake, return to the trail you were on and continue west. You'll notice threes start getting thinner as you approach treeline. You'll pass a nice cascade (the inlet stream to the lower lake) as you hike to Middle Hutchinson Lake.
The middle lake is just a third of a mile from the lower lake, but the trail begins to get faint at times. The best advice? If you lose the trail, look a few steps ahead and see if you can spot it. If not, just keep going up the valley. Lisa Foster's hiking book on Rocky Mountain National Park says some people may miss the middle lake. We had no problem finding it, but it was on the other side of a rocky outcropping. If you don't see it on the way up, you'll definitely see it on the way down. By the way, the lower lake is not just one lake, it's two.
One note about this area, expect it to be windy. Look closely at the trees in the area, you'll notice many of them have given up on growing limbs on the west side. The wind is so strong, the tree branches and the pine cones are all on one side of the trees.
From Middle Hutchinson Lake (lakes) expect to lose the trail. We finally gave up. Just keep going up the valley trying to avoid the marshy areas and the short, stumpy, thick tree patches. On the way up, we went a bit too far to the right and ended up doing some climbing. On the way back, we followed the shoreline and ended up boulder hopping and trying not to get out feet wet.
About a half mile or less from the middle lakes, you should see Upper Hutchinson Lake. (It's a little further to get to the shore.) Once again, there's not just one lake, there's two. And this spot is definitely breath taking. The cirque here with the glacier cut mountains and the beautiful lakes is just incredible. Take some photos and route find your way around the west end of the lakes. You'll be rock hopping here as you cross the stream and climb the rocks over the inlet to the upper lakes.
Now the trek gets challenging. You'll be climbing up a chute of rocks and grass. Eventually, the chute is all rocks, the boulder, then large boulders. Be careful, the rocks will move and it's easy to twist an ankle, especially if you're tired. At the top of the boulder field, you'll come out to a fairly flat area, but there's no lake yet. You'll need to continue west over the tundra and around the stunted trees a short distance to find Cony Lake in the middle of the valley.
I can not rave enough about the amazing scenery here. Enjoy!
If you're looking for more great hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park and Colorado, check out this list.
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Details: The hike to Pear Lake, the 5 Hutchinson lakes, Cony Lake and back is about 17 miles roundtrip with about 2500 feet of elevation gain.
Directions: From Denver/Boulder, take U.S. 36 to the town of Lyons, turn left on Highway 7. Watch the speed limit signs in Lyons. At the Y intersection in Lyons, turn left on Highway 7 toward Allens Park. About 18.5 miles turn left on Business Route 7/Allens Park. (Don't take the first Business Route 7 into Ferncliffe.) 0.1 of a mile, turn right on County Road 90 (just before the post office). Travel 1.5 miles to a fork in the road. (There are several, but stay on the main road) At 1.5 miles, take the right fork, travel 0.1 of a mile to the trailhead on your right. There is a sign that says "Allenspark Trailhead."