I love exploring the Mount Evans Wilderness because there's almost always more than one way to get to a destination -- you can often hike from the west side via Guanella Pass, the east side via Eacho Lake, sometimes you can start on the Mount Evans highway and hike down, or you can start at a lower trailhead and hike up.
Lincoln Lake is one of those destinations. You can take the long way via the Resthouse Meadows Trail, you can go the really long way via Abyss Lake or Beartracks Lake, there's a short cut via the Mount Evans Highway or you can make your own trail.
Since I didn't want to hike a long way and taking the road seemed like cheating, I decided to take the middle route for this hike. MountEvans.com said hikers could follow a "very obscure trail" from the Mount Goliath Natural Area for a three mile trek to the lake. That sounded perfect.
We started at the Mount Goliath Nature Center where five rangers were talking. Not one of them knew about a trail from there to Lincoln Lake. They all knew how to get there from Echo Lake, but not one knew how to get there from the Nature Center. The trail isn't on the map either. We decided to be adventurous and see what we could fine.
The directions from MountEvans.com said the trail "follows timberline south to the lake. In general, follow timberline for about 3 miles to Lincoln Lake."
We started on the trail behind the Nature Center in the trees. To get to treeline, we knew we needed to go up. So at the first trail split, we turned right on the M. Walter Pesman Trail. The trail winds through the bristlecone pine trees. These twisty trees are tough. They seem to survive and keep growing despite strong winds and a very short growing season.
As the trees got thinner and we started to spot the Mount Evans Highway above us, we thought we might be getting too high. We decided it was time to leave the trail and follow treeline. Because none of us wanted to lose the elevation we just gained, we tried to find a happy medium as he headed south, we tried to stay somewhat high on the hill, but follow treeline as we went around the ridges here. Remember, there's no trail here -- you're hiking over tundra, rocks and downed trees. Because the terrain is steep here and you're going across it, that means your feet will be at an angle and not flat, so you'll want good boots with ankle protection.
If you like rocks, the ridges here are really cool with rock formations that make for great photographs. We went around/over several ridges, then suddenly came to a grove of ghost trees. Trees killed in a wildfire that remain standing in the difficult conditions up here. Hike through the trees, continuing over the ridge until suddenly you see it, Lincoln Lake, sitting in a bowl below the highway. This crystal blue lake is wonderful to see. To get to the lake, you'll have to hike through the burn zone, then through an unburned section of forest, dropping in elevation. Once you're there, you can sit on a rock above the lake, or walk down the shoreline and explore some more.
When you're ready to head back, you have two options. You can follow treeline back to bristlecone pine forest and the Mt Goliath Nature Center or, if you don't mind a little more elevation, hike back through the ghost tree forest and turn left. Hike up the ridge to the Mount Evans Highway. You'll need to watch for traffic on the road, but we enjoyed being on flat, paved ground after all the off-trail hiking.
Don't take the Mount Evans Highway all the way to your vehicle. Look for a small parking lot on your right and the M. Walter Pesman Trail. Remember that trail you took up from the Nature Center? It ends at Mount Evans Highway. Take that trail back downhill, back through the forest, to the Nature Center and your vehicle.
Details: The hike via the Pesman Trail, following above treeline, over the ridges to the lake, up the ridge to the Highway and back down the Pesman Trail is about six miles with about 1,000 feet of elevation gain, depending on how far up or down you go and how much exploring you do.
Off-trail hiking: You will want good boots, and possibly trekking poles, when hiking off-trail. Please tell someone where you are going and make sure you stick to that route. And if you have a group of people, do not walk single file, that creates a trail. Experts say you should spread out. I highly recommend AVOIDING this route and taking the short cut or the long way. This "middle" distance route is just too dangerous.
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Admission fee: $10 in 2014 or use your federal National Park's pass to drive the road for free. Note, the road is typically open from Memorial Day to September. Check www.cotrip.org for the latest information.
Directions from the Forest Service: From I-70: Take exit 240 in Idaho Springs. Follow Highway 103 south until it meets Echo Lake. Take Highway 5 to the Mount Goliath Nature Center. From Evergreen: Take Squaw Pass Road/Highway 103 west and travel to Echo Lake. Take Highway 5 to the Mount Goliath Nature Center.