After hiking to Lincoln Lake the short way (from Mount Evans Highway) and trying a mid-length way (via the Mount Goliath Nature Center), it was time to take the "long way" to the lake via the Resthouse Trail #57 and Lincoln Lake Trail #45. For several years, the trail was blocked by trees from a "blowdown." But in the summer of 2014, a ranger told me the trail had been cleared, so we decided to go.
The hike starts at the campground just outside the Mount Evans Highway entrance station (directions below). Walk past the campground entrance on the paved road and look for a sign on your right that says trail. It's next to the bathrooms. Turn right, pass the bathrooms, walk through the trees and you'll come to a larger sign board with a map. Another hundred feet or so, you'll come to a smaller sign that simply says, "Resthouse Trail #57." That's the way to go. When you pass the box with free permits, please fill one out so the Forest Service will know how many people are using this trail.
The trail starts on a nice path through the trees. The trail is moderately steep and can take your breath away. When you need a break, stop and enjoy the forest around you. About 2/3rd's of a mile from the parking lot, you'll come to a sign at the Mount Evans Wilderness boundary. Continue hiking up the path until it comes to a saddle at the top.
After hiking about 1.15 miles (and gaining about 450 feet of elevation), the trail drops. It drops about 550 feet in elevation over the next mile. That's important because you're going to have to hike back up that on the way out. About 2.15 miles from the parking lot, hikers cross Vance Creek on a bridge, then begin hiking back up again.
This next section of the trail is a nice, moderate hike. While some sections have a decent incline, there were also flatter spots where you could catch your breath. The trail winds through the forest, but occasionally comes to a nice, open meadow.
About four miles into the hike, you may notice a lot more trees piled up off the trail. The Forest Service said the blowdown event in the winter of 2011-2012 flattened 300 to 400 acres of trees. Along the Resthouse Trail, there's still plenty of standing trees, but you can see how many other trees were knocked down.
Suddenly, at 4.5 miles, the forest opens up to a fascinating meadow where 700 acres of forest burned in the 1962 Lincoln Lake Fire. Despite the strong winds in this area, many of the trees are standing in a ghost forest. However, 50 years after the fire, the burned out trees actually make for fascinating photos and can be used to frame the nearby rocks and scenery. As you hike through this section, you'll soon see Mount Evans and the vast, incredible scenery around it. It's breathtaking. We also found more wildflowers here than along the trail in the forest.
Five miles from the trailhead, we came to a trail split. Here we turned north on to the Lincoln Lake Trail. It wasn't too much longer before the ghost/burned forest ended and we were back in the live trees. The trail gets a bit tough to follow as you get closer to the lake, but if you lose the trail, look slightly below you and north and you should see the blue lake.
The Lincoln Lake shoreline from this approach has a lot of willow trees and large rocks. It was a bit hard to get to the shoreline. I recommend finding a rock and enjoying lunch and the scenery. When you're done exploring and soaking in the scenery, return the way you came.
Details: The hike to Lincoln Lake and back, according to my GPS was about 11.1 miles roundtrip with 1,500 feet of gain on the way to the lake and another 500 on the way back for a total of about 2,000.
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Admission fee: None if you park outside the campground and the Mount Evans Highway toll booth. Note, the road is typically open from Memorial Day to September. Check www.cotrip.org for the latest information. In 2014, admission for the road was $10 or free with your National Park's pass.
Directions from the Forest Service: From I-70: Take exit 240 in Idaho Springs. Follow Highway 103 south until it meets Echo Lake. Turn on Highway 5, then take the first left and try to park as close to the campground as possible. Do not go up Mount Evans Highway for this hike. From Evergreen: Take Squaw Pass Road/Highway 103 west and travel to Echo Lake. Turn on Highway 5, then take the first left and try to park as close to the campground as possible. Do not go up Mount Evans Highway for this hike.