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Winter Hiking: Palmer Lake Reservoirs in Monument

Upper Palmer Lake Reservoir
Upper Palmer Lake Reservoir
Deb Stanley

The trail to the Palmer Lake Reservoirs is quite popular and there's a good reason -- you get to see two scenic lakes in a hike of just three miles roundtrip.

The trail is in the foothills, about 3.7 miles from I-25 (directions below). There is a trailhead with signs, but no amenities like bathrooms, maps, etc. So find a parking spot and start hiking up the trail. If you hike here in winter, traction devices are a must.

The trail starts in the trees, in a scenic canyon. While the creek will likely be frozen in the winter, the white snow with the green trees and red rocks adds to the beauty here. A short distance from the trailhead, the trail climbs steeply up to a road and a small building. This road is the service road for the reservoirs and the trail for our hike.

About a third of a mile from the trailhead, the road passes through a gate. Continue up the road until you see the dam - the first reservoir is just behind the dam. While some descriptions say it's 0.6 miles to the first reservoir, my GPS registered 0.85 miles with about 300 feet of elevation gain.

Stay on the road as it follows the shoreline of the first reservoir. As you walk, you may see ice fisherman trying their luck on the frozen lake.

As you hike between the lakes, there are several rock formations along the trail. It's about 0.6 miles from the first reservoir to the second reservoir. The second reservoir is large and we found lots of ice fishermen there. You can stop here and return for a hike of about three miles, but I recommend walking along the shoreline. At one point, the trail will bend to the right. Follow it to the end of a "finger" of the reservoir, cross over, and continue following the shoreline. We walked to the other end of the reservoir, to a meadow with a gate. The meadow, or anywhere along the shoreline, is a good spot to stop for a snack and enjoy the views.

Turning around at the gate will create a hike of about four miles roundtrip. From here, you can hike past the gate and go for several miles. You may also notice a trail on the other side of the lake. We tried that trail, but it had a lot of ups and downs and some downed trees to climb over. I don't recommend that trail. I suggest you hike back out on the trail you came in on.

Details: The hike to the first reservoir is about 1.7 miles roundtrip with 300 feet of elevation gain. The hike from the trailhead to the second reservoir is about three miles roundtrip with about 530 feet of elevation gain. You can add more distance by hiking the shoreline of the second reservoir and then continuing on the road for as far as you'd like.

In the area, don't miss Spruce Mountain, Dawson Butte and Mitchell Creek. Need more ideas? Check out this list of 200+ hikes. Don't miss any of my trip reports, sign for an email alert at the top of this page and follow me on Facebook.

Directions: From I-25, take exit 161/Monument/Palmer Lake. If you're coming from Denver, the exit bends around and sends you back north. At the first light, continue north on Highway 105 and reset your odometer. (If you're coming from the south, when you get to Highway 105, turn left. Go over the highway to the first light. Turn right and reset your odometer.) Drive through the fast food restaurants and gas stations on Highway 105 about 3.4 miles from that intersection we reset our odometers at. When you see a sign that says 30mph, look for South Valley Road and turn left. Go 0.3 miles and turn left on Old Carriage Road. Take Old Carriage Road down a hill to the trailhead.

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