Storm Lakes, Hessie Trailhead, Indian Peaks Wilderness Area, Colorado
Storm Lakes - 12.6 miles
|Round-Trip Length:||12.6 miles (distance and total elevation gain will vary by route)|
|Start-End Elevation:||9,009' - 11,965' (11,982' max elevation)|
|Elevation Change:||+2,956' net elevation gain (+3,250 total roundtrip elevation gain)|
Storm Lakes - 12.6 Miles Round-Trip
The Storm Lakes are located above Jasper Lake in the Indian Peaks Wilderness. No trail reaches the lakes, but a challenging cross-country route from Jasper's NW shore follows the inlet to its source at the lakes.
Though off-trail distance is modest, terrain is highly variable with several steep pitches and limited room to maneuver around snowfields, outcrops and thick willow patches.
This fairly narrow but exceptionally attractive valley is distinguished by numerous cascades, tarns, grassy benches and excellent views over Jasper Lake. The route is fully exposed and off-trail alpine travel can take longer than distances might indicate. Get an early start and begin your descent before storms develop:
The trail begins on a steep dirt road that meets South Fork Middle Boulder Creek at the Devils Thumb Bypass Trail split (.85 miles : 9,455'). Bear right on the Devils Thumb Bypass Trail and climb into a large meadow at the Indian Peaks Wilderness Boundary (1.35 miles : 9,625').
It moderates on a rocky path through intervals of timber, meadow and marsh to the Devils Thumb Trail - Woodland Lake Trail split (2.15 miles, 9,780').
Veer right toward Jasper Lake on a steeper grade that can be intermittently obscured by runoff and snow through mid-July.
The trail climbs steadily up the north valley wall to the Diamond Lake Trail split (3.7 miles : 10,675'), past which it undulates in a thinning forest to the first of several spurs for Jasper Lake and campsite access (4.3 miles).
The main trail continues below the lake and crosses the outlet to a spur for Campsites #5-6 (4.4 miles : 10,840'). Follow this access trail around the lake just past site #6 to Jasper's inlet on the NW side of the lake (4.8 miles : 10,860').
Turn up Jasper Creek, where a nominally-defined path runs steeply through treeline and arcs (left) around an outcrop to the base of a snowfield (5.1 miles : 11,160').
Scale the snow, scramble around / over large rock slabs and punch through willow thickets to Storm Lake at the head of Jasper Creek (5.3 miles : 11,415'). The most direct route around Storm Lake (there's no great option) runs right (counter-clockwise) along the willow-matted shore to open ponds and marsh on the NW side (5.65 miles).
From here you must scale a short but steep wall of slick rock slabs to reach moderate terrain in the upper valley (5.85 miles : 11,610'). There are many streams and cascades in this area - avoid scrambling on smooth wet rock.
Travel levels briefly across a wide bench, from which you'll negotiate a final steep pitch that crests and drops to Upper Storm Lake (6.3 miles : 11,965').
This small, deep bowl stays partially frozen / snow covered through the summer and its perimeter can be hard to decipher; keep a safe distance from lake edges.
Returning the exact way you came can be difficult due to the precise nature of scalable rock faces and paths through willow. Consider taking a higher route along the north wall, which avoids some obstacles and provides greater visibility across the route.
- N39 57.100 W105 35.696 — 2WD Parking Area for Hessie Trailhead
- N39 57.278 W105 36.192 — 0.0 miles : Hessie Trailhead
- N39 57.330 W105 36.780 — .85 miles : Devils Thumb Bypass Trail split
- N39 57.410 W105 37.301 — 1.35 miles : Indian Peaks Wilderness Boundary
- N39 57.543 W105 37.547 — 1.6 miles : Exit meadow
- N39 57.848 W105 37.935 — 2.15 miles : Woodland Lake Trail split
- N39 58.133 W105 38.434 — 2.8 miles : Turn left over small creek
- N39 58.409 W105 38.892 — 3.45 miles : Rocky climb up north valley wall
- N39 58.475 W105 39.107 — 3.7 miles : Diamond Lake Trail junction
- N39 58.488 W105 39.615 — 4.3 miles : Spur to Jasper Lake
- N39 58.491 W105 39.775 — 4.4 miles : Turn right to Campsites #5-6
- N39 58.815 W105 39.872 — 4.8 miles : Meet and turn up Jasper Creek
- N39 58.863 W105 40.076 — 5.1 miles : Base of snowfield
- N39 58.936 W105 40.236 — 5.3 miles : Storm Lake (11,415')
- N39 59.041 W105 40.339 — 5.65 miles : Ponds at far end of Storm Lake
- N39 59.111 W105 40.550 — 5.8 miles : Cross alpine bench
- N39 59.268 W105 40.741 — 6.1 miles : Base of cascade and scramble
- N39 59.268 W105 40.860 — 6.2 miles : Cross alpine bench
- N39 59.274 W105 40.936 — 6.3 miles : Upper Storm Lake (11,965')
- There are several places where steep, smooth rock slabs must be scaled. These scrambles can be difficult, especially on the descent. Avoid when wet.
Camping and Backpacking Information
- Permits are required for backcountry camping in the Indian Peaks Wilderness, June 1 - Sept. 15. Permits are limited.
- Permits are $5 per party. Contact the Sulphur Ranger District (970.887.4100) or Boulder Ranger District (303.541.2500) in advance to secure a permit.
- Permits must be picked up in person at either Ranger Station, or ordered in advance by mail. There is no online reservation system for permits.
- Permits are required year-round for day and overnight use by large groups (8+) or organizational groups such as scouts, churches, schools and hiking clubs. Group size is limited to 12 people or people+stock combined.
- Campfires are prohibited east of the Continental Divide in the Indian Peaks Wilderness (including Jasper Lake), as well as Caribou Lake, Columbine Lake, Gourd Lake, Crater Lake and in the Cascade Creek drainage above Cascade Falls on the west side of the Divide.
- Camping is permitted only at designated campsites in the Diamond, Jasper, Crater and Caribou Lakes Travel Zones.
- Camping is prohibited in the 4 Lakes Travel Zone (Mitchell, Blue, Long, Isabelle) May 1 - Nov 30.
- Camping is prohibited within 100' of lakes, streams and trails.
- Pets must be on a handheld leash at all times.
- Stock is prohibited in the Four Lakes Backcountry Zone, in the Cascade Backcountry Zone above Cascade Falls and on the Diamond Lake Trail #975.
- Fishing is permitted in the Storm Lakes, Jasper Lake, Devils Thumb Lake and Jasper Creek with a valid Colorado fishing license.
Rules and Regulations
- Dogs must be leashed at all times in the Indian Peaks Wilderness.
Directions to Trailhead
Jasper Lake and the Storm Lakes are accessed from Hessie Trailhead in the Indian Peaks Wilderness near Nederland, CO.
From downtown Nederland, head south on Highway 72 for .5 miles to County Road 130 and turn right. You'll see a sign for Eldora Ski Resort at this junction.
Continue on Highway 130 through the town of Eldora, just past which it becomes a dirt road (4 miles). 2WD drive conditions end 4.8 miles from the Highway 72 turnoff.
4WD vehicles may veer left at this demarcation and continue another .5 miles to the trailhead. Others will have to park in one of the roadside spaces and walk the 4WD road to the trailhead.
Boulder Ranger District
USDA Forest Service
2140 Yarmouth Ave.
Boulder, CO 80301
Sulphur Ranger District
9 Ten Mile Drive
P.O. Box 10
Granby, Colorado 80446