Hutcheson Lakes, Wild Basin - Finch Lake Trailhead, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado
Hutcheson Lakes - 16.4 miles
Wild Basin - Finch Lake Trailhead
|Round-Trip Length:||16.4 miles (distance and elevation gains will vary by route)|
|Start-End Elevation:||8,470' - 11,175' (11,225' max elevation)|
|Elevation Change:||+2,705' net elevation gain (+3,650' total roundtrip elevation gain)|
Hutcheson Lakes - 16.4 Miles Round-Trip
The Hutcheson Lakes are located along Cony Creek in the Wild Basin Area of Rocky Mountain National Park. This trio of alpine lakes is spread across a high-walled valley framed by Copeland Mountain (north), Ogalalla Peak (west) and Elk Tooth (south).
Maintained trails no longer reach the lakes, but a challenging route from Pear Lake follows social and disused trails to Lower Hutcheson Lake, where cross-country travel continues through treeline to the upper lakes and their source at Cony Lake.
The Hutcheson Lakes are teeming with trout and anglers will find terrific opportunities, especially in the lower lake. (The Hutcheson Lakes are part of the native greenback restoration program, and fish must be returned to the water immediately.)
The approximate distance from Pear Lake to Upper Hutcheson Lake is two miles, and individual routes will vary.
Note the Hutcheson Lakes are located in an adjacent valley and navigation between the two can be difficult through dense and disorienting timber. The 'trailed' portion is hard to follow, especially between drainages.
Older maps depicting the route are helpful to a point, but of limited use where nature has reclaimed the trail and on-foot decisions must be made. Good navigation skills are necessary. Only experienced hikers should attempt the Hutcheson Lakes.
Off-trail alpine travel can take more time than distances might indicate, particularly to-from the upper lake. High valley walls block your view of incoming weather; expect afternoon storms and manage time accordingly:
The Finch Lake Trail climbs 470' in .8 miles to a hairpin turn and bends SW across grassy aspen - ponderosa slopes.
It rises steadily past connections for Allenspark Trailhead-access (1.35 miles : 8,974') and Calypso Falls (2.3 miles : 9,520') into a blowdown clearing (2.55 miles : 9,740').
The trail re-enters a dense spruce-fir forest, crests (3.85 miles : 10,069') and drops on a winding path to Finch Lake (4.25 miles : 9,912').
It wraps along the north shore to a bridge over Cony Creek (4.55 miles : 9,905') and climbs steadily in a moss-draped forest to a bridge over Pear Creek (6.0 miles : 10,430').
The forest opens here with upper valley views on the final approach to Pear Lake (6.3 miles : 10,582'). The trail crests just before dropping to Pear Lake where you'll see a fishing regs sign and spur off to the left - the beginning of the Hutcheson route.
Distances cited from this point are approximate. You'll likely lose the trail and have to improvise through the forest to reach key navigational benchmarks.
Veer left and follow this steep, winding path into the woods over Pear Lake. It shifts with decreasing clarity up to a pond (6.6 miles : 10,670' | GPS Point #13); head clockwise around this pond to intercept a fairly clear trail and cairn (6.8 miles : 10,720').
The trail arcs steeply up the north side of a smaller pond (7.0 miles) to a wooded flat - this is the ridge between drainages (7.1 miles : 10,880') and where you'll see Lower Hutcheson Lake through the trees.
A clear path drops to a meadow along the inlet of Lower Hutcheson Lake (7.2 miles : 10,852'). The LHL vicinity offers the best camping terrain in the valley.
The trail rises away from LHL to a small meadow (7.3 miles : 10,900') and levels through a band of trees into a large meadow at a big opening in the valley. It gradually fades here and intuitive, un-marked alpine travel continues along the north valley wall.
Though navigation is generally easy from this point, terrain is highly variable and options are sometimes limited.
You can make an early decision to go high and avoid most obstacles; if not you'll invariably be funneled through a series of short scrambles, thick krummholz patches and rocky terrain. The middle of the valley (through which the creek runs) is generally impassable.
Middle Hutcheson Lake is in clear view below but it's small and difficult to reach. Travel up the north valley wall moderates over Upper Hutcheson Lake and its large outlet pool.
It's ringed by willow, talus, krummholz and marsh, and you'll have to navigate some combination of them down to Upper Hutcheson Lake (8.2 miles : 11,175'). Once there you'll find plenty of level space to explore and fish.
Cony Lake (11,512') is approximately .65 miles from this point on a straight line, but terrain is similarly challenging and reaching it takes time. Consider crossing UHL's outlet and heading up the south shore to reach Cony Lake.
- N40 12.507 W105 33.660 — 0.0 miles : Finch Lake Trailhead
- N40 12.424 W105 32.841 — .8 miles : Hairpin turn west - trail levels
- N40 12.128 W105 33.340 — 1.4 miles : Allenspark Trailhead access split
- N40 11.973 W105 34.227 — 2.35 miles : Calypso Falls Trail split
- N40 11.560 W105 34.683 — 3.0 miles : Undulating travel in montane forest
- N40 11.035 W105 35.291 — 3.95 miles : Sharp right turn downhill
- N40 11.051 W105 35.541 — 4.35 miles : Finch Lake - access on east shore
- N40 11.009 W105 35.762 — 4.5 miles : Cross Cony Creek on footbridge
- N40 10.712 W105 36.538 — 5.4 miles : Pass first of two brackish ponds
- N40 10.638 W105 37.126 — 5.95 miles : Cross Pear Creek on footbridge
- N40 10.601 W105 37.412 — 6.3 miles : Pear Lake - social trail split
- N40 10.481 W105 37.591 — 6.6 miles : Cross-country + social trail
- N40 10.440 W105 37.606 — 6.7 miles : Pond over Pear Lake
- N40 10.391 W105 37.726 — 6.9 miles : Cairn along trail
- N40 10.321 W105 37.890 — 7.1 miles : Wrap around pond up to ridge
- N40 10.256 W105 37.920 — 7.2 miles : Ridge over lower Hutcheson Lake
- N40 10.217 W105 37.986 — 7.3 miles : Lower Hutcheson Lake inlet
- N40 10.267 W105 38.084 — 7.4 miles : Transition from small to big meadow
- N40 10.225 W105 38.278 — 7.65 miles : Rock and willow slot
- N40 10.228 W105 38.346 — 7.75 miles : Valley opens over treeline
- N40 10.308 W105 38.487 — 7.9 miles : Cairn along route
- N40 10.401 W105 38.767 — 8.2 miles : Upper Hutcheson Lake
- Off-trail alpine travel can take more time than distances might indicate. Allow plenty of time to get below treeline before storms develop.
Camping and Backpacking Information
Backcountry Camping in Rocky Mountain National Park
- A permit is required for all backcountry camping in Rocky Mountain National Park. Permits may be obtained from the Beaver Meadows Visitors Center Backcountry Office, or the Kawuneeche Visitor Center at Grand Lake. Day-of-trip permits may be obtained in-person, year round.
- There's a $26 fee to backcountry camp in Rocky Mountain National Park (May 1 - October 31). This administrative fee covers each party (defined as an individual or group) for the duration of the trip. Note that park entrance fees are applied separately and in full.
Backcountry Campsites in the Wild Basin Area
Fires are not permitted within Rocky Mountain National Park. Camp safely away from dead trees, as close as possible to the silver metal arrowhead posted at each site. Red arrowheads on trees provide additional guidance to each campsite from the main trail:
Pine Ridge Backcountry Campsite
- The Pine Ridge site is located 1.4 miles from Wild Basin Trailhead at 8,880'. There are 2individual sites and a privy. 2 backcountry sites are located in a lodgepole forest north of the trail, just east of the bridge across North St. Vrain Creek. A food storage cable is about 8 steps past the spur to site #1. It's in a small clearing to the left and runs perpendicular to the trail. Obtain water from North St. Vrain Creek.
Tohosa Backcountry Campsite
- The Tohosa site is located 1.7 miles from Wild Basin Trailhead at 9,040'. There is 1 individual site and no privy. The site is located .3 miles up the unimproved, backcountry campsite access trail in a lodgepole stand at the edge of a small rocky bluff. Obtain water from North St. Vrain Creek, approx. 160 yards downhill from the site.
Aspen Knoll Backcountry Campsite
- The Aspen Knoll site is located 2.3 miles from Wild Basin Trailhead at 9,400'. There is 1 individual site and no privy. The site is located along the unimproved, backcountry campsite access trail in a mixed aspen-spruce-lodgepole forest. Obtain water from North St. Vrain Creek, approximately 200 yards downhill from the site.
Siskin Backcountry Campsite
- The Siskin site is located 3.2 miles from Wild Basin Trailhead at 9,460'. There is 1 individual site and no privy. The site is located along the unimproved, backcountry campsite access trail in a lodgepole stand. Obtain water from North St. Vrain Creek, approx. 135 yards downhill from the site.
North St Vrain Backcountry Campsite
- The North St Vrain site is located 3.5 miles from Wild Basin Trailhead at 9,560'. There are 2 individual sites and a privy. The sites are located along the unimproved, backcountry campsite access trail, right near where it rejoins the main trail. A food storage cable is located 20 steps up the access trail in a small clearing on the left, and parallel to the trail. The sites lie in a thick lodgepole stand on the north side of the trail, just after it crosses North St. Vrain Creek. Obtain water from North St. Vrain Creek.
Finch Lake Backcountry Campsite
- The Finch Lake site is located 4.6 miles from Finch Lake Trailhead, or 5.3 miles from Wild Basin Trailhead at 9,912'. There are 2 individual sites, 1 group site, and a privy. A food storage cable is located 15 steps from the north corner of the hitchrack in a clearing between it and a large boulder. The sites are located in a mixed pine-spruce-fir forest on the north shore of Finch Lake. Obtain water from Finch Lake or outlet.
Pear Creek Backcountry Campsite
- The Pear Creek site is located 6.4 miles from Finch Lake Trailhead, or 7.1 miles from Wild Basin Trailhead at 10,550'. There are 3 individual sites and no privy. The campsites at Pear Creek are located .25 miles below Pear Lake. The sites are on the south (left) side of the trail after it crosses the Pear Creek in a heavily timbered area. Campsites at Pear Creek offer somewhat more weather protection than those at Pear Lake. Obtain water from Pear Creek.
Pear Lake Backcountry Campsite
- The Pear Lake site (10,582') is located 6.3 miles from Finch Lake Trailhead, or 7.0 miles from Wild Basin Trailhead. There is 1 individual site and no privy. The site is located just below treeline at the base of Copeland Mountain in a spruce- fir forest. Cross Pear Creek on a plank to reach the site on the north side of the lake. Obtain water from Pear Lake or its outlet.
- Wood signs mark backcountry campsite access spurs, which may also be marked by red arrowheads on trees. Pitch tents as close to the indicated site as possible, safely away from standing dead trees. Boil or adequately treat all water. Stoves only. Fires are prohibited.
A valid Colorado fishing license is required for all persons 16 years of age or older to fish in Rocky Mountain National Park. No other permit is necessary; however, special regulations exist. It's your responsibility to know and obey them.
Due to the dynamic nature of fisheries management, fishing regulations can change at anytime. Special closures may be put in place above and beyond what is listed here. Contact the park before heading out for current information.
Cony Creek, Cony Lake, The Hutcheson Lakes, Pear Lake, Finch Lake and related tributaries are part of the native greenback cutthroat trout restoration effort in Rocky Mountain National Park. Catch and release fishing only in these waters.
- Use barbless hooks only. Any and all fish species taken must be immediately returned to the water unharmed. No bait is permitted by any age angler in catch-and-release areas.
- Method of Capture: Each person shall use only one hand-held rod or line. A 'second rod stamp' is not honored in park waters. Only artificial lures or flies with one (single, double, or treble) hook with a common shank may be used. "Artificial flies or lures" means devices made entirely of, or a combination of, materials such as wood, plastic, glass, hair, metal, feathers, or fiber, designed to attract fish. This does not include: (a) any hand malleable material designed to attract fish by the sense of taste or smell; (b) any device to which scents or smell attractants have been externally applied; (c) molded plastic devices less than one and one-half inch in length; (d) foods; (e) traditional organic baits such as worms, grubs, crickets, leeches, minnows, and fish eggs; and (f) manufactured baits such as imitation fish eggs, dough baits, or stink baits. Fly fishers may utilize a two hook system, where one hook is used as an attractant.
- While in possession of any fishing equipment, bait for fishing (insects, fish eggs, minnows, or other organic matter) or worms is prohibited. Children 12 years of age or under, however, may use worms or preserved fish eggs in all park waters open to fishing except those designated as catch-and release areas.
- No bait or worms are allowed in catch-and-release waters.
- Use of lead sinkers (or other lead fishing materials) is strongly discouraged.
Rules and Regulations
- A $20 Day Use Fee is required to enter Rocky Mountain National Park (or $30 for a 7 Day Pass).
- Dogs are not permitted on hiking trails in Rocky Mountain National Park.
- Catch and release fishing only in Cony Creek, Cony Lake, The Hutcheson Lakes, Pear Lake, Finch Lake and all related tributaries.
Directions to Trailhead
The Finch Lake Trailhead is located 2.2 miles west of the turnoff from Highway 7 between the towns of Allenspark and Estes Park.
From Estes Park, Colorado, head south for 11 miles on Highway 7 to the Wild Basin Trailhead on your right hand side. Turn right on the dirt road to the entrance station .15 miles ahead. The Finch Lake Trailhead is located 1.7 miles from the entrance station on the left-hand side of the road.
From Boulder, take 36 north for 14 miles to the town of Lyons. Remain on 36 to the Highway 7 intersection. Turn left onto Highway 7 heading towards Allenspark. Remain on Highway 7 and look for the Wild Basin Trailhead entrance on the left.
Turn left on the dirt road to the entrance station .15 miles ahead. The Finch Lake Trailhead is located 1.8 miles from the entrance station on the left side of the road.
Rocky Mountain National Park