King Lake, Hessie Trailhead, Indian Peaks Wilderness Area, Colorado

King Lake - 10.8 miles

Hessie Trailhead

King Lake

King Lake

Round-Trip Length: 10.8 miles
Start-End Elevation: 9,009' - 11,430' (11,430' max elevation)
Elevation Change: +2,421' net elevation gain (+2,523' total roundtrip elevation gain)
Skill Level: Moderate-Strenuous
Dogs Allowed: Yes
Bikes Allowed: No
Horses Allowed: No
Related Trails:

King Lake - 10.8 Miles Round-Trip

King Lake is located 5.4 miles from Hessie Trailhead in the Indian Peaks Wilderness. It lies just east of the Continental Divide in a deep cirque at the head of a spectacular alpine valley highlighted by a network of streams, ponds and meadows.

Trail Map | Photo Gallery

The trail continues .35 miles above King Lake to the Continental Divide, where it joins the High Lonesome Trail near Rollins Pass in the open tundra. Those with time can access Betty Lake and Bob Lake from a .5 mile spur off the main trail:

The trail begins on a steep dirt road that merges with the South Fork of Middle Boulder Creek at the King Lake - Devils Thumb Bypass Trail split (.85 miles : 9,455').

It continues beside the creek to the Lost Lake Trail split (1.1 miles : 9,582') and eases into a meadow at the King Lake - Woodland Lake Trail split (1.3 miles : 9,600').

The trail enters a mixed pine forest and climbs steadily for the better part of 2.5 miles with little variation up the south flank of Woodland Mountain. A dense forest limits views but never fully envelops the trail. The South Fork of Middle Boulder Creek is audible much of the way, but its location remains elusive through the timber.

Travel relaxes in a meadow below Guinn Mountain (3.85 miles : 10,437'), past which the creek and trail merge in a thinning forest.

The trail abruptly banks right up a steep ridge on switchbacks (4.75 miles : 10,904') that level off near treeline at the King Lake - Betty and Bob Lakes Trail split (5.0 miles : 11,108'). Cross left over the creek, which flows heavily during runoff and may obscure the way.

The trail rises quickly in a transitional alpine landscape with abundant wildflowers and rangy views back down valley. The trail is well-cut, but may be overgrown or snow-covered in places.

Anticipate an unmarked spur that veers right to a small, partially hidden lake just before reaching King Lake (5.25 miles : 11,339'); those with time should explore this attractive area.

A few minutes ahead another unmarked spur branches right (5.38 miles) - this is King Lake (5.4 miles : 11,430'). King Lake's east and north shores are level and accessible, but its west side is framed by the cirque's vertical headwall on the Continental Divide.

The trail continues above the lake to the Continental Divide and High Lonesome Trail junction (5.75 miles : 11,657'). This location provides great aerial views over King Lake and down the South Fork Middle Boulder Creek drainage.

Facebook Comments

Interactive GPS Topo Map

Key GPS Coordinates - DATUM WGS84

  • N39 57.100 W105 35.696 — 2WD Parking Area for Hessie Trailhead
  • N39 57.278 W105 36.192 — Hessie Trailhead
  • N39 57.330 W105 36.780 — .85 miles : King Lake - Devils Thumb Bypass split
  • N39 57.265 W105 37.000 — 1.1 miles : Lost Lake Trail split
  • N39 57.251 W105 37.193 — 1.3 miles : King Lake - Woodland Lake Trail split
  • N39 56.962 W105 38.698 — 2.75 miles : Travel up-valley in dense forest
  • N39 56.839 W105 39.435 — 3.45 miles : Travel continues up-valley in dense forest
  • N39 56.719 W105 40.228 — 4.2 miles : Trail closely follows creek
  • N39 56.608 W105 40.753 — 4.75 miles : Begin switchbacks up steep ridge
  • N39 56.599 W105 40.902 — 5.0 miles : King Lake - Betty and Bob Lakes split
  • N39 56.583 W105 41.124 — 5.25 miles : Unmarked spur to pond
  • N39 56.477 W105 41.169 — 5.4 miles : King Lake
  • N39 56.314 W105 41.175 — 5.65 miles : Trail continues to High Lonesome Trail
  • N39 56.260 W105 41.236 — 5.75 miles : King Lake Trail - High Lonesome Trail junc.

Worth Noting

  • The King Lake Trail's upper reaches remain snow-covered and muddy well into summer; be patient with route finding and help minimize erosion by staying on the trail.

  • The High Lonesome Trail can be traveled a short distance north to the Devil's Thumb Trail. You can take this back to the Hessie Trailhead for an exhilarating 14.75 mile loop.

  • This is a heavily used trail artery and popular destination. Get an early start to secure parking and avoid crowds.

  • Storms can organize quickly over the Continental Divide. Monitor skies closely and get below treeline before storms develop.

Camping and Backpacking Information

  • Permits are required for all overnight campers June 1 - September 15.

  • 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 and packstock combined.

  • There are no designated sites in this travel zone - dispersed camping only. Camp at least 100' away from lakes, streams and trails. Camp in previously used sites whenever possible to minimize impact.

  • Campfires are prohibited east side of the Continental Divide, as well as Caribou Lake, Columbine Lake, Gourd Lake, Crater Lake and in the Cascade Creek drainage above Cascade Falls.

  • Pets must be on a handheld leash at all times.

  • Packstock is prohibited in the Four Lakes Backcountry Zone, in the Cascade Backcountry Zone above Cascade Falls and on the Diamond Lake Trail #975.

Directions to Trailhead

King Lake is accessed from the Hessie Trailhead in the Indian Peaks Wilderness near Nederland, Colorado.

From downtown Nederland, go south on Highway 72 for .5 miles to County Road 130 and make a right. You will 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 at one of the limited roadside spaces and walk the 4WD road to the Hessie Trailhead.

Contact Information

Boulder Ranger District
2140 Yarmouth Avenue
Boulder, CO 80301

Trip Reports

There are no trip reports on this trail.


"June 23, 2018 Trip Report: Absolute beautiful weather for this hike. Trail to King Lake is easy to moderate in my opinion. Depends on your fitness level I guess. There was no snow left on the ground until right around 3 miles in from the King Lake trail split off (or 4 miles from trailhead), and then only small patches here and there. The snow was of no consequence once I did encounter it, so no trouble getting to King Lake. Once at the lake, there was a small amount of ice still on the lake. The trail up was wet and soggy in some places, as to be expected this time of year, so if you are worried about getting your hiking boots muddy, stay home! I went on from King Lake and did the loop over and down via the Continental Divide/High Lonesome Trail to Devil’s Thumb Lake. I’ll write about that over on the loop trail link. Get outside in nature and feed the soul! "
Ann Marie  -  Superior, CO  -  Date Posted: June 24, 2018
"I went to King Lake this weekend and totally agree with the latest Bob and Betty trip report. Lots of snow but pretty easy to travel on. Just be ready for it and expect things to take longer. In some ways the snow helped because you could just cruise over parts that would normally be very rugged or brushy. "
Cam Pryor  -  Lousiville  -  Date Posted: June 12, 2017
"I'm interested in doing this hike next week. Any cautions I need to look out for? Thanks!"
Stephanie  -  Fort Collins  -  Date Posted: November 4, 2016
"It's unlikely that King Lake is accessible without snowshoes. That's not to say you couldn't make it, but we'd expect a lot of post-holing and deep drifts. The snow line has been consistently deep around 10,800'. With few tracks to follow, it can be pretty challenging (based on recent trips to Jasper Lake, Devils Thumb Lake and Lake Isabelle). Let us know what you find - thanks! "
ProTrails Admin  -   -  Date Posted: November 8, 2013
"Anyone know if King Lake is accessible without snowshoes? Thanks! Amy in Boulder"
Amy  -  Boulder  -  Date Posted: November 7, 2013
"Check out their photo galley for more great pics of the surrounding King Lake area: -Peter"
 -   -  Date Posted: April 8, 2012
"This is one of the most beautiful areas ever. Breathtaking views. The picture above does not do this area justice."
Emily Miller  -  Parker, CO  -  Date Posted: April 6, 2012


Add Comment

Only used to identify you to ProTrails. Will not show on comments list.
Tell us when your experience with this trail happened.