Mirror Lake, Lower Cataract Lake - Surprise Trailhead, Summit County - Eagle County - Clear Creek County, Colorado
Mirror Lake - 14.05 Miles
Lower Cataract Lake - Surprise Trailhead
|Round-Trip Length:||14.05 Miles|
|Start-End Elevation:||8,605' - 10,559' (10,890' max elevation)|
|Elevation Change:||+1,954' net elevation gain (+3,308' total roundtrip elevation gain)|
The Surprise Trailhead is located 25 miles northwest of Silverthorne, CO in the Eagles Nest Wilderness Area. It provides access to a string of subalpine lakes of varying distance and difficulty, all sought for their backcountry camping, fishing and solitude.
Mirror Lake is arguably the most challenging of the group, located 1.65 miles past the split for Upper Cataract Lake in a rugged landscape.
Visitors will enjoy access to numerous lakes and rewarding scenery on the hike to Mirror Lake:
The Surprise Trail rises steadily through aspen-studded hillsides on a S-SE heading to the Eagles Nest Wilderness Boundary (.27 miles : 8,725'). Wildflowers are brilliant on this initial stretch, but note that you'll encounter some of the hike's steepest sections on the first two miles.
The trail passes through a large aspen grove (.8 miles) to a stream on a makeshift bridge (1.0 mile : 9,135'); once over it steepens beside a long, slender meadow into a predominantly spruce-fir forest.
Though badly affected by beetle kill, deadfall has cleared space for new growth and verdant ground cover.
A steady, steep climb continues over a second creek (2.4 miles : 9,905') and eases to the Gore Range Trail split (2.7 miles : 9,953').
Follow signs to Surprise Lake (2.9 miles : 10,044'). Surprise Lake is partially concealed by thick forest and marshy bands between the trail and north shore. Dora Mountain (12,292') reflects in this small, lily covered lake.
The trail keeps west to the Upper Cataract Trail split and veers SW into a markedly healthier forest on the hike's most pleasant stretch (3.45 miles : 10,387').
The trail rises gently and shifts frequently to its highest point (5.0 miles : 10,890'), then drops abruptly to an expansive talus field at the base of Eagles Nest Peak (5.15 miles : 10,825').
The trail twists around the talus field with great views of Cat Lake down to the Upper Cataract Lake split (5.35 miles : 10,725'). A short spur leads to the northeast shore of Upper Cataract Lake (10,744'), a highly recommended detour.
The trail continues over Upper Cataract's outlet, a tricky crossing with a vague pickup on the other side. The Cat Lake spur is located just ahead (5.45 miles : 10,615'), a more demanding and less compelling side trip. Here the trail tilts downhill and undulates on a frequently obstructed path to a poorly marked switchback down a rock ledge (6.35 miles : 10,712'). Maintain navigational vigilance and recollection over rock slabs leading to and past this mark.
The trail drops through a cluttered but pretty forest to Upper Cataract Creek, voluminous body that requires careful fording (6.85 miles : 10,528'). The pickup is once again vague on the far side, however the creek - which is Mirror Lake's outlet - provides intuitive guidance in the event you lose track.
The trail moderates to the northeast shore of Mirror Lake (7.02 miles : 10,559'). Its south shore is hemmed tightly by the steep northwest flank of Eagles Nest Peak (13,091'), but its long, contoured north shore is fairly easy to explore. Those with time and good navigational skills will find a string of four small lakes just northwest of Mirror Lake.
GPS Coordinates - DATUM WGS84View these GPS points on a Google Map
- N39 50.215 W106 18.652 — 0.0 miles : Surprise Trailhead
- N39 49.967 W106 18.426 — .5 miles : Steady climb thru aspen and spruce-fir
- N39 49.716 W106 18.207 — 1.0 miles : Cross creek and climb beside meadow
- N39 49.409 W106 18.444 — 1.5 miles : Steep climb on intermittently rough trail
- N39 49.066 W106 18.189 — 2.0 miles : Steady, steep climb continues
- N39 48.573 W106 17.993 — 2.7 miles : Gore Range Trail junction
- N39 48.540 W106 18.164 — 2.9 miles : Surprise Lake
- N39 48.557 W106 18.722 — 3.45 miles : Upper Cataract Trail split
- N39 48.339 W106 19.128 — 4.0 miles : Mild grades in healthy, tranquil forest
- N39 48.168 W106 19.501 — 4.5 miles : Shifting course on SW heading
- N39 47.821 W106 19.920 — 5.15 miles : Edge of expansive talus field
- N39 47.775 W106 19.988 — 5.35 miles : Upper Cataract Lake Trail split
- N39 47.773 W106 20.040 — 5.45 miles : Cat Lake Trail split
- N39 47.836 W106 20.471 — 5.85 miles : Undulating descent obstructed by deadfall
- N39 47.694 W106 20.808 — 6.35 miles : Tricky switchback down rock ledge
- N39 47.528 W106 21.143 — 6.85 miles : Cross Cataract Creek
- N39 47.437 W106 21.278 — 7.02 miles : Mirror Lake
- If disinclined to ford Cataract Creek, you may alternatively follow social trails beside it up to a log jam where it spills from Mirror Lake. This may or may not be easier/safer, depending on water volume and snow coverage.
- Those attempting Mirror Lake as a day hike should allow extra time for nearly 500' of climbing and areas of exposed travel on the return. Backpackers should anticipate uneven travel beyond Upper Cataract Lake. Hiking poles and a good map are recommended.
- Meridian Peak (12,426') and Elliott Ridge frame Mirror Lake to the west.
Camping and Backpacking Information
- Dispersed backcountry camping is permitted in the Eagles Nest Wilderness Area, including Surprise Lake, Upper Cataract Lake, Cat Lake, Mirror Lake, and Tipperary Lake. No permit is necessary. Group size is limited to 15 individuals.
- Due to heavy use and beetle kill-induced deadfall, campfires are strictly prohibited at Surprise Lake, Upper Cataract Lake, Cat Lake, Mirror Lake, and Tipperary Lake.
- Campfires are otherwise permitted for dispersed camping in the backcountry, with potential seasonal restrictions. Campfires are not permitted above or within .25 miles (440 yards) of treeline, or within 100' of any lake or stream in the Eagles Nest Wilderness Area.
- Camping is permitted only within designated campsites at the Cataract Lake Campground. Dispersed-Backcountry camping is not permitted in the Lower Cataract Lake vicinity.
- Contact the Dillon Ranger District (970.468.5400) for the latest on weather, trail conditions and trail-specific usage guidelines when planning your trip. The office is open M - F from 8am - 4pm.
- Fishing is permitted with a valid Colorado fishing license on all lakes and streams within the Eagles Nest Wilderness Area unless otherwise posted.
Rules and Regulations
- There is a $5 fee for use of trails and recreation areas at the Surprise Trailhead. The fee is good for 5 consecutive days. Exact cash or check only. Follow instructions at the self-service pay station.
- Dogs are permitted on trails leading to Mirror Lake, and within the Eagles Nest Wilderness Area. Dogs must be leashed at all times, on a leash no longer than 6'.
- Horses are permitted on trails leading to Mirror Lake. Hay and straw are prohibited. Pelletized feed and rolled grains only.
- Bikes and motorized vehicles are not permitted on the these trails. There's a $525 minimum fine for bike violations.
The Surprise Trailhead is located 25 miles from Silverthorne, CO within the Eagles Nest Wilderness Area and Dillon Ranger District of the White River National Forest.
From I-70, exit #205 at Silverthorne and head north on HWY 9 for 17.0 miles to County Road 30. Turn west on County Road 30 (a maintained dirt road) and travel 5.6 miles to Cataract Road and bear left. Continue 2.4 miles on Cataract Road past the Cataract Lake Campground and Eaglesmere Trailhead to the Surprise Trailhead parking area and pay station.
Dillon Ranger District
680 Blue River Parkway
Silverthorne, CO 80498
M - F from 8am - 4pm
White River National Forest
900 Grand Ave.
P.O. Box 948
Glenwood Springs CO 81602