Tipperary Lake, Lower Cataract Lake - Surprise Trailhead, Summit County - Eagle County - Clear Creek County, Colorado
Tipperary Lake - 10.25 Miles
Lower Cataract Lake - Surprise Trailhead
|Round-Trip Length:||10.25 Miles|
|Start-End Elevation:||8,605' - 9,768' (10,397' max elevation)|
|Elevation Change:||+1,163' net elevation gain (+2,548' total roundtrip elevation gain)|
The Surprise Trailhead is located 25 miles northwest of Silverthorne, CO in the White River National Forest. Tipperary Lake is one of six lakes accessible in a day from this well-plotted trail network in the Eagles Nest Wilderness Area. It fills a large, marshy basin along Cataract Creek. Visitors will enjoy sensational wildflowers, diverse forests, and good backcountry camping and fishing at Tipperary 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 simply 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 crossing on a makeshift bridge (1.0 mile : 9,135'); once over it steepens beside a long, slender meadow into a mixed lodgepole, spruce and fir forest. Though badly affected by beetle kill, deadfall has cleared space for new growth and verdant ground cover. Look for deer, elk, bear, and moose in small clearings along the way.
The steep climb continues over a second creek (2.4 miles : 9,905') before easing 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 past the Upper Cataract Trail split (3.45 miles : 10,387'), crests, and tilts downhill on a shifting, oft-obstructed path. Note a markedly healthier forest as you progress on a steady westerly heading. The grade steepens past 4.5 miles to the Tipperary Lake Trail split (5.0 miles : 9,863'). Anticipate this sign, as it's easy to miss.
The access trail twists .12 miles down a vague and rugged path to the south shore of Tipperary Lake (5.12 miles : 9,768'). The Tipperary Lake basin is notably large, open, and marshy. The best views across the lake and of Eagles Nest Peak (13,091') can be found on the east shore, but to reach you must either negotiate a cumbersome forest social trail, or tread the lake's marshy perimeter. If unconcerned about getting wet, the latter is much quicker.
Suitable camping terrain can be found just off the access trail on the lake's SW edge, one of few bands of terra firma along the shore. You may also find more private locations on the north and northeast shores nestled in a string of rock slabs. Those with time should consider exploring the expansive basin, and beyond the outcrops along Cataract Creek.
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-
- 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 48.766 W106 18.144 — 2.4 miles : Cross creek, grade eases
- N39 48.573 W106 17.993 — 2.7 miles : Gore Range Trail junction
- N39 48.540 W106 18.16 — 2.9 miles : Surprise Lake
- N39 48.557 W106 18.722 — 3.45 miles : Upper Cataract Trail split - keep straight
- N39 48.831 W106 19.021 — 4.0 miles : Downhill travel; trail intermittently obstru
- N39 48.951 W106 19.387 — 4.5 miles : Grade steepens from here to lake split
- N39 48.827 W106 19.870 — 5.0 miles : Tipperary Lake split
- N39 48.903 W106 19.911 — 5.12 miles : Tipperary Lake
- Mosquitoes can be a pest on this and other trails leaving from the Surprise Trailhead. Repellants and longs sleeves are highly recommended.
- The lake's marshy, willow-lined perimeter is preferred moose habitat. Enjoy wildlife from a distance, and allow plenty of space for them to pass.
- Bull moose have new velvet covered antlers every spring, and shed this protective, nutrient-rich sheath in the fall in time for the rut. Moose will rub their heads on trees and thrash about in brush to remove the velvet. Bull moose in rut will also sport a strong odor of urine, which they'll apply by digging a hole, filling it, and splashing themselves with the scent.
- Remember that you have a 600' climb back to the trail's crest near the Upper Cataract Lake Trail junction. Manage time and resources accordingly.
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 turn 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