Last summer for my birthday Matt and I wanted to go backpacking somewhere relaxing and relatively close to home. We started scouring our maps and ended up picking Kroenke Lake outside of Buena Vista. If you’ve never been to the Buena Vista, Colorado area to explore, I highly recommend it!
Kroenke Lake is a relatively easy hike with a beautiful lake surrounded by 14,000 foot peaks in the Sawatch Range outside of Buena Vista, Colorado. We picked it because we only had one night so we didn’t want to spend too much time hiking in because we wanted to relax. Kroenke Lake is a perfect backpacking trip for bringing the kids, fishing, hiking or just plain relaxing because of it’s relatively easy hike and close location to town.
Buena Vista is located about 2.5 hours from Denver in central Colorado. Other cool towns close by are Leadville and Salida. To get to Kroenke Lake from Buena Vista, head north on route 24 for just a couple of miles until you see Country Road 350 on your left. Follow 350 for 2 miles and then make a right onto 361 followed by a left onto 365. Stay on 365 for about 5 miles. The road will turn to dirt but you do not need 4WD to get to the North Cottonwood trailhead.
From the trailhead the hike to the lake is about 4.5 miles with 1750′ of elevation gain. There is one well marked split in the trail where a right will take you to the Horn Fork Basin between Mt. Harvard and Mt. Columbia, and a left will take you to Kroenke Lake.
Three Fun Things to Do at Kroenke Lake
Kroenke Lake is a beautiful spot to go fly fishing! Cutthroat trout abound in this shallow lake above 11,000ft. Make sure you have a fishing license as ranger’s do frequent the area. Stop by ArkAnglers in Buena Vista to pick up any fishing supplies.
Once you get to the lake and drop your heavy pack and set up camp there is plenty of amazing hiking around the lake. Brown’s Pass will bring you over to Mt. Yale or you can follow the ridge in the opposite direction to Birthday Peak. Another option would be to hike back down the trail to the Horn Fork trail to hike Mt. Harvard or Mt. Columbia. Check out my post about hiking Mt. Harvard here.
If you just want to relax, maybe take a swim in the lake, read a book, have a campfire, etc. Then this is great place. You can swim out to the island in the middle of the lake if you’re brave enough to jump in the cool high alpine waters. Or you can just set up a hammock with plenty of trees near the riverside and read a good book.
If you go…
- 9 miles round trip
- 1750′ of elevation gain
- closest town: Buena Vista
Suggested Gear List:
- lightweight tent
- fishing pole, flies
- sleeping bag
- sleeping pad
- trekking poles
- fire starting supplies
- backpacking stove or jetboil
- water filter
If you need to purchase any gear for this trip, I highly suggest REI in Dillon where you can find all of the camping gear and food that you need. The REI in Dillon is along the way to Buena Vista from Denver and just a quick pit stop off of Interstate 70.
Kroenke Lake Backpacking Trip Report
We slept a little late and so we started late on our hike to Kroenke Lake. The hike to the lake took us about 2 hours at a leisurely pace. Since it is a relatively mellow hike we decided to bring Shea with us too, and because it was my birthday I was in high spirits all morning and couldn’t wait to get to the lake to relax.
We arrived at the lake in the early afternoon and were awed by it’s beauty. There were a few other folks around, mostly anglers, and so we started looking for a campsite, the best ones by the lake had been taken but we found one in the trees to the left of the lake and set up camp. We just purchased a Big Agnes Copper Spur 2 and were really excited to try it out.
After we set up camp, Matt wanted to go fishing and I wanted to lay in my hammock and read. There are plenty of trees by the lake so finding a hammock spot was relatively easy. Matt started fishing nearby and I read my book. Soon the clouds moved in and it started to rain a little bit but under the trees we were mostly sheltered.
Matt decided to go look for firewood before everything got soaked and ended up on the other side of the lake. Before we had left town the night before we stopped at REI and I bought a small hatchet. Matt was making fun of me because he didn’t think it was necessary for our trip but I disagreed and bought one anyways.
Well come to find out it was very handy. There was no firewood to be found since this is a popular backpacking spot and Matt decided to bring back a giant log to chop up for wood. He looked like a lumberjack carrying it around the lake and I was too busy laughing to get a good picture.
That night we made a small fire while we ate dinner. Since we were only out for one night we brought our Jetboil and backpacker meals to keep things simple.
Matt even brought me a small piece of cake since it was my birthday and we lit a stick on fire for the candle. We ate our dinner and enjoyed the fire until it started raining a little harder. We escaped into the tent and played cards while the rain came pouring down. It was tight in the tent with both of us and the dog but Shea pretty much just slept on top of me and kept me warm.
In the morning we woke up to blue sky and decided to get up to d some ridge walking early as it was sure to rain again by the afternoon. We walked around the west side of the lake and bushwhacked our way up the steep ridge. It probably would have been easier to just take Brown’s Pass but we weren’t sure how much time we had before the rain would start again, by this time the clouds were already starting to build.
When we reached the ridge the views were incredible! You could see west to Aspen, north to Summit County, and east to Pikes Peak. We also could see Mt. Harvard and Mt. Yale as beacons of some of the tallest mountains in Colorado. We hiked along the ridge towards Birthday peak and the clouds started looking sketchy so Shea and I descended into the basin below the peak while Matt went and tagged the summit and ran down to meet us.
We bushwacked back to camp, took down our tent and headed out after one last quick fishing session where Matt finally caught a fish! It was a great birthday adventure and I would definitely go back and camp there again and maybe hike Mt. Yale or Columbia this time.
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