Round-Trip Length: 4.6 miles – includes both lakes
Start-End Elevation: 11,678′ – 12,265′ (12,272′ max elevation)
Elevation Change: +587′ net elevation gain (+1,012′ total roundtrip elevation gain)
Skill Level: Moderate
Trailhead Location: Top of Guanella Pass
My wife and I decided to take a hike with my brother-in-law’s dog, Mesa, to Square Top Lake this past June. We’ve never owned a dog, just cats so this was a new experience for us. I had a dog as a kid growing up on a farm in Iowa and my wife also owned dogs as a kid. But we decided (or at least I decided) that dogs were more work than what we wanted when we started our own family. My dog in the farm was exactly that, a farm dog. He roamed loose and we didn’t have to worry about letting him out on taking him for walks. As adults, we wanted the freedom of being able to take off for the day or weekend without having to worry about either taking a dog with us or finding someone to take care of him. With cats, you can just make sure they have plenty of food and water and you can leave them for a couple of days and they really don’t even care that you’re gone! So, when my brother-in-law asked if we wanted to take care of their dog, Mesa (a labradoodle), for the weekend we said yes. We figured it is what people always say about having grandkids – we could have fun and spoil him for the weekend and then give him back!
Back to the hike. We left home around 1:00pm (making sure we had all the necessary supplies for Mesa like water, food, leash, etc.) and headed up to the top of Guanella Pass, about 56 miles from Littleton. The trailhead sits at 11,678 feet. It was a sunny, clear day. Normally we wouldn’t want to be starting out so late in the day for a hike, especially since the entire trail is above tree line, for fear of getting caught by Colorado’s notorious afternoon thunderstorms. However, the forecast for today looked great with no chance of storms.
We headed off down the trail about 2:30pm with Mesa leading the way. Mesa kept a good pace, tugging on his leash as if saying “What are you waiting for, let’s go faster”! He was just as happy to be out hiking in the mountains as we were! As the trail is entirely above tree line, we had magnificent views the entire way in all directions. Looking ahead we views of the open tundra up towards the lakes over the ridge and behind us we had views of Mt. Bierstadt, one of Colorado’s 14ers at 14, 060 feet.
My brother-in-law had told us (and we soon found out for ourselves) that Mesa loved sitting in and cooling off in any water he could find. Lisa enjoys photographing wildflowers, so we stopped along the way for many pictures.
Three quarters of the way up the trail to the first lake, we finally decided to let Mesa off his leash. Dogs are suppose to be on a leash in the Arapaho National Forest but we had only seen one other couple on the trail that day so we decided to let Mesa run free. He’s a good dog and usually stayed within sight and always looked back to check on us!
Mesa truly was happy to be hiking in the mountains. This shot of him reminded us of the quote by John Muir: “The mountains are calling and I must go”!
We reached the first lake (a distance of 1.83 miles and at an elevation of 12,046’) at about 3:45pm. The lower lake sits in a broad basin in the open tundra.
At the lake, Mesa immediately jumped in to take a swim. He was in heaven!
After a short break and meeting up with the other couple and their dog, we continued on to the upper lake. After continuing another ½ mile and gaining another 220 feet of elevation, we crossed a small snowfield and arrived at the upper lake (elevation 12,265′). There was still a little snow around the upper lake.
Lisa and Mesa headed into the lake and I took the opportunity to hike up a small hill overlooking the lake to take in the view from a higher vantage point. Both Lisa and Mesa were enjoying the solitude of the lake and the refreshing feel of the water.
We could have stayed at the lake all afternoon as it was so peaceful and nice to have this paradise all to ourselves. I took another short detour off the trail up another small hill to get a better view of the lower lake below with Mt. Bierstadt off in the distance.
It was about 5:00pm and time to head back down the trail. We enjoyed the hike back, Mesa of course taking the opportunity to cool off in any water he could find. We were back to car by 6:00pm and headed back home to Littleton.
I would highly recommend the Square Top Lakes hike for a hike that is relatively close to Denver, fairly short in length, and provides great views the entire way!