Round-Trip Length: 6 miles
Start-End Elevation: 10,200 – 12,015′
Elevation Change: +1,815’
Skill Level: Moderate
Trailhead Location: From Highway 285 in Park County, drive to Grant, and turn on Guanella Pass Road (Co 62/Geneva Road). In this area, the road is paved at times and dirt at times. After 6.8 miles, veer left on FSR 119 (Co 1038/Duck Creek). From here, it’s about 3.4 miles to the trailhead. You’ll pass the Duck Creek campground and the Geneva Park campground and the road will begin to get rougher. It’s best to have a vehicle with some clearance to drive this road. At 3.4 miles from Guanella Pass Road, you should see a large, black rock heap. Park where you can off the road and look for the trailhead sign.
The kids I attempted to do this hike a couple of years ago. We got up early and drove to the trailhead. It was raining quite a bit when we arrived at the trailhead. I don’t mind hiking in the rain, but I hate to start out with the weather bad. We sat in the car for an hour, waiting to see if it would clear up as it often does in Colorado. However, it looked pretty socked in and there was no sign of the rain letting up so we decided to head back home and leave the hike for another day. So, I had been wanting to go back ever since. The Sunday of Labor Day weekend I decided I was going to get it done this season before the snow started falling for the winter. With perfect timing, a friend of mine called on Friday and asked if I wanted to go hiking over the weekend. I told him I was planning to hike to Shelf Lake and he said he was in.
Lewis and I headed out from my house around 8:10am on Sunday morning for the trailhead. The forecast didn’t sound too bad so I was glad about that. I didn’t want to go back a second time and not get the hike in. Just as we were arriving at the trailhead, it began to rain, but not hard. By the time we got ready to hit the trail, the sun was shining so I was hoping we would be good. However, there were more clouds building to the north and west – the direction we were heading. We started out around 9:45am.
The trail to Shelf Lake heads up Smelter Gulch. Smelter Gulch got its name from the ore smelter that sat where the Shelf Lake Trail now begins. The smelter served several mines including the Baltic and Revenue mines, according to the Forest Service.
The trail climbs about 900’ in the first mile or so. We hiked through the trees in a steady, light shower. The sun was out for a good share of the time during the light shower. We really weren’t getting wet as we had cover from the trees. A view looking back to the south where there was even a lot more sun.
One of the several stream crossings.
As we gained elevation, we had an even better view back to the south of the valley.
Looking ahead, we were approaching tree line and some low hanging clouds over the peaks.
Back to the south the sun was shining brightly with fairly clear skies.
The trail opened up into a beautiful wide open meadow above tree line with many wildflowers still in bloom.
We had lost our sun and now that we were out of the trees, we had no cover from the rain showers that were increasing so we broke out the rain jackets and ponchos as we continued up the trail. We knew we were getting close to the lake so we continued on as long as we heard no thunder or saw no lightning. I did not want turn around knowing we were so close. After a final short steep climb, Shelf Lake came into view. We arrived at the lake around 12:20pm.
It began to snow at this point and it was quite cold. No leisurely lunch at the lake today! We took time just for a few pictures before heading back down the trail.
I would have liked to have explored around the lake. After reading more about this lake, it is actually quite large and curves around to the right (out of view from our vantage point). I may have to do this hike again in better weather to see the entire lake.
We headed back down the trail around 12:30pm.
A shot looking back up to the end of Smelter Gulch.
As we descended, the skies actually started to clear a little with the sun coming back out. A couple of shots of Argentine Peak (13,743’) as the clouds began to clear.
We stopped for our lunch break now that the sun was actually back out and it was warming up a bit. Beautiful views in all directions. To the east was Square Top Mountain (13,794’).
Heading back down the trail with a view to the south.
Some small tarns in the center of the valley as we headed back down.
A mountain stream with Argentine Peak in the background.
More wildflowers and we continued back down into the trees.
A shot of the valley down below as we continued down.
We arrived back down to the car around 3:15pm just as it started to rain again. I was glad we were able to make it to the lake even though we didn’t get to spend a lot of time exploring around it. Time to head for home.