Abyss Lake is a stunningly beautiful blue Colorado body of water sitting in the alpine bowl below two of the state’s highest peaks, Mount Bierstadt (14,065′) and Mount Evans (14,265′). The jagged 13,842′ Mount Spalding closes off the bowl and completes the alpine scene in a way that steels the show. Abyss Lake is found in the Mount Evans Wilderness and is a great destination. Add in Helms Lake and the views found along Scott Gromer Creek and the Abyss Lake Trail in Colorado is a must due for those who are seeking the best high country backpacking trails in the Rocky Mountains.
Backpacking the Abyss Lake Trail in Colorado
- Parking & Accessibility
- The Abyss Lake Trail
- Camping Permits
- Backpacking Gear & Logistics
- Recommended Itinerary
- After Backpacking Abyss Lake
Stats for Backpacking the Abyss Lake Trail in Colorado
- Trailhead: Abyss & Burning Bear Parking Area (9.635′)
- Type: Out-n-Back
- Rating: Difficult
- Distance: 17.25 miles (8.6 miles each way)
- Total Elevation Gain: 3,141′
- Abyss Lake Elevation: 12,655’
- Recommended Time: 2 days, 1 night
- Backpacking Season: Mid-June thru Early-October (See details below)
- Camping Permits: Acquired at the Trailhead
Backpacking season for the Abyss Lake Trail in Colorado typically starts in mid-June and runs through early October. However, expect the trail to have snow on it until early July and for the new snow to start pilling up in late September. In addition to this, Colorado has what is called a mud season where all the snow melts and creates a muddy mess. Expect mud season to linger on this trail until mid-July.
The Abyss Lake Trail in Colorado is especially popular during the Autumn due to the Aspen color change. While the trail does have its fair share of Aspen trees they are missing in the most beautiful sections. I think there are far better areas of Colorado to explore during the Fall including the Crystal Mill and the Three Lakes Loop Trail. However, if you choose to backpack the Abyss Lake Trail in the Fall make sure you anticipate the high probability of snow and cold weather while on the trail.
The Abyss Lake Trail in Colorado shares a trailhead with the Burning Bear trail. The parking area is paved and can accommodate about 20 vehicles. It even has dedicated parking for trailers. This is a fairly popular trail so plan to arrive early (Before 8 AM) especially if you plan to start your hike on the weekend or during the highly coveted Fall season.
Google Maps will lead you directly to the Abyss Lake Trailhead. All roads needed to access the area are paved. Guanella Pass Raod (#381) runs from Georgetown, Colorado, and turns into Geneva Road (#62) which ends in Grant, Colorado. The Abyss Lake Trailhead is located off of Geneva Road. Both roads are very steep and curvy but the scenery found along this scenic byway is almost as good as the backpack itself. Sections of these roads are closed throughout the winter although you can typically access the trailhead from the Grant, Colorado side for most of the year.
The Abyss Lake Trail in Colorado
The Abyss Lake Trail (#602) leaves the parking lot climbing in a northeast direction. The first 2 miles follow a wide path through an old-growth pine forest roughly following the flow of Scott Gomer Creek. The first mile is a quick 500′ ascent before leveling off for one of the flattest sections found on the trail.
At 2.3-miles the Abyss Lake Trail crosses over Scott Gomer Creek via the most well-made bridge found on the entire path. On the other side, the woods thin out and the path cuts through what we will refer to as the lower meadow with views of the mountainous terrain rising up on both sides. On a clear day, you can see the rugged mountains surrounding Helms lake rising in the distance although Evans and Bierstadt will remain shrouded behind the other rocky cliffs for some time. This area is also home to the first aspen grove found on the Abyss Lake Trail in Colorado.
At 2.7 miles the path re-enters a dense pine forest as it continues to follow the flow of Scott Gomer Creek. This section has a lot of nice established campsites hidden in the woods.
Sketchy Creek Crossing
The sketchiest of the narrow log bridges is found at 3.4 miles from the trailhead. the path crosses over the fast-flowing Scott Gomer Creek and this thin log bridge will give even the most experienced hikers pause as it bends under their weight. Immediately after the crossing, the path becomes narrow, rocky, and steep as it passes through a new-growth aspen forest.
The Second Meadow
The second meadow is found about 4 miles in as you cross over the Scott Gomer Creek for the last time. This is a picturesque forked meadow with the mountain tops rolling over high above. The climb continues adjacent to the meadow and then cuts across it about a quarter of a mile later. This is also where you will come across the only other trail to intersect with the Abyss Lake Trail in Colorado. The Rosalie Trail ($603) joins the Abyss Lake Trail for a tenth of a mile starting at about 4.4 miles from the trailhead. Take a right to stay on the path and left at the following intersection.
Shortly after leaving the Rosalie Trail behind the Abyss Lake Trail begins to climb out of the 2nd meadow via a set of steep switchbacks. After a quarter mile of switchbacks, the trail mostly straightens out into a mile-long climb towards the 3rd meadow where Helms Lake is found.
As you approach 6 miles the trees start to thin and you find yourself crossing the 3rd meadow. As you approach Helms Lake you will first have to cross over a small creek coming off of an adjacent pond located just to the west. This is where the best camping is found near helms lake. Past the creek, you will make your way around the south side of Helms lake. The path here will be muddy and wet. It is a fairly short section and you can stay dry by rock hopping. Helms Lake is especially beautiful looking across the lake from the east side and this is where the remainder of the good campsites can be found.
Leaving the Treeline
It isn’t until you start to leave the lake that you realize that it is perched on a bench above the valley floor. The views are stunning as you continue to climb to the northeast. As you leave the lake behind, you will also leave the trees behind. The next mile is covered in thick bushes before that too gives way to only grass, wildflowers, and boulders.
Trail or Creek?
At 7 miles begins the most challenging section of the Abyss Lake Trail in Colorado. For the next quarter mile, the trail and the Lake Fork Creek become one (or atleast it seems that way). In reality, the creek overflows its bank and cascades down the path for much of the hiking season. After hiking up the wet path and crossing over the Lake Fork Creek the path become dry once again but only momentarily as it once again quickly crosses back over the creek. This second creek crossing is where the path can become lost as there are several social trails on the other side that lead nowhere into the thick brush. The correct path is found by taking a right and following the creek until the path and the creek become one once again.
The Final Climb
Finally, at about 7.5-miles the trail crosses over Lake Fork Creek for the third time and emerges from the dense brush. The last mile of the Abyss Lake Trail in Colorado climbs the final 400′ through the rocky alpine terrain. Wildflowers cover the space between the boulders. Pikas and marmots can often be heard trumpeting your approach. It is a beautiful section of trail as you sink deeper into the alpine bowl below Mount Bierstadt and Mount Evans with the jagged wall of Mount Spalding closing off the head of the valley.
Permits to camp in the backcountry of the Mount Evans Wilderness are required but can be obtained at the Abyss Lake Trailhead. You simply fill out the form and carry your permit with you while you are in the backcountry.
There are no designated campsites on the Abyss Lake Trail in Colorado. Try to camp in pre-established campsites that meet the standards of the Leave No Trace Principles. To help you anticipate where established campsites are located I have marked some on the map and elevation profile. All of these sites will have relatively close access to water. While all these sites would make a great place to spend a night in the backcountry, we thought Abyss Lake itself was the best area to camp.
1st Campsite (Lower Meadow)
Almost immediately upon starting down the Abyss Lake Trail you can spot established campsites in the woods but the first site worth mentioning doesn’t appear until after you cross over Scott Gomer Creek for the first time. This site is located about 2.3 miles from the trailhead and is easily visible from the path as it enters the lower meadow.
2nd Campsite (Scott Gomer Creek)
The 2nd campsite we have listed is a large grouping of campsites found in the pine forest on the far side of the lower meadow. This area runs for about half of a mile starting at about 2.7 miles from the trailhead. The forest is seemingly covered in established campsites that lie between the creek and the trail.
3rd Campsites (Rosalie Trail)
Located about 4.4 miles from the trailhead, our 3rd listed campsite is another smaller cluster of sites found just after the trail joins with the Rosalie Trail. A small tributary of the Scott Gomer Creek runs through the area. This might not be a perpetual water source throughout the summer but it was flowing well in late July.
4th Campsites (Helms Lake)
Helms Lake is found on a bench and has surprisingly few spots to camp. I say surprisingly because this is where most people recommend camping but we only spotted 4 established campsites. Some of these lie in the woods to the west of the adjacent pond. The few sites that sit near the lake itself are found in the stunted trees located on the east side of the lake.
5th Campsites (Abyss Lake)
Abyss Lake itself is very exposed with no tree cover. However, there are massive 2-3 story boulders that you canuse to shelter yourself from the elements. The southeast side of the lake is the only side that is flat enough to camp on and we only spotted three established sites in the area. Be aware that you will share this amazing place with a plethora of local marmots and pikas. I have never seen so many of these creatures in one area. While the pikas wanted nothing to do with us, the marmots became very curious after their initial skepticism. Still, it is best to not let them get too close, and under no circumstances should you feed them. Let wild creatures remain as wild as possible.
There is almost no cliff exposure found along the entire length of the Abyss Lake Trail in Colorado which is something of a rarity in this state’s backcountry trails. This is bear country so proper food storage and backpacking with bear spray is recommended. Summer lightning storms are always a bit of a concern when backpacking in Colorado. However, much of the Abyss Lake Trail has ample tree cover, and even on the exposed terrain, the mountains rise abruptly on either side of the trail. The higher ground should attract the bolts of lightning but it is best to not hike during storms but rather hunker down under tree cover or next to a large boulder.
The only danger that I perceived on the entire Abyss Lake Trail in Colorado was when crossing over the creek via the thin logs that constitute bridges. I don’t think of myself as a very heavy individual. However, under the weight of my rather light pack and the girth of my person, I found the bowing in the logs to be disconcerting. Still, I made it to the lake and back along with dozens of others who hike this trail every day. In reality, the danger imposed by these under-engineered bridges can’t be that high.
Backpacking Gear & Logistics
Weather can change quickly in the Rocky Mountains so it is best to backpack the Abyss Lake Trail in Colorado with layers. The nights will be cold throughout the summer, easily dropping below freezing most nights. It is best to bring a warm sleeping bag and a quality 3-season tent. Check out our gear list for other ideas on what to bring on your Abyss Lake hike. We have designed it to minimize weight but maximize comfort when backpacking in mountainous terrain.
I would recommend bringing some water shoes and hiking poles to help cross the section of the path that seems to be a perpetual creek throughout the summer. We did not bring our water shoes and dunked our hiking shoes a few times even with the assistance of trekking poles.
Bear Canisters or Hang Sacks
While bear canisters are not yet required in the Mount Evans Wilderness, proper food storage is highly recommended. If you intend to hang a bag rather than carry a heavy canister keep in mind that the trees are stunted around Helms Lake and nonexistent at Abyss Lake. We had to get creative and span our rope between two adjacent boulders to get a proper hang at Abyss Lake. It took every last inch of our 50′ rope to hang our Ursack bear bag. In hindsight, it would have been easier to just carry our bear canister.
While backpacking the Abyss Lake Trail in Colorado you can easily obtain fresh drinking water, just make sure you filter it first. Nearly the entire trail follows the flow of Lake Fork and Scott Gomer Creeks. The only exception is the 1.5-mile climb out of the middle meadow and up to Helms Lake (4.75 miles to 6.25 miles).
There are no toilets on the Abyss Lake Trail in Colorado and that includes the parking lot. Come prepared with a camp trowel so you can do your business in the woods. Bury everything atleast 6″ deep.
- 2 days, 1 night
We loved camping alongside the marmots and pikas at Abyss Lake. However, lugging a full backpack all the way to Abyss Lake is not for everyone. Regardless of whether you choose to camp at Abyss Lake, Helms Lake, or safely in the trees alongside Scott Gomer Creek (campsite #2), you will love your time in the Mount Evans Wilderness.
After Backpacking Abyss Lake Trail in Colorado
After backpacking the Abyss Lake Trail in Colorado, head over Guanella Pass and on to Idaho Springs for one of the best pizzas you will ever consume. Beau Jo’s is widely considered to serve up the best pies in the state and we ardently agree. They are thick Mountian Pies served with honey for dipping. It is delicious and worth the hours-long drive from the trailhead. However, if you are starving and can’t wait an hour, head down to Grant, Colorado instead and grab a bite at the Shaggy Sheep. This is the closest restaurant to the trailhead and is very tasty.
Backpacking the Abyss Lake Trail in Colorado
The rugged peaks of Mount Bierstadt, Mount Evans, and Mount Spalding rise sharply from three sides of the blue waters of Abyss Lake making this a truly stunning scene in a state with no shortage of gorgeous alpine lakes. The summer backpacking season brings a plethora of wildflowers and wildlife to the meadows and alpine valleys found along the Abyss Lake Trail in Colorado. Add to all this that the route is fairly moderate (by Rocky Mountain standards) and you are left with one of the best backpacking trails in the state and a must-do for anyone seeking the most beautiful places in the Rocky Mountains.