Hiking in Mosquito Range, Pike & San Isabel National Forest - Colorado
Updated: Mar 28, 2020
If this is the first time you heard about the Mosquito Range, the first thing that will cross your mind is that this range is probably populated by millions of mosquitoes. Far from it, this range is actually one of the driest and highest parts of Colorado. So, how did it get its name? It was lost in time, nobody knows exactly.
The Mosquito Range includes the northern sub-range known as the Tenmile Range. It is one continuous high mountain ridge which starts in the town of Frisco in the north and ends near the town of Buena Vista to the south. To make it geographically easier to visualize, the Mosquito Range lies between the Front Range to the east and the Sawatch Range to the west. The range separates the headwaters of the Arkansas River near Leadville from South Park and the headwaters of the South Platte River near Fairplay. The Continental Divide crosses this range, between Wheeler Mountain and Clinton Peak. Much of Mosquito Range is located within the Pike National Forest.
Before the white settlers arrived in the area, the Mosquito Range was a hunting ground for the Ute people. Then gold was discovered in the spring of 1860 and the area became a hub of mining activities. Population grew as miners flocked the area trying to "strike it rich." Towns were created in the surrounding area such as Fairplay, Alma and Leadville during this mining boom; today they are charming historic towns you can visit and stay in while exploring the Mosquito Range.
FOURTENEERS IN MOSQUITO RANGE
If you want to bag some fourteeners, there are five in this mountain range: Mount Lincoln (14,286 ft.), Mount Bross (14,172 ft.), Mount Democrat (14,148 ft.), Quandary Peak (14,265 ft.) and Mount Sherman (14,036 ft.). Three of these fourteeners are close together (four if you count the unofficial Mount Cameron), so that you might even bag them in one go, which is what a lot of hikers do. The highest peak in this range is Mount Lincoln, also the eight highest peak in Colorado. Part of this range is disputed between public and private lands, so you might want to check on this if you plan on climbing the peaks in this range.
- HIKING TRAILS -
The Mosquito Range was heavily mined for gold and other precious metals. Hiking here you will find many mining relics left behind after the mining boom in the 1800's. Add that to the surrounding beautiful landscapes, lakes and waterfalls, it makes the hiking more interesting. Hermann has hiked many of the trails here and even climbed three of the fourteneers, but with me we hiked only two trails in this range, the Mohawk Lakes Trail and Mayflower Gulch Trail.
MOHAWK LAKES (Spruce Creek Trailhead) – 8 miles
Mohawk Lakes are located south of Breckenridge - less than two-hour drive from Denver. To get to Spruce Creek Trailhead from I-70 heading west, take Exit 203 (Frisco/Breckenridge). Follow Highway 9 past the center of the town of Breckenridge. Turn right onto Crown Drive/Spruce Creek Road (Rd 800). The main trailhead is by the Spruce Creek Road - you can’t miss it. If you missed the turn, another way to the trailhead is past the private lake (Goose Pasture Tarn). From Highway 9 turn right onto Spruce Creek Road (County Road 800). Head west and then turn left at the junction of Crown Drive and Spruce Creek Road.
There’s more! The Spruce Creek Road continues past the main trailhead. If you have a high clearance vehicle and want to shorten your hike, drive past the main trailhead and follow the dirt road, heading southwest. We will probably do that next time so we can hike all the way up past the Upper Mohawk Lake to the other unnamed ponds. This trail also leads to Crystal Lakes, heading north. You can four-wheel to the lower lake but not to the upper lake.
This is a beautiful trail, it leads to waterfalls and several lakes and ponds, which of some are unnamed. The trail is a bit challenging and has a steep ascent, but it is still one of the most popular trails in the Mosquito Range. The first few miles will be in the forest but you will pass by an open wetland with a pond that reflects the mountain backdrops.
The trail starts to get steep past a popular hut (Francie’s Cabin, part of the Summit County Hut System) named for Frances Lockwood Bailey, a former resident of Breckenridge who died in a tragic plane crash in 1989. This cabin can be rented even in winter time. Past the cabin take a little detour to Mayflower Lake; it’s a nice spot to rest and have a snack before tackling the steepest part of the trail.
Between Mayflower Lake and Lower Mohawk Lake the trail gets even more interesting. You might want to spend some time here. You will find some beautiful waterfalls, especially the Continental Falls. The waterfalls cascade over three deep gullies on the rock face of the mountain. It is the largest waterfall in the area and one of the best photo opportunities you will find on this trail.
Then before you reach the Lower Mohawk Lake you will pass remnants of an old mine. There’s an interesting contraption there, old mining equipment that still looks in great condition.
About half a mile from the lower lake is the Upper Mohawk Lake. The last ascent is steep but short and the view from up above is fantastic. From there you will see the summits of two thirteeners, Pacific Peak (13950 ft) and Crystal Peak (13852 ft), part of the Mosquito Range. If you have time and energy, there are four unnamed lakes, or ponds, above the Upper Mohawk Lake.
We hiked up to the first pond and then we turned around. We had to hike back down; after all, and we didn’t want to get caught in an afternoon thunderstorm, though no storms came that day. We wanted to spend more time, with so many interesting things to see on this trail.
MAYFLOWER GULCH – 6.0 to 7.0 miles
Another beautiful trail in the Mosquito Range is the Mayflower Gulch Trail. We have hiked here more often than almost anywhere else in the high country of Colorado. That is due to the amazing wildflowers found here in summer. We can’t help but keep coming back here, sometimes twice a year. It is also an easy hike even if it is at high elevation.
To get to the Mayflower Gulch Trailhead, from I-70 take the Copper Mountain Exit to Highway 91 towards Leadville. About six miles from Copper Mountain resort is the trailhead on the left side. There is a large paved parking lot here. You can easily miss this trailhead if you are not paying attention.
If you want to make your hike short, or if you are not a hiker and your aim is just to see the wildflowers, you can actually drive in from the main trailhead. Just make sure you have a high clearance vehicle because it’s an old mining dirt road and it has bumps and potholes.
One thing I like about this hike is the view you get when you emerge from the trees and the trail opens up into a meadow. The first thing you will utter is... WOW! The panorama below was taken the first time we hiked here. We were lucky to be here at the right time when the wildflowers were at their peak. This meadow full of colorful wildflowers with a mountain backdrop is the best we have ever seen. Gorgeous isn't it? This must be one of our favorite wildflower scenes in Colorado.
Add to that the old mining structures found here in the meadows, cabins that were left behind after the mining boom was over. A perfect calendar picture that you would want to capture.
Wildflowers here have such a stunning effect on the landscape. You can easily spend hours taking pictures here or just simply enjoying the beauty of the surrounding. We always do.
So, after immersing yourself with the flowers in the meadow, there are various trails that you can take. One will take you right up to the ridge. There are wildflowers all the way up there as well. From the ridge you can look down at the Clinton Gulch Reservoir on the other side. We hiked all the way down to the reservoir one time.
Another trail goes to the old mine located right at the base of Fletcher Mountain (13,951 feet) and Atlantic Peak (13,841 feet). Both trails offer beautiful views of the surrounding landscape. The views are fantastic wherever you are. The one prominent peak you see here is Jacque Peak (13,205 feet).
Timing is the key to see this amazing array of wildflowers. We don't always get lucky, sometimes our timing is off, but we always find some pockets of wildflowers somewhere. You just need to explore more, or hike a little farther to find them.
Click picture below for more wildflower photos.