Square Top Lakes, Pike National Forest – Front Range, Colorado
Updated: Aug 25
Square Top Lakes is a popular hiking trail because of the stunning views and two lakes at the end. This trail is considered moderate, but that also depends on your hiking capability. It’s a 5-mile round trip hike with elevation gains and steep ascents. It's short, but you have to consider the elevation. These are high alpine lakes, and it is wise to go slow. Starting early is best since afternoon thunderstorms can also occur anytime. Since this trail is above tree line it means no shade; you will be in open tundra and under the sun all throughout the hike.
TO GET HERE
From Denver, you can reach the trail from I-70 the Georgetown exit. You will drive through the historic town to the Guanella Pass Road. It’s about 10 miles or so to the trailhead at the top of the pass. The trailhead is on the west side above the hill past the Mt. Bierstadt parking area. You have to be early since this is a popular area and hikers who want to summit Mt. Bierstadt on the east side will take up all available spaces and even occupy both sides of Guanella Pass road as well.
SOUTH PARK TRAIL – 4 to 5 miles round trip
The trail to the Square Top Lakes is an easy downhill at the beginning, but then it gets steeper as you start climbing higher. Take it slow, the air gets thinner as you get higher.
There's a reprieve where you can break up your hike and catch your breath by the first lake before ascending to the upper lake. You can either rest and have some snacks or just enjoy the landscape. You will need it especially if you are not acclimated.
The Lower Lake, which is 12,086 feet and sits below the Upper Lake (12,304 feet). You can end your hike here, but why would you? The view by the lower lake is stunning enough but if you still have the energy, and the will, the best part is going all the way to the Upper Lake.
The South Park Trail is also used to access the summit of Square Top Mountain (13,794 feet). That trail veers off to the left at a junction where the trail to the upper lake begins its steep ascend. There is a sign, but some hiker's get confused here, so make sure you are heading to where you want to be.
The Upper Lake sits below the ridge of Square Top Mountain (on the other side of this ridge are Silver Dollar and Murray Lakes, one of our favorite hikes in the Front Range). To continue up to the Upper Lake is less than a half mile from the junction, but this portion of the trail is the steepest part. It’s worth the extra effort though since the view from up there is unbelievably stunning. From above upper lake, you will see in front of you an amazing landscape with two prominent fourteeners, Mt. Evans and Mt. Bierstadt.
Now, if you choose to hike to the summit of Square Top Mountain, 200 yards from the junction to the Upper Lake is another sign. From there it is a steep uphill climb all the way. Some hikers turn around part-way up; not enough energy to make it to the top. But even so, the view is worth the effort, even just a short hike up this trail.
The hard part hiking back is you have to climb that last mile or so to the parking lot. You will be huffing and puffing, especially when it's hot, even though it is not really steep. Just think about the beautiful landscape you found at the top and it will be worth it.
If you are looking for wildflowers, this trail also offers an amazing variety.
PREVIOUS... SHELF LAKE, PIKE NATIONAL FOREST