At the top of a mountain basin surrounded by beautiful peaks, you’ll find Copley Lake. The small lake is nestled in a bright, open meadow that’s ringed by a dark spruce forest. Like a living fence, the tall spruces shelter this secret spot. Surrounding the lake is a chartreuse meadow, which transitions to marsh as the land gently slopes towards the shore.
To reach this little-known gem, you’ll have to put in some work. While the trail isn’t terribly long, it does gain 1300 feet in elevation. The solitude that you find on the trail and at the lake is well worth the effort. Compared to other trails in Crested Butte, Copley Lake is less visited. It’ll likely be just you, the lake, the wildflowers, and the mountains.
Copley Lake Trail Description
Get prepared to climb on this trail. The Copley Lake Trail ascends through a narrow valley for approximately two miles before you reach the lake. As you hike, you’ll be joined by Elk Creek, which rushes alongside the trail. Its steady murmur is a welcome noise in this quiet place.
On either side of the trail looms a dark spruce forest. Dense boughs block nearly all light from the forest floor. Even in July, many snow piles linger in the cool shade. As you hike higher, you’ll find small rivulets of snowmelt trickling down the trail, wetting the rocks. In these moist areas, marsh marigold (Caltha leptosepala) grows abundantly. Their cheery white blossoms glow in the dark forest.
There aren’t any epic vistas for the first mile and half, but the wildflowers are plentiful. They blanket the mountain slopes on either side of the trail. Red columbine (Aquilegia elegantula) thrive in the rocky soil, growing between boulders. Their red blooms dangle above the trail like shooting stars. Near the creek, Case’s fitweed (Corydalis caseana) and mountain bluebells (Mertensia ciliata) fill the brighter meadow clearings.
After approximately 1.65 miles, the trail enters an open meadow. To your left is the single track trail that takes you to the lake. There isn’t a signpost, but a cairn marks the fork. Before the trail enters the forest, you’ll pass a dense stand of corn lilies (Veratrum viride). Their thick, luxurious leaves emerge from the surrounding grasses and create beautiful patterns in the meadow. After a quick jaunt in the forest, the trail opens to a clearing where you’ll catch your first glimpse of the lake’s glittering waters.
Now that the hard climb is over, enjoy a leisurely stroll around the shore. Depending on the time of the year, your feet might get wet. The meadow surrounding the lake is rather marshy, especially in spring. In addition to the beautiful lake, you’ll have a great view of Ruby Peak, Mount Owen, Purple Peak, and Afley Peak.
Why Wildflower Lovers Should Hike the Copley Lake Trail
Copley Lake isn’t as popular as nearby Lake Irwin and Lost Lake. It’s not because it lacks in beauty; I suspect it’s the steep hike up to the lake. Because of this, you’re likely to have the trail and lake to yourself. Surrounded by deep forest, this is a quiet hike that gives you the opportunity to contemplate the beauty around you, free of distractions. It’s a perfect place to reflect and enjoy nature.
I also enjoyed seeing the flowers change as I climbed in elevation. Even in mid-July, I was able to see early-blooming wildflowers like glacier lily (Erythronium grandiflorum) and marsh marigold (Caltha leptosepala).
Wildflowers Observed on Copley Lake Trail:
I saw the following wildflowers when I hiked the trail in early July. Many more flowers were budded and almost ready to bloom. For many weeks, there’s something flowering on this trail.
- Corn Lily (Veratrum viride)
- Fendler’s Meadow Rue (Thalictrum fendleri)
- Blue Columbine (Aquilegia coerulea)
- Case’s Fitweed (Corydalis caseana)
- White Violet (Viola canadensis var. scopulorum)
- Mountain Bluebells (Mertensia ciliata)
- Western Red Columbine (Aquilegia elegantula)
- Marsh Marigold (Caltha leptosepala)
- Glacier Lily (Erythronium grandiflorum)
Click on the photographs to see the full image and to read the flower identification.
Copley Lake Trail Information
There aren’t any trail markers at the trailhead or along the trail, but it’s easy to find your way to Copley Lake. From Crested Butte, head west on Keebler Pass Road. After approximately 4.2 miles, you’ll come to a small parking area on the left side of the road. The trailhead is across from the parking area.
Trailhead GPS Coordinates:
N 38° 51.419′ W 107° 03.601′
Trail Type: There and back
Length: 4.5 miles round trip
Elevation Gain: 1300 ft
Difficulty Level: Moderate Strenuous
If you’re not used to hiking at high elevations, this hike may be a bit of a challenge. I had to stop frequently to catch my breath. But you’ll do just fine if you take it slow and enjoy the scenery.
The trail itself is easy enough. It follows the remnants of an old mining road and is a wide double track. It starts off fairly steep but don’t let that discourage you. The grade becomes more moderate after 0.25 miles.
Click on the photographs to read trail descriptions.