Within the Sangre de Cristo Wilderness Area, the Lake of the Clouds is an extremely scenic backcountry destination near Westcliffe, Colorado. Sitting at over 11,500 feet in elevation, Lake of the Clouds is the central body of water between two other alpine lakes along Swift Creek. Collectively, the area is also often referred to as the “Lakes of the Clouds.”
The Sangre de Cristo Wilderness Area is one of the most scenic hiking and backpacking destinations in Southern Colorado. Among the aspen trees, mountain views, and rushing waters, there are many fun outdoor activities to be had.
Activities near Lake of the Clouds
Fishing: If you’re headed up to the Lake of Clouds, bringing a fishing pole along may be well worth it. The three lakes (as well as the surrounding streams) are known for great trout fishing. Plus, the water is so clear, that you’ll likely be able to spot your catch before you even cast.
Hiking & Backpacking: As a 10.8 mile loop, visiting Lake of the Clouds is great for a challenging, but rewarding day hike near Westcliffe. The Lake of the Clouds is also a great backcountry basecamp with easy access to summits such as Spread Eagle Peak (13,423ft) and Mt. Marcy (13,496 ft). From the valley, hikers can access
Horseback Riding: Whereas most hikers travel alongside Swift Creek to reach Lake of the Clouds, horseback riders usually opt to take the Lakes of the Clouds to the summit. This route is slightly longer in distance, but contains less rocks throughout a more gradual ascent.
Swimming: Swimming is permitted in the natural Lake of the Clouds, however it is only reserved for the brave. No matter the season, the alpine lake’s waters are known to be quite frigid.
To reach Lake of the Clouds, a difficult hike is required. To access the trail, most visitors park in the Gibson Creek Parking Area. To reach this lot, drive about 6 miles west of Highway 69, along CR #170 (also known as Hermit Road). At the fork in the road, go right, then take a left onto North Taylor Road.
You’ll pass through the Forest Service gate and see signs for the trail head. Although the route is primarily made of dirt roads, high clearance is only required for the last quarter mile.
On the north end of the parking area, there is access to the Rainbow Trail approximately 200 yards to the west. From here, there are two options: The Swift Creek Trail and the Lake of the Clouds Trail.
The Swift Creek Trail is the shorter, but steeper and rockier option. It can be reached by taking a left after traveling approximately 0.3 miles along the Rainbow Trail. Alternatively, if you continue on the Rainbow trail, you will reach an intersection with The Lakes of the Clouds trailhead in 0.7 more miles. This is a longer route to the Lake of the Clouds, but contains less rocks throughout a more gradual ascent.
Trailhead Address: 2270 Co Rd 172 Westcliffe, CO 81252
Season: April to December
Maps: All Trails Map (link)
Website: fs.usda.gov/recarea/psicc/recarea/?recid=12756 (Lake of the Clouds Trail)