Located in Summit County south of Heeney, Colorado, Surprise Lake is a small, remote body of water that can only be accessed on foot or horseback. Surprise Lake is located in the Gore Range of the Rocky Mountains, within the Eagles Nest Wilderness Area of the White River National Forest.
With a surface elevation of just over 10,000 feet, the journey to Surprise Lake is usually covered by snow for most of the year but is great for seeing summer wildflowers and fall colors. To avoid confusion, please note that there is another body of water named “Surprise Lake” in Colorado, which is located near Trappers Lake in Garfield County.
Backpacking & Hiking: The journey to Surprise Lake is approximately 3.5 miles, with hikers and horseback riders encountering several water crossings and plenty of shade. As an out-and-back trail totaling about 7 miles, the route is very popular and can be crowded in good weather conditions.
At the shores, visitors are greeted by clear waters with lily pads surrounded by trees and sweeping mountains.
The Surprise Trailhead is a great access point to enjoy extended trips into the White River National Forest. From Surprise Lake, many overnight hikers journey on to Mirror Lake, Upper Cataract Lake, Tipperary Lake, and more.
Camping: Dispersed camping is available near Surprise Lake, with a few designated backpacking sites around the shores. Overnight visitors must pack out all trash, bury human waste, and adhere to local wilderness regulations. Notably, fires are not permitted in the area.
Alternatively, the Nationals Forest Service maintains the Cataract Creek Campground near the Surprise Trailhead, with additional developed camping opportunities around the Green Mountain Reservoir.
Fishing: Fishing is permitted in Surprise Lake and along Cataract Creek with a valid state fishing license. Anglers generally report good fishing conditions in Surprise Lake and its surrounding waters, although access to the lake itself may be difficult navigating through heavy brush.
Wildlife Viewing: Dogs must be kept on a leash on the trail to the lake in an effort to protect local wildlife. The healthy and heavy vegetation in the area makes Surprise Lake a favorite spot among deer, squirrels, elk, bear, otters, and even moose. Visitors should be prepared for potentially buggy conditions.
The Surprise Trailhead is located at the end of Forest Rd 1725, about 3 miles south of the Green Mountain Reservoir. Access to the trailhead is limited in the winter months and is generally open from late May until mid-October.
Located within the Eagles Nest Wilderness, the trailhead can be reached by ordinary passenger vehicles, with free public restrooms and parking onsite.
Trailhead Address: Surprise Trailhead, Forest Rd 1725, Silverthorne, CO 80498
Season: Summer & Fall
Map: data.fs.usda.gov… (PDF)