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The exposure grade describes the potential consequences of falling or slipping off the path.
Low Exposure: The path is on completely flat land and potential injury is limited to falling over.
Medium Exposure: The trail contains some obstacles such as outcroppings and rock which could cause injury.
High Exposure: Some trail sections have exposed ledges or steep ascents/descents where falling could cause serious injury.
Extreme Exposure: Some trail sections are extremely exposed where falling will almost certainly result in serious injury or death.
Located in White River National Forest, American Lake Trail is a popular, yet rigorous trek hikers gravitate towards when looking for a challenging adventure.
This Colorado dirt trail provides an array of terrains and scenic views, including the Aspen Mountains into pines, rocks, lakes, and open meadows.
At first, expect constant switchbacks with the sun beating down making the beginning leg the hardest part of the trail.
About an hour or so in, nearing the forest terrains, the trail levels off into a moderate climb welcomed with shaded areas.
Perseverance and patience pays off with a breathtaking view at the lake surrounded by endless mountains. The peak timeframe to take on the American Lake Trail occurs from May to October where a substantial increase in elevation is accomplished.
Once late summer hits, expect to begin seeing visible snowcaps on mountain tops.
Be prepared to carry a jacket when hiking in the back half of summer or early fall.
If planning to pitch a tent at the lake front, take note temperatures can easily drop into the 20’s at night.
Falter on the side of bringing too much water and pack bug spray.
When hiking in the early/mid-summer, sun spots are guaranteed to hit any hiker hard and maintaining hydration and overall comfort is necessary to any successful climb. It is highly suggested to have been in Colorado for a minimum of a week to give the body time to adjust to altitude changes.
Allow plenty of rest and break points to ease into the rising elevation.
For safety purposes, this hike requires people to be in “moderate to great shape”.
Keeping track of time is an essential aspect a lot of first-time tourists neglect.
Allow ample time to appreciate the trail and views it has to offer by beginning the trailhead no later than late afternoon.
For intermediate hikers, the trail is easily a half day adventure round trip depending on how long the lake (summit) visit is. While predominantly a hiking trail, it may be appealing to experienced visitors as a trail run due to the steady incline all the way through.
The American Lake Trail yields a high volume of traffic and it is suggested to visit during the week if looking for a secluded hike.
If the only option to hike the American Lake Trail is on a weekend, leaving the trailhead at sunrise is another avenue in assuring a remote hike.
Parking is limited to a small lot at the trailhead entering off of Castle Creek Road just outside the Elk Mountain Lodge.
Although a dog friendly trail while on a leash, it is strongly recommended to steer clear of American Lake Trail if accompanied with young kids without experience. The White River National Forest offers a vast array of trails, but the American Lake Trail offers the biggest variety of terrain, scenery, and hiking experience all in one.
Whether it is baking in the sun on switchbacks at shortly in, shuffling through the pine wood forest half way through, or enjoying an afternoon lunch at the lake surrounded by snowcap mountains, the American Lake Trail lives up to its country’s name.