4 - 5
FATMAP difficulty grade
This loop is as great an adventure bang for your effort buck as you're likely to find anywhere.
The almost nine-mile loop can be done in a single day by a fit hiker, but also works well as a three day/two night backpack with overnights at the positively stunning Missouri Lakes and equally gorgeous Fancy Lake.
Most people do it as a two-day with an overnight at one of the lakes, but they're both so magnificent, it'd be a shame to not get the full experience at each. This route has every possible ingredient for a classic Rocky Mountain High experience: mountain streams and waterfalls, deep dark woods and high alpine meadows, wildflowers and wildlife including mountain goats, genuine backcountry solitude in a magnificent wilderness, plenty of superb sights for overnighting, and a few remnants of the area's mining history. Below Fancy Lake, there is an opportunity to detour onto a forest service road for an optional spur to the Holy Cross City ghost town, upping the total distance to about 13 miles.
But this is outside the federally designated Wilderness, and you will likely share part of the hike with jeepers testing their mettle on the rugged forest service road.
You'll want to make sure you bring your camera on this one.
While the very beginning and ending are through pretty, but not overly photogenic woods, the majority of the route is jam-packed with absolutely stunning high alpine scenery.
Each of the various lakes, alpine meadows, and the views from the summits of the two high alpine passes, all make for splendid photo ops.
There is another lake, Treasure Vault Lake, midway between Missouri Lakes and Fancy Lake between the two passes.
Were this lake anywhere else in the world, it would be a highly sought-after destination, but relative to the two main events, it's merely a pleasant pass by.
There are no serious hazards along the route, although some of the trail has seen significant rutting, and the descent from the summit of Fancy Pass to Fancy Lake is steep, and partially on large jagged scree, making for ample opportunity to turn an ankle, especially if you are gawking at the amazing scenery rather than paying attention to the trail.
Don't be too lulled into complacency by the overall moderate mileage.
Much of the trail is steep, especially the approaches to the two passes, and only highly fit hikers should attempt the full route in a single day.
Fortunately, the surroundings are so overwhelmingly beautiful, even hardcore fitness fanatics will want to take the time to soak it all in via a multi-day trip.
-Written by John Fisch