Fall up High : Devils Thumb – King Lake Loop

Fall is perhaps the best time of the year to hike in the Colorado high country.

The skies are clear. The aspens are an explosion of gold. The ground cover is a mix of red, yellow and orange. And their is a crisp feeling in the air that makes the miles go by and the smiles on the face wide.

Hiking in Colorado any time is wonderful. Fall? Seems even more so.

My friends and I stated fairly early at the always popular Hessie TH less than an hour from Boulder.

This TH can be crowded. The trick is to start early and quickly pass the magical five mile mark.  Most hikers stay go within the series of lakes (Diamond Lake, Lost Lake and Jasper Lake among others) within easy hiking distance of the trail head.  Go past these lakes? There aren’t many people.

With those thoughts in mind, we made our way up the old road bed that serves as a trail.

The aspens were gorgeous. It is all too fleeting of a time when the leaves are at their peak. The changing leaves  are a highlight of the Autumn outdoor experience.


We quickly passed  Jasper Lake, and made a quick stop at Devils Thumb Lake.  We continued to hike until we quickly reached treeline and made our way to Devils Thumb Pass on the Continental Divide.

The views heading up to the pass were classic Colorado alpine. All sheer mountain framed against the intense blue sky.


At the pass we walked along the tundra.  Rather then follow the trail, it was more enjoyable (and just as easy) to stay on the true divide and walk cross country.

Along the divide, an exquisite view was had of Bob, Betty and King Lakes.


We eventually joined the trail again, and enjoyed the splash of Fall color below us.


Shortly after, King Lake was seen from above.  We were all amazed at the amount of snow still left from the previous winter.

A little after this view, I spied Rollins Pass above. Also saw an old ‘friend’:


The urge to quit a job, grab a pack and just go never seems to fade!  The CDT marker was a reminder that the trails will always be there waiting. Waiting for the next time I am able to be on the trail for weeks or months. Climbing the mountains, exploring the canyons, crossing the deserts or hiking through an old forest.  And there will be a next time. 🙂

Shortly after this trip down memory lane, we reached treeline again, made it back to the stick of our 16 mile lolipop and enjoyed one last look to the carpet of Fall color below.


The car was reached. A cold beer was enjoyed. And a great hike was concluded.  Proving once again why Fall hiking is so satisying.




The route:  We started at the Hessie Trailhead just outside of Nederalnd, CO.  We went up to Devils Thumb Pass, crossed on the tundra and over to King Lake , down to treeline and hooked back up to the Devils Pass trail juction again and back to the car.

This lolllipop hike was 16 miles and about 3500′ +/- gain.

The map: Trails Illustrated #102 – Indians Peaks/ Gold Hill

Getting there: This link at Summitpost has the deets. Unless you have a vehicle with excellent ground clearence, it is better to park along the road, The extra 1 mile r/t of walking is better than a busted oil pan. 🙂   The TH is popular, so it is wise to get there earlier rather than later.

Update Summer 2014:  Note that Hessie TH gets busy. You can take a free shuttle bus on Sat, Sun and some holidays from the local high school in Nederland to the TH (more or less) http://www.bouldercounty.org/os/parks/pages/hessie.aspx  With the hours and convenience of the shuttle, I think this is the way to go. Much less stress.  It is what I would do now esp on a weekend.


Post Trip Nourishment and Refreshment: Happy hour at the Backcountry Pizza in Boulder! h Over 50+ beers on tap ranging from the delicious Lefthand Brewery Milkstout on nitro (a local, and yummy, facvorite) at great price of $3.50 a pint  to the some less common (and $$$$) barley wines that pack a punch.   The pizza is actually very good.  The Nedterranean is my favorite!

Hiking. Pizza. Beer.

Three words that make me happy. And will make you happy, too. 😉

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12 years ago

Great photos Paul !! Thank you.