There are a few gems near-hidden in the Colorado wilderness and all you have to do is look for them; the trail to Silver Dollar Lake (and nearby Murray Lake) is on that list.
A short, 3.9 mile round trip, the drive from Denver could reasonably take longer than the trail itself, but I wouldn’t recommend it if it wasn’t worth it. Four wheel drive is recommended because the last leg of the drive to the trailhead is unpaved.
Right now the trail itself is a little damp; recent snows have melted, leaving small amounts of mud where water has pooled, but this is nothing to worry about. The terrain does trend towards being rough and uneven, and if you haven’t done much hiking recently, I’d recommend boots or shoes with ankle support; however, the hike can easily be completed in a pair of workout shoes or even sneakers.
To get to the trailhead, you’ll take I-70 West to Georgetown’s exit #228, then follow the signs for Guanella Pass, notable itself for the vibrant color changes you can see in Autumn on the many aspen trees that line the pass. The Guanella Pass Campground will be on your right, and then you’ll soon take the next right on to Naylor Lake Road.
Naylor Lake Road is unpaved and more than a bit rough – it may be possible to take a sedan up that road but I wouldn’t try. Take a four wheel drive vehicle or walk from the turnoff if you need to. The trailhead is only a quarter mile from this turn.
The trailhead starts below the tree line, in sub-alpine forest dominated by pine trees and little underbrush. At high altitudes, there’s less oxygen, temperatures get colder quicker, and the growing season is shorter. As a result, there is generally less foliage than a lower, warmer clime, and with less food for herbivores, a lower population density of the same. In a similar fashion, the fewer herbivores, the less food for carnivores; as a tangent, you won’t have to worry about any large predators, although you may spot a raptor if you’re lucky.
About halfway through the hike, you’ll pass above the tree line while seeing Naylor lake in the distance below you. From here, it’s alpine territory; no trees, earth and terrain typical of the Rocky Mountains at altitude, e.g., very rocky 😉
A few spots along the way are very scenic; good views of the surrounding mountains, a high view of Naylor Lake, and rolling promontories provide quite a bit of instagram fodder.
The alpine portion of the climb has easy elevation gain and will take you to Silver Dollar Lake, resting in the shadow of Square Top Mountain, and past it to Murray Reservoir.
The pictures above don’t quite do it justice and words can’t quite describe the rocky terrain, rolling alpine ridges and hills; the rock formations of massive boulders and stones jutting out from the earth, exposed to the light of day by millions of years of erosion, lain raw to the elements and pitted by yearly snowmelt, run-off, and erosion, still maintaining their hard edges, bending but not breaking despite the ravages of time and restless, marching seasons. On the hard backbone of the rockies are alpine meadows, covered in simultaneously hardy but delicate grasses and flowers; short bushes that shelter the remains of a recent snowfall; hidden in these are the burrows of the small animals that populate and animate the region in warmer seasons.
There’s life and beauty here, that I honestly fail to show or describe and that is best seen through your own eyes.
Take some time this weekend and maybe you’ll find something in the Rockies that you were looking for, something you didn’t even know was missing.