Chicago Lakes, Colorado, USA

Lake Locations:

USA - West - Colorado - Front Range -

Also known as:  Upper Chicago Lake, Lower Chicago Lake, Idaho Springs Reservoir, Echo Lake, Summit Lake

One of the more popular destinations within Denver’s Mountain Parks system is the trail leading to the Chicago Lakes. This Front Range trail centers around 14,240-foot Mount Evans, with a series of scenic alpine lakes set within a pristine mountain landscape. Located approximately 38 miles west of the metropolitan area, the Chicago Lakes Trail and two Mountain Parks at either end of the trail are within the Arapaho National Forest. The parks are under the shared jurisdiction of the Denver Parks Department and the US Forest Service; the trail and lakes are controlled by the US Forest Service.

One reason for the popularity of the area is that Mount Evans can be accessed by car for most of the way to the summit. The Mount Evans Scenic Byway is the highest road in North America, reaching an elevation of 14,130 feet. During summer the entire Byway is open to vehicle traffic and offers excellent scenic mountain views. The route is popular for bicyclists and hikers, although the last five miles is relatively steep. The two parks, Echo Lake Park and Summit Lake Park, are accessible by car and local favorites for picnicking and camping in the summer months. These amenities add to the pleasure of hiking to Chicago Lakes.

The Chicago Lakes themselves are accessed only on foot. Both are small, with the Upper Lake only a short distance uphill from Lower Chicago Lake. The lakes and several smaller ponds form the headwaters of Chicago Creek. Lower Chicago Lake is 3.5 miles from the trailhead at Echo Lake; the entire round-trip is 9.8 miles. The trailhead starts at 10,620 feet and climbs to 11,740 feet at Upper Chicago Lake. The first mile is considered easy, with much of the trail either relatively flat or heading downhill to Idaho Springs Reservoir. Beyond that point, the climb becomes more strenuous, with some sections steep and narrow.

A short spur trail leads to Lower Chicago Lake; the trail continues on to Upper Chicago Lake which overlooks it. Adventuresome hikers may continue past the lakes to the summit of Mount Evans or south to Summit Lake and Summit Lake Park. Idaho Springs Reservoir is a water source for the City of Idaho Springs and is not currently listed as open for fishing. Once past Idaho Springs Reservoir, explorers are in the Mount Evans Wilderness. Fly fishermen make the trek up the Chicago Lakes Trail to fish for cutthroat trout (valid Colorado fishing license required).

Dispersed camping is allowed near the Chicago Lakes Trail, and all entering the Mount Evans Wilderness need a self-issued permit available at the trailhead. Dogs are allowed on the trail if leashed. The portion of the trail leading to Idaho Springs Reservoir is a local favorite for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. A Forest Service campground near Echo Lake Mountain Park is available for primitive camping, with some sites suitable for RVs. No electricity is available, but there are vault toilets provided. Because the campground is small, reservations are recommended. A restaurant and souvenir shop are located at the park, along with picnic areas and scenic walking paths. It is here that the both Chicago Lakes Trail and Lincoln Lakes Trail begin.

Located at 10,600 feet, Echo Lake is a small, shallow natural lake formed when glacial fill dammed drainage in the area. It has a reputation as being excellent for rainbow trout fishing. The entire area offers many scenic views of the surrounding mountain peaks. In spring (which is often late in arriving at this altitude), wildflowers are abundant, particularly in the area burned over by fire several years ago.

Farther south along Mount Evans Road, Summit Lake hosts the Summit Lake Mountain Park. Although there isn’t any camping here, the park is popular for picnics and nature viewing. The highest park in the Mountain Parks system, Summit Lake Park is at 12,840 feet and supports an alpine/tundra ecological system. The Summit Lake area is considered one of the best for viewing mountain goats. Spring doesn’t arrive here until early July, and autumn ends the flowering season for most tundra wildflowers in mid-August. An underlying permafrost allows these rare plants to grow here, many of which are not otherwise seen outside of the Arctic Circle.These rare plants make the Chicago Lakes area of importance in studying alpine habitats in the lower 48 states. Numerous walking paths take visitors among the rare plants, and strict attention paid to staying on marked paths helps to avoid damage to them.

A wildlife viewing station is located at Summit Lake Park, staffed by Colorado Parks and Wildlife volunteers most weekends. Summit Lake Park was named a National Natural Landmark in 1965. As with the other high altitude lakes in the Chicago Lakes area, cutthroat and rainbow trout live in the cold waters of Summit Lake, which is the headwaters of Bear Creek. The season is short because the lake is only ice-free for the short summer season. The road remains open to Summit Lake Park until winter snows make it impassible. More athletic hikers often leave a vehicle at Echo Lake Park and another at Summit Lake Park, then hike the entire Chicago Lakes Trail. A small parking fee is charged, with fees paying for some of the Forest Service amenities.

No lodgings are located in this area of the Arapaho National Forest, but there are a number of choices outside the boundaries near Idaho Springs and along the main roads. This is a popular area in which to rent a housekeeping cabin for a week or two while enjoying some of the hikes and scenery in this breathtaking area. The largest town in Clear Creek County, Idaho Springs has a rich history of mining; it was the first place gold was discovered in Colorado, with a large amount of gold discovered along Chicago Creek. Several working mine tours are available locally, along with the opportunity to ‘pan’ for gold. Idaho Springs is named for the hot mineral springs in the area. A resort in town caters specifically to those wishing to enjoy the mineral springs, with caves and other geothermal springs available nearby. Idaho Springs has many preserved buildings and takes its pioneer mining history seriously with two museums and a number of mining-related attractions. Plenty of restaurants and unique shops keep visitors coming back. Hotels, bed & breakfasts and campgrounds assure all visitors of the ideal lodgings to suit their plans.

Clear Creek County offers all sorts of adventurous activities, from downhill skiing to whitewater rafting to horseback riding. Surrounding it all is the spectacular scenery of the Rocky Mountains which offers a different view from every vantage point. Several of the local creeks are famous for trout fishing, and nature viewing is always popular. Some of the more popular and less strenuous trails are often quite busy on warm summer weekends, so mid-week treks are preferable. Visitors to Chicago Lakes should be prepared for sudden storms; snow is possible any month of the year. The main requirements for visiting are good trail maps and decent hiking footwear. Fly fishing equipment and a fishing license are extras for the family anglers, along with binoculars and the all-important camera to capture your vacation for posterity. See you on the trail!

*No statistics are available for the lakes in the Chicago Lakes group.

Things to do at Chicago Lakes

  • Vacation Rentals
  • Fishing
  • Whitewater Rafting
  • Camping
  • Campground
  • Picnicking
  • Cabin Rentals
  • Hiking
  • Biking
  • Downhill Skiing
  • Cross-Country Skiing
  • Horseback Riding
  • Wildlife Viewing
  • National Forest
  • Museum

Fish species found at Chicago Lakes

  • Cutthroat Trout
  • Rainbow Trout
  • Trout

Chicago Lakes Photo Gallery

Chicago Lakes Statistics & Helpful Links

divider

Lake Type: Natural Freshwater Lake, Not Dammed

Normal Elevation (Full Pond): 11,740 feet

Trophic State: Oligotrophic

At LakeLubbers.com, we strive to keep our information as accurate and up-to-date as possible, but if you’ve found something in this article that needs updating, we’d certainly love to hear from you!
Please let us know about it on our Content Correction form.

Spread the word! Share our Chicago Lakes article with your fellow Lake Lubbers!

Trophic State | LakeLubbers

Trophic State measures the level of algae and nutrients in a lake.

An oligotrophic lake is very clear (blue in color) and does not support much plant or fish life. A hyper-oligotrophic lake is the clearest of all lakes, and is nearly devoid of plants and fish.

A mesotrophic lake is slightly green and supports a moderate degree of plant and fish life. A lake's most desired trophic state is generally this mid-point - the mesotrophic state.

A eutrophic lake is somewhat murky and supports a large amount of plant and fish life. A hypereutrophic lake is clouded with algae, plant life, and fish life. A eutrophic or hyper-eutrophic lake can be difficult to navigate by boat - and is often an unpleasant place to swim.

The use of phosphorus-rich and nitrogen-rich fertilizer on lawns and golf courses surrounding a lake can cause it to become eutrophic or hypereutrophic.


Lakes for Vacation and Recreation

Except as noted, Copyright © LakeLubbers LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Catchment or Drainage Area | LakeLubbers

This is the surrounding area that drains into a lake, including land, rivers and their tributaries. This is also known as the lake's "catchment basin".

Small lakes at the highest peaks of mountains have small drainage areas. The world's oceans have the largest drainage areas.


Lakes for Vacation and Recreation

Except as noted, Copyright © LakeLubbers LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Lake-Area Population | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated number of people who live in a house with a view of a lake, plus those who self-describe the lake as their home, for example: "I live at Smith Mountain Lake."


Lakes for Vacation and Recreation

Except as noted, Copyright © LakeLubbers LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Water Residence Time | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated time that it takes for an amount of water equal to the entire volume of a lake to flow out of - or evaporate from - the lake.

Residence Time can be as short as a few days for fast-flowing small lakes, and can exceed 100 years for slow-flowing large lakes.


Lakes for Vacation and Recreation

Except as noted, Copyright © LakeLubbers LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Completion Year | LakeLubbers

This is the year that a reservoir was first filled to the reservoir's normal elevation - or the year that a natural lake was first dammed. A large reservoir can take more than a year to fill after its dam is first closed.

The Grand Anicut in southern India is generally considered the world's oldest dam that still operates. Grand Anicut was constructed in the second century BC. It now impounds an irrigation network that includes roughly one million acres.

You can find many of the the world's newest reservoirs on LakeLubbers. Many of the world's oldest reservoirs appear on the last page of that list.


Lakes for Vacation and Recreation

Except as noted, Copyright © LakeLubbers LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Water Volume | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated volume of water that a lake contains -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. By this measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is Siberia's Lake Baikal.

You can find many of the the world's largest lakes (by water volume) on LakeLubbers.

Water Volume can be measured in acre-feet, in cubic miles, or in cubic kilometers. One acre-foot is the amount of water needed to cover one acre (43,560 square feet) to a depth of one foot. One cubic mile equals 3,379,200 acre-feet. One cubic kilometer equals 810,713 acre-feet.

1 acre-foot is equal to 325,851 US gallons. Siberia's Lake Baikal contains about 6,276,367,740,000,000 gallons of freshwater - nearly 1 million gallons for every living person on earth.

The other - and more widely used - measure of a lake's size is the lake's surface acreage. By that measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is North America's Lake Superior.


Lakes for Vacation and Recreation

Except as noted, Copyright © LakeLubbers LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Maximum Depth | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated greatest depth of the water in a lake -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. The world's deepest lake is Siberia's Lake Baikal; that lake's maximum depth is estimated at 5,314 feet.

You can find many of the the world's deepest lakes on LakeLubbers. If you select the last page of that list, you will find the (maximum depth of) the shallowest lakes in our database.


Lakes for Vacation and Recreation

Except as noted, Copyright © LakeLubbers LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Average Depth | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated average depth of the water in a lake -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. If the water volume and surface area of a lake are known, an estimate of the lake's average depth can be calculated:

Water volume ÷ Surface Area = Average Depth

Example: 1,000,000 acre-feet ÷ 20,000 acres = 50 feet average depth


Lakes for Vacation and Recreation

Except as noted, Copyright © LakeLubbers LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Maximum Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's highest water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level, that can occur during flooding. A lake's highest possible maximum elevation is usually the top of the lake's dam or spillway.

At lakes that include residential development, government regulations usually forbid the construction of homes below a lake's maximum elevation.


Lakes for Vacation and Recreation

Except as noted, Copyright © LakeLubbers LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Minimum Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's lowest water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level, that can be reasonably expected to occur. Low lake levels can occur due to deliberate seasonal draw downs for irrigation or impending snow melt, reduced water inflows, drought and evaporation, residential or commercial water demands, and hydropower generation.

Some lakes' minimum and maximum elevations are virtually the same. Lakes that generate hydropower may vary by several feet - according to power demand. Lakes whose primary purpose is to prevent flooding can seasonally vary by 100 feet or more.

When some lakes reach their minimum elevation, their boat ramps may not be long enough to permit boat access - and boats docked on shallow parts of the lake may end up on dry ground. In those cases, kayakers and shore-based anglers may be among the few happy recreational users of the lake.


Lakes for Vacation and Recreation

Except as noted, Copyright © LakeLubbers LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Normal Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's normal water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level. For a reservoir, this water level is also known as "full pond" or "full pool".

You can find many of the world's highest-elevated lakes on LakeLubbers. Lakes with the lowest elevations (known by LakeLubbers) are shown on the final page of that list.


Lakes for Vacation and Recreation

Except as noted, Copyright © LakeLubbers LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Shoreline Length | LakeLubbers

This is the length of the exterior shoreline around a lake - measured at the lake's normal elevation. The shoreline length can be considerably shorter or longer when lake water levels are lower or higher than normal.

A lake with many coves has a much longer shoreline than a lake of similar surface area that is nearly circular in shape.

When known, the shoreline miles that we report in our statistics include only the lake's exterior shoreline, and exclude the shorelines of islands located within a lake's boundaries. In lakes with many islands, those islands' combined shorelines may exceed a lake's exterior shoreline.

You can find many of the world's longest-shoreline lakes on Lakelubbers.


Lakes for Vacation and Recreation

Except as noted, Copyright © LakeLubbers LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Surface Area | LakeLubbers

This is the area (acreage, square kilometers, etc.) of the top surface area of a lake - measured at a lake's normal elevation. The surface area can be considerably smaller or larger when lake levels are lower or higher than normal. North America's Lake Superior is the world's largest freshwater lake by this measure.

The other measure of a lake's size is the lake's water volume. By that measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is Lake Baikal in Siberia.

You can find many of the world's largest lakes (acres) on Lakelubbers. There is no widely-accepted minimum surface area that defines a lake. What Lakelubbers describes as a lake, you might call a pond. The smallest lake that Lakelubbers currently includes is Hawaii's 2-acre Lake Waiau.


Lakes for Vacation and Recreation

Except as noted, Copyright © LakeLubbers LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Water Level Control | LakeLubbers

This is the organization that controls water releases or outflows from the lake or reservoir. In the USA, this is often the US Army Corps of Engineers, a power company, a municipal water system, an irrigation district, or a paper manufacturing company. In the case of private or gated lakes, a homeowners' association may be the lake's controlling authority.

Many lakes cross borders, including North America's Great Lakes. The control of such lakes and their coveted freshwater may be amicably shared - or hotly disputed.

"Water wars" continue at many lakes as growing populations and crop irrigation needs compete for the freshwater that lakes contain.


Lakes for Vacation and Recreation

Except as noted, Copyright © LakeLubbers LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Lake Type | LakeLubbers

There are 3 basic types of lakes that are currently included on LakeLubbers. 2 types may be dammed or not dammed, producing 5 classifications.

- A Reservoir is a man-made freshwater lake that is usually created by damming rivers.

- A Natural Freshwater Lake occurs naturally - often by glacial activity - and has a salinity of less than 30 parts per thousand. It may be dammed to produce electricity or for other reasons.

- A Natural Saltwater Lake occurs naturally and has a salinity of more than 30 parts per thousand (ppt). It may be dammed.

"Brackish" water may be categorized as freshwater or saltwater, depending on its salt content (salinity). Oligohaline water has less than 15 ppt of salt. Mesohaline water has 15-29 ppt. Polyhaline has 30-335 ppt.


Lakes for Vacation and Recreation

Except as noted, Copyright © LakeLubbers LLC. All Rights Reserved.