A waterfall, a lake, incredible views, mountain scenery, vast views — that’s what you’ll see on the hike to Judd Falls and Copper Lake near Gothic (directions below).
The hike starts where a metal bar is across the road, blocking it. A sign here says Judd Falls is a half mile and Copper Lake is 4 miles. I should warn you, I don’t agree. My GPS showed the falls were 0.62 miles away and the lake was 5 miles.
Walk around the metal bar and begin hiking up the road. The road is wide enough for a couple people to walk side-by-side. About a quarter mile from the trailhead, you’ll see some equipment in the grass, just off to the right side of the trail. This is a weather station.
Shortly, the trail begins to go up and down. While that’s no big deal when you’re fresh at the start of the hike, it does mean some elevation gain on the way back. You may not notice, but in this section, the road becomes single-track again as it winds over a rocky area.
About 0.6 miles from the trailhead, you’ll hear the falls before you see them. The trail drops down to a road. Walk across the road, look over the ridge and you may see the falls. However, I suggest walking down to the road (to your right) a short distance to a bench with a view of the falls. This is a great spot to take a break and enjoy the sights and sounds of the falls.
When you’re ready, start hiking up the road. A short distance away, you’ll enter the Fossil Creek Wilderness. When you arrive at a sign board with permits, please fill out a permit. There’s no charge and this helps officials count how many people are visiting this special area.
As you hike between the falls and the lake, make sure you are not just glancing up as you hike, but looking all around. The trails winds through sections of thick forest and open meadows. Those open meadows allow hikers a view of the incredible rock formations and mountains surrounding the valley.
Depending on the time of summer you visit, the Copper Creek Trail has several stream crossings. If you’ve got good balance, you should be able to cross most of them on logs tossed in the water. However, there are spots where your feet may get wet.
As you hike and enjoy the views, you might notice that there hasn’t been a lot of elevation gain. The trail gains about 800 feet over the first 3.5 miles, but that changes after the 4th creek crossing. At this point, the trail begins to climb and it’s a steep climb at times. The trail gains another 800 feet in elevation in the next 1.5 miles.
At 4.75 miles from the trailhead, you’ll see a sign about camping at Copper Lake. That’s when you know you’re close! It’s another 0.15 miles to the turnoff to the lake. Walk through the trees and you’ll arrive at the lake shore.
You can sit by the shore line, but you may want to consider climbing a short hill on an island (of sorts) in the lake.
Have lunch, take a nap, watch people climbing the East Maroon Pass above the lake. Plan to spend some time in this special place before returning the way you came.
In the area, don’t miss West Maroon Pass, Waterdog Lakes and the Dillon Pinnacles. Check out my list of 200+ great hikes in Colorado.
Don’t miss any of my hiking articles, click the “subscribe” button at the top of this article and follow me, Denver Hiking Examiner on Facebook.
Details: The hike to Copper Lake and back is 10 miles roundtrip with about 1,600 feet of elevation gain.
Directions: From Crested Butte, take Gothic Road/Gunnison Road 317 past the ski area, then PAST Gothic about 0.5 miles to the marked trailhead. If you have a passenger car, you should park at the lower trailhead on Gunnison Road 317 and walk up the road. If you have a high-clearance vehicle you can drive up the road about a half mile to the upper trailhead.