If you like lakes, the Flat Tops Wilderness between Glenwood Springs and Steamboat Springs is a place you need to explore. The Flat Tops Wilderness is home to about 100 lakes and ponds, many of they unnamed, according to Wilderness.net.
The hike to Hooper and Keener Lakes may sound like a hike to just two lakes, but you’ll likely see at least seven lakes/ponds on this trek, starting with Stillwater Reservoir at the trailhead (directions below).
To start the hike, walk around the right side of the sign boards toward Stillwater Reservoir. Just a few steps away, you’ll come to a trail split. Turn left and walk along the dam. As you walk south, look at that crooked mountain in front of you. Just to the left is a low saddle, that’s the “pass” you’re heading to.
About a third of a mile from the trailhead, but before the end of the dam, you’ll come to a trail sign. Drop down a few steps and turn left on to North Derby Trail No. 1122. North Derby Trail winds through the thick forest and scenic meadows for the next 1.9 miles. At times the trail is very steep, other times you’ll find yourself dropping down. As you hike, watch for lakes and ponds along the trail, we found at least two unnamed ponds on this side of the pass.
About two miles from the trailhead, the trail comes into a meadow with a view of the pass ahead. Now it’s really time to climb. It’s looks hard, but it’s not terrible — it’s about 160 feet. As you climb, look around and enjoy the views of Stillwater Reservoir and the surrounding mountains and valleys. If you look directly north, you may notice two mountains with a cirque between them. Hikers going to Devil’s Causeway have to switchback up that cirque to get to the Causeway in the rock formation/mountain on the left of the cirque. You can’t tell from here, but one part of that mountain is actually a ridge that’s just 2.5 feet wide in places.
At the top of the saddle, the scenery becomes even more amazing. There are vast, incredible views up here and if you come in early summer, you may also be treated to an alpine wildflower show.
While there’s no sign, at the top of pass, the trail changes from North Derby Trail to the Hooper Lake Trail. Follow the trail as it drops down into the basin. You should spot a lake on your right, that is not Hooper, it’s just a scenic unnamed lake. Hooper is about 0.75 miles from the top of the pass.
As you hike and enjoy the amazing scenery, watch the trail — it may become intermittent in the willows and the muddy bogs.
If you’re able to follow the trail. you’ll likely find the eastern end of Hooper Lake in the trees about one mile from the top of the pass. You’ll want to go off-trail, through the forest, to see more of this beautiful lake.When you’re done exploring, return to the main trail.
If you lose the trail, like we did and many other bloggers on the internet said they did, go west. Just over a rise, we came to a decent-sized, circular lake. While it’s nice, it’s not Hooper, keep going. Hooper is hard to miss, it’s huge! Plus, it’s right at the base of a mountain. When you arrive, take some time here to explore this beautiful lake. We approached the lake from above, so we sat above the lake to get good photos of it.
When you’re ready to heard for Keener Lake, follow the eastern shoreline of Hooper Lake to the eastern tip and walk east through the meadow, hopefully finding the trail again.
From the eastern end of Hooper Lake, it was just 0.24 miles on my GPS to the turnoff for Keener Lake. WATCH CLOSELY for the split. There is no sign and the split is hard to see. We found just a small pile of rocks.
The trail to Keener Lake is also a bit intermittent, but we managed to follow it 0.4 miles past another unnamed lake to Keener Lake. Keener Lake is surrounded by trees and is also at the base of a mountain. If you come at the right time of year, likely late spring and early summer, you may see one or more waterfalls cascading down the cliffs of the mountain.
Take a break, enjoy your lunch, then continue one mile to Edge Lake or return the way you came.
Details: The hike to Hooper and Keener Lake should be 7.7-8 miles with 1,400 feet of elevation gain depending on how well you follow the trails.
Directions: Drive to Yampa and turn at the sign for the “business district.” Drive through town to Highway 7. A sign here tells visitors Stillwater Reservoir is 17 miles. You’ll drive on a paved road, then a bumpy dirt road to Stillwater Reservoir at the end of the road. Use the turn around at the end of the road and find a parking space. There is a portapotty here and some signs, but no good trail maps.
*Note, I have only seen this many mosquitos and bugs one other time in Colorado. Even with bug spray, I got multiple bites. Bring bug spray and use it — a lot!
*Second note, this trailhead is also the trailhead for the popular Devil’s Causeway hike AND for fishermen going to Stillwater Reservoir. I highly recommend arriving early.
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