Cataract Gulch Trail is packed with cascading waterfalls, dense forests, and abundant wildflowers. Located in the backcountry, yet accessible by car it’s the perfect hike for day hiking enthusiasts. Reaching Cataract Lake located on the Contentinal Divide high above the treeline is the perfect ending.


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This intimidating sign located at the trailhead is a reminder of how important it is to be aware of keeping yourself safe as well as keeping the Bears safe. We came with only our snacks in our backpacks. Sealed in odorless bear-proof bags.

And I recently purchased “Bear Spray” from REI – have not used it but it’s comforting.


cataract Gulch Trail, Cataract Lake, Lake City, Colorado hikes


We began by crossing a bridge over Cottonwood Creek and hiked into the forest ascending quickly up steep switchbacks.





Cataract Gulch. Catarack Lake, Lake City, Colorado


3 log bridges added adventure as we crossed over swift waters from snowmelt. It’s the middle of the month of June and this entire hike had the sounds of rushing water alongside us.





A small social trail off the trail to our right leads us to our first significant waterfall. Surrounded by lush green moss and foliage, it’s beautiful.

A trail not to be taken lightly. Appropriate gear is recommended. CLICK HERE> for a look at Practical gear that we love at Crazy About Colorado and have in our backpacks on every hike.


Catarack Gulch Trail


Onward, it’s still a steep and very scenic ascent. Looking up to our left the greenery is stunning and the dead lodgepole pines are a sad sight. We found that in this entire area. the lodgepole pines seem to have been taken by the Mountain Pine Beetle. However, it’s still sensational.




Cataract Gulch, Cataract Lake, Lake City, hiking trails, Colorado



Entertaining us all the way up the trail is Cataract Creek cascading swiftly downstream and showing off so many small waterfalls.



Cataract Gulch Trail, Lake City, Colorado, hikes in Colorado, day hike


We crossed through several meadows lined with incredible views in every direction. At one point we passed an old mine site and soon after found ourselves at a large, swift water crossing. We are getting close to treeline but still a ways to go to reach Cataract Lake.

Several hikers came up behind us and all decided today was not the day to cross the water. This is the end for us. Not to deter you, often many hikers will attempt the crossing and make it!



Need to refresh on what to do if you encounter wildlife? >CLICK HERE!

We spotted numerous Moose droppings along the trail and occasional Bear scat but never saw a moose or bear.



Most of the elevation gain (2000 ft) happens in the first 2 miles up then it becomes a bit easier for the remainder of the trail. The hike back was all downhill and lined with wildflowers.

One item I recently purchased and have used SO many times since that I can’t believe I never thought of before – a hiking umbrella – it’s super lightweight, great for rain, and for when it’s hot out it reflects back the sun.




I love the Colorado Columbine and this was my first pink one! They were flourishing everywhere. Bring a Wildflower Field Guide with you!

A great hike even without the lake. Waterfalls and wildflowers made up for it.


Cataract Gulch – 4.5 miles out & back

Cataract Lake – 8.6 miles out & back

Rated: moderate/strenous

Portable restrooms

Nearest Town: Lake City, CO

Handies Peak Wilderness


From Lake City take Highway 149 south for approx. 2 miles. Turn right onto CR 30, (towards Lake San Cristobal). Driving now alongside the lake to a junction. Veer right away from the Lake. At the next fork in the road turn left on CR 35 toward Sherman Town Site and drive about 1.4 miles. The trailhead is well marked on your left.

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Drop a comment below for any questions. Share your adventures with me. I’d love to hear from you, HAPPY TRAILS…

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