This high-alpine lake is one of Colorado’s most spectacular hikes

The soaring rock walls above Rocky Mountain National Park’s Chasm Lake create lifelong memories

Since the first time I climbed Longs Peak 30 years ago, it has held a special place in my heart. When it catches the rays of a rising sun, its sheer east face turns bright orange. I like that it can be seen from cities along the Front Range, so I can see it frequently, and every time I do, it brings back wonderful memories of my trips up there.

Chasm Lake is a beautiful alpine tarn located nearly 2,500 feet below its 14,259-foot summit, at the foot of the east face. Longs Peak towers over its western edge, and steep rock walls to the right and left soar 1,200 feet, making it one of Colorado’s most spectacular alpine cirques. It’s also one of Rocky Mountain National Park’s best hikes. Erik Stensland used it as the cover photo for his excellent guidebook, “Hiking Rocky Mountain National Park” (Rocky Trail Press), no doubt for both reasons.

A cirque is a “amphitheater-shaped basin with precipitous walls at the head of a glacial valley,” according to Britannica. Hiking to this one creates dazzling mental images that will last a lifetime.

The lake is about 4.2 miles from the Longs Peak ranger station, with a 2,390-foot elevation gain. When I arrived a couple of weekends ago at 6 a.m., the parking lot was already full, as I expected, but I was able to park safely along the road about a half mile from the trailhead.

The hike starts at 9,400 feet and winds through a lodgepole forest. The trail crosses a creek with waterfalls about 2 miles up at Lightning Bridge, so named because there are signs warning of the dangers of lightning above the timberline, which hikers will reach in less than a mile.

The rest of the hike is mostly on rocky terrain once you reach the timberline, though there are many sections where rock steps are built into the path. The massive and magnificent east face of Longs soon comes into view. At 11,533 feet, there is a trail junction where those climbing Longs via the famous Keyhole Route take a right turn that leads up into the Boulderfield.

Hikers on their way to Chasm Lake turn left and soon find themselves traversing a section of trail with a steep drop-off to the left. Peacock Pool is a lovely alpine pond with waterfalls upstream from it.

There is a short section of rock scrambling just before the lake before the trail tops out and Chasm Lake can be seen. It’s simply breathtaking to see the 2,500-foot east face up close and personal. And the morning light illuminating the face is just right, or should be, because this is one of those hikes where you want to be up and down — or at least most of the way down — before afternoon thunderstorms erupt.

After the hike, I recommend stopping at the ranger station, which has a model of Longs Peak with trails, mountain features, and adjacent peaks, including the 13,911-foot Mount Meeker, which is connected to Longs. There are photos and historical displays on the walls depicting key sections of the Longs Peak climb. On one wall is a front-page Denver Post story from 2005 about Longs titled “Ascent of Danger.” The story referred to Longs as “one of the most challenging and prized of Colorado’s 54 peaks above 14,000 feet,” adding that “Longs is rivaled only by the Maroon Bells near Aspen as the deadliest mountain in Colorado.” It’s also a challenging climb, 15 miles roundtrip with a 5,000-foot elevation gain.

The Chasm Lake hike lacks the dangers of Longs Peak, but it’s a great way to see the great monarch of the Front Range up close.

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