Distance: 5.6 miles roundtrip. Elevation gain: 2,000 ft. Stunning display of Aspens in the fall. Beautiful alpine lake. Excellent backcountry camping spots located near running water. Connects with trail to Electric Pass for 360* views of the Maroon-Bells/Snowmass Wilderness. No fee.

Cathedral Lake offers an excellent alternative to escape the crowds that swarm the Maroon Bells area, especially in the peak autumn season. The drive along Castle Creek Rd towards the abandoned ski town Ashcroft is lined with aspens showing off their golden hues. Parking at the trailhead is plentiful but fills up quickly by mid day. Cathedral Lake can easily be done as a day hike but the lack of overnight backpackers make this destination a wonderfully private experience.

The trail begins at 9,880 feet and winds through aspen groves as you descend. Eventually, the trail rises above the prime elevation for aspen growth but looking back provides a stunning view of the abandoned ski town and valley below. After the final set of intense switchbacks the trail meets at a fork. Head to the left towards Cathedral Lake and save the right turn towards Electric Pass for later. The alpine lake is about 15 minutes further down the trail.

After taking in the sights at the lake, return to the trail and retrace your steps. Social trails will appear on the right side of the trail as you head backwards. These trails lead to clearings with fire pits that have previously been used as backcountry campsites. There is a running stream in the area that makes a great water source but be sure to bring some form of water purification. Once you set up camp, head back to the fork in the trail that leads towards Electric Pass. The extra mile and a half to the top of Electric Pass provides a stunning 360* view of the Maroon Bells/Snowmass Wilderness around you. Just be sure to keep an eye on the sky - afternoon thunderstorms can roll in quickly and Electric Pass is not where you want to be if that happens.

To get to the trailhead, head south on Castle Creek Road from the roundabout in Aspen driving about 13 miles until a right hand turn onto Cathedral Lake Rd. At the end of the road you'll find the trailhead.

Pack List

  • Hiking boots
  • Tent
  • Water purifier
  • Food/snacks
  • Sleeping bag
  • Sleeping pad
  • Headlamp
  • Mess Kit
  • Trekking poles (optional)
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RT Distance 5.6 Miles
Elevation Gain 2000 Feet
Activities Camping, Fishing, Photography, Swimming, Backpacking, Hiking
Skill Level Beginner
Season Spring, Summer, Autumn
Trail Type Out-and-Back
Features
Dog Friendly
Lake
Scenic
Wildflowers
Wildlife

Reviews

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Overall rating: 

Wait Till Late June

I attempted to do this the first week of June and the snow proved too much. I made it halfway up the switchbacks, but with a dog and the snow, it proved too much. It didn't help that only 2 of 10 people I crossed paths with that day said they made it to the lake.

AMAZING day hike- a must see!

This is incredible! Make sure to bring water and snacks. Coming from California this elevation gain is no joke! You'll hike through the amazing Aspen trees and see a beautiful waterfall along the way. Towards the end of the hike you'll hit some pretty steep switchbacks, these wouldn't be great in the rain so be cautious. Totally worth the views at the lake!

Great day hike!

It took us about 3 hours round trip with a quick lunch and photos at the lake. On the way up make sure to take the trail left, crossing the stream, about 7 minutes past the sign pointing left to Cathedral Lake.


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