Emmaline Lake

An excellent hike in Pingree Park takes you to an amazing area high in the Northern Colorado Rockies.

This excellent hike in Pingree Park takes you to some amazing lakes high in the Northern Colorado Rockies. It is 5.7 miles one way from the trailhead. Emmaline Lake is incredibly scenic and takes about a day for most people (even if you’re faster, you’ll want to take the whole day and explore). At and near the top, you are surrounded on three sides by the high mountain ridges of Comanche Peak and Fall Mountain. There are ways to the top, but they almost all require some scrambling. There are multiple little ponds, large rocks to climb on and explore, and it’s overall a nice little area that is kinda fun to spend a day.

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Emmaline Lake is the largest of the three shown above. As you can see, you are surrounded on three sides by the mountain ridge.

The trail itself is Forest Service Trail #945 and follows Fall Creek (yes, another Fall Creek) all the way to Emmaline Lake. On the way, you’ll pass by Cirque Meadows, which is a destination in its own right. It can be buggy here through late spring, so be sure to have bug spray. Cirque Meadows also have some shallow ponds and creek access which is suitable for wading.

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Cirque Meadows in the shade of the above clouds

The first part of the trail runs just to the north and west of the Colorado State University Mountain Campus (it technically runs through it, but skirts the campus, not through all the buildings). The trail also serves as the access route for the Mummy Pass trail, which is very clearly signed.

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The sign at the trail junction of Emmaline Lake and Mummy Pass. Note how Mummy Pass serves as a backcountry route into Rocky Mountain National Park. If you’re going all the way into the park, you need to have a pass.
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The broader Pingree Park area trail map. Green is designated wilderness, pink is private property, black is NPS land. Yellow designates “travel zones,” areas with backcountry use restrictions. Emmaline Lake is in a travel zone.

Most will park at the “first” trailhead, just up the hill from Tom Bennett Campground, but if you have a high clearance vehicle you can drive 0.5 miles to the “second” trailhead at a gate at the end of the forest road.

The trail is a wide, well-maintained trail for its first couple miles. You will be in the trees at first, but there will be plenty of clearings where you are greeted with views looking back into the Pingree Valley, the CSU Mountain Campus, and the Mummy Range and Stormy Peaks.

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Early on the trail

After a while, the trail will reach a creek crossing where bridges have been built. Once you’re past this, you will be following Fall Creek most of the rest of the way.

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The trail weaves across the creek several times and passes numerous waterfalls of Fall Creek

Nearing Emmaline Lake, you will see signs indicating that you are entering a travel zone. The Emmaline Lake travel zone begins at the wilderness boundary just past Cirque Meadows. Travel zones are areas with backcountry use restrictions, primarily to protect the environment and keep it as pristine as possible. Camping is only allowed at designated campsites, and open campfires are prohibited. Although not technically within the Emmaline Lake travel zone, Cirque Meadows also has some designated campsites, but wood burning campfires are permitted here.

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Looking back down the valley from a clearing in the travel zone

From Cirque Meadows to just below Emmaline Lake, you are in a forest of old growth. The trees tower around you, and it feels like a jungle in a way. You will leave this forest of old growth and emerge in a more rocky and patchy forest close to the lakes. You are very close to timberline here but not above it for any part of the trail.

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Waterfalls of Fall Creek near Emmaline Lake. Notice how it is more open. Also, due to the elevation and harsh winter conditions, bristlecone pine trees grow here.
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A panorama looking northeast (towards Pingree Valley) from near Emmaline Lake. Here you start to feel surrounded on three sides by the high mountain ridges.

Cirque Lake is very close to Emmaline Lake, named because of the very distinctive Cirque with persistent glaciers. This cirque (noun (geology): a half-open steep-sided hollow at the head of a valley or on a mountainside, formed by glacial erosion) between Fall Mountain and Comanche Peak is very iconic of the Mummy Range and Pingree Park. You can see it from very far away. At Emmaline Lake & Cirque Lake, you are directly beneath it.

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Cirque Lake sits directly below the iconic cirque of the Mummy Range

Emmaline Lake is a great hike to have on the bucket list for Pingree Park. It is popular for Northern Colorado residents as well as students studying at the CSU Mountain Campus. It is a fairly short hike and not technical, but there are steep sections.

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Below the red arrow (approximately) is Emmaline Lake. This photo looking towards into Pingree Valley and the Mummy Range from Pennock Pass well illustrates just how iconic the cirque between Comanche Peak and Fall Mountain is to the profile of the Mummy Range.