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One of the prettiest hidden sights on Colorado's Front Range, Little Echo Lake makes visitors work a bit to get there. Accessible by a mile=long trail heading into the James Peak Wilderness Area, Little Echo Lake has been inspiring visitors to make the effort for well over a hundred years. The little alpine lake was known as Lake Luena in the late 19th century. Named in memory of Luena Langton who reportedly drowned there, the story is far in the past and somewhat fuzzy. The lake's beauty wasn't fuzzy at all, however, being featured on a stereoscope slide by James Collier about 1880. That bit of stereoscopic fame no doubt added to the popular attraction of the tiny lake at over 11,000 feet. Fed by snow melt, the lake has no regular inlets and only a sparse seasonal outlet. The lake and the surrounding James Peak Wilderness Area are considered part of Denver's water supply. Its proximity to the Denver and Boulder areas makes it an attractive day hike for city residents wanting to enjoy the out-of-doors.
There are few statistics for Little Echo Lake. Nestled at the base of steep slopes that form part of the James Peak heights, the lake is said to be very deep, but no one has apparently measured its depth. The tiny lake is only about 10 to 15 acres in size but holds a nice selection of both rainbow trout and lake trout. The trout aren't huge, with the lakers reaching only about 14 inches in length. Still, fly fishermen find it a real treat to catch lake trout on dry flies and often use float tubes to reach the best areas. It's enough to encourage some anglers to regularly make the mile-and-a-half trek from the parking area. The trail isn't considered especially difficult, although there are some steep slopes. But at this altitude, any kind of a climb can be exhausting to those not used to the thinner air. Not far to the west, James Peak Lake lies just below the summit of James Peak.
Little Echo Lake hasn't always been publicly owned, although the trail has been available for many years. When the James Peak Wilderness Area was created within the Arapaho National Forest, a 318-acre parcel including Little Echo Lake was under private ownership. The owner finally sold the parcel to The Wilderness Land Trust which worked with other conservation trusts and the US Forest Service to add the property to the existing wilderness area. Paid for with oil and gas lease royalties, the new acquisition and its trail add another public access to the 17,000-acre James Peak Wilderness and another trailhead with access to an extensive series of high country trails near the Continental Divide. From the James Peak Trail, hikers can continue up to the James Peak Ridge, where they can enjoy a pristine wilderness central Rockies landscape overlooking the St. Mary's Glacier less than three miles away. Those who take the fork for Ute Trail can reach Little Echo Lake or continue on to eventually join the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail. This 3,100-mile trail is even longer than the Appalachian Trail and traverses several states between Canada and Mexico. Certain parts of the trail in Colorado are true wilderness.
No campfires are allowed in the entire James Peak Wilderness Area, and motorized vehicles are not allowed on the trail. Camping is allowed, but all camps must be at least 100 feet from the water. In this steep terrain, there are few flat areas near Little Echo Lake within which to pitch a tent. Most hikers are content to either fish or take lots of pictures of the lovely scenery. The wildflowers in July are a special treat. As the lake is above the treeline, there are some shrubs and low vegetation but little to interfere with spectacular views of 13,294-foot James Peak and others in the surrounding area. The Wilderness and Little Echo Lake are starkly beautiful, remote from any human habitation except for the occasional ruins of an ancient cabin or two. Those lucky enough to visit here will have their breath taken away, not just by the thin atmosphere but by the stunning vistas.
Little Echo Lake is an ideal day trip for visitors to Denver, Boulder or the surrounding metropolitan areas. Because the last few miles of the road to the parking area are quite rough, high-clearance vehicles, preferably with 4-wheel drive are strongly suggested. Although there are no campgrounds near the lake itself, there are several within the Arapahoe National Forest along the road west of Rollinsville. Those wishing a bit more of the comforts of home can find lodgings in private rentals around Rollinsville. Both Rollinsville and Nederland are in the heart of ski country, and many private ski cottages are available, along with lovely small resorts offering such amenities as hot tubs, excellent meals and ski lift tickets with the room rental. Those wishing to buy a piece of Colorado's most beautiful country will often find real estate around both towns. A former ghost town on Rollinsville Road, the small hamlet of Tolland is slowly being revived and the remaining buildings refurbished as cabins and ski lodges. People lucky enough to live in Tolland brag there's nothing to see . . .except the scenic vistas surrounding them on every side. In the future, the old inns in Tolland may again be open for business as they were in the 1920s.
There is no shortage of things to do in the Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forests or the nearby Rocky Mountain National Park. Every possible activity to make your visit complete can be found within an hour of Little Echo Lake. From the museums, arts and culture of Denver to white-water rafting, skiing, hiking, back-country camping, fishing and simply enjoying the scenery, Little Echo Lake is a must-visit on your next trip to Colorado. The best season for getting into the back country is summer, but there are activities year round that will delight any visitor.
*All statistics are estimates as there is no official information available.
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