Updated: Jul 14, 2022
This hike is one of the more memorable adventures I took thanks to my fellow hiker and the dramatic views of expansive wildflower meadows we experienced during the journey.
My cousin came to visit us in July of 2021 while staying in Denver. Driving west on route 70, we stopped at a Kum & Go gas station in Idaho Springs for a scrumptious coffee and a bag of trail mix before continuing to Herman Gulch Trailhead, a few miles west of Silver Plume.
We had a quintessential Colorado baby-blue sky day that enveloped us on our hike. Not having seen one-another for a year and a half, this moderate hike had us winded from the get-go, as we didn’t stop jaw-jabbing the entire time. Excited to see my pal and catch up with the on-goings of his life, we also plowed through copious amounts of drinking water. Colorado has a dry heat. Unlike the humidity experienced by east coast folks, Colorado is much drier and sneakily steals your body’s moisture. Whether it be through sweat or speech, one may not notice dehydration setting in.
Not having mentioned this before, I recommend becoming a member of Alltrails. Alltrails.com is a hiking website that gives detailed information regarding trail length, elevation change, difficulty ratings, seasonal traversing guidance, driving directions, photos and more that help plan and execute the most rewarding experience a user can have. We use it to find new trails and evaluate prospective next hikes. You can also print out maps, read reviews, and check the weather. We also cross reference way points using Google Earth, satellite layer. These are good tools to use prior to beginning any hike to gain an understanding of the geography of the hike and have a mental image of where you’ll be headed from a bird’s eye view. It’s worth taking the time researching your route before setting off. This will help keep you safe on the trail and alert you to any trail closures that may be in effect.
Back to the hike. Herman Gulch has a large, gravel parking lot with 2 port-o-potties at the time of writing this article. The trail is a 6 mile out-and-back trail rated as moderate. I am a 30 year old male with an athletic build and this trail was a challenge for me. Everyone has their own unique perspective on difficulty ratings so I find that providing elevation change over distance to be one of the most effective way of trail difficulty description. This trail has an elevation change of 1,700 feet over 3 miles. For any east coaster interested in rocky mountain hiking, keep in mind that you’re starting your hike at elevations 2 to 10 times higher than comparable hikes back home. It is harder to breath at higher elevations. We like to carry oxygen canisters with us on all of our hikes. Walmart sells the one we use called Boost Oxygen. It’s one of those, better to not need it and have it than not have it and need it, items.
Anyway, this hike takes you through swaths of alpine forest and expansive meadows bursting with colorful wildflowers. Passing through the trees to break into the tundra, you’ll be rewarded with views of snowy mountain peaks as you make your way to Herman Lake, an idyllic glacial lake, cold enough to relieve your hot souled feet. Take a second to have a Sound of Music moment Julie Andrews style when you intersect the Continental Divide Trail before making the final push as you climb towards the towering Pettingell Peak. Eat some lunch, snap some instaham pics and mediate your mind to ease while trying to make yourself believe that places like this DO exist in real life.
Oops, here comes one of those rocky mountain thunderstorms. Time to go! When hiking at such high elevations, the weather can change surprisingly fast. It’s best to not get caught above the tree line during a storm. Staying aware of the weather is certainly important way up here.
At just an hour drive from downtown Denver, this easy and affordable day trip is a winner all around. Have you been daydreaming of seeing the world but aren't sure how to get started? Pick up a digital copy of our 10-Step Guide Book for becoming a full-time traveler today and let your dreams take the front seat.