McCullough Gulch is located in White River National Forest near Blue Lakes, Colorado. James and I took a trip to Breckenridge, and this was just a short(ish) 7-8 mile drive from our hotel. After doing my research for this blog post, it appears it can be a little confusing getting to the trailhead for this magnificent hike.

We drove along Highway 9 South down to Blue Lakes Rd. We turned right there and then another quick right onto Highway 851 (McCullough Gulch Rd.) If memory serves, there is a small parking area right there where 851 begins. However, we were able to keep driving. The road to get to the trailhead is a bit sketchy, and it appears that it’s often closed which makes this hike go from about 3 miles up to maybe 7 or more (as you’ll have to park down in the farther lot). We went in late June, and we still encountered some scattered and packed snow at the top. So I would definitely encourage anyone interested in doing this trail to check the conditions prior to setting out. With that said, it is insanely beautiful. It could still be worth the extra trek if you have to park farther away. But to get the most out of the experience, I would personally save this hike for the summer months.

We arrived around 7:30am, and I believe there was only one other car. We wondered for a few if we were at the wrong spot because we’re never the early birds! But as it turned out, this road becomes packed in the afternoon.IMG_1485blog

We were able to drive all the way up to this gate, and then we had to walk a bit up to the actual trailhead. Looking at the metadata on my photos, it appears it was only about a 10 minute stroll from here. We are not fast people, so it was probably less than half a mile. I do believe this little bit of a walk is included in the 2.9 mile total I found. But like I said above, if you had to park farther away, that adds to the distance.IMG_1487blog

Walking along….I was thankful for the flatness because my lungs were working hard to adapt to the 11,000′ elevation. That’s more than double our situation in Denver, so it took a minute to get used to it.IMG_1489blog

We found the trailhead! (Not that it was lost.) People have not been kind to this poor little sign.IMG_1493blog Within minutes, we knew this was going to be a beautiful trail unlike anything we’d seen in our hikes near Denver.IMG_1495blog

I’m pretty sure I stood here and thought, “Is this real life?”IMG_1498blog

Yes, apparently it is.IMG_1501blog

I’ll admit, this random little area along the trail felt a bit out of place.IMG_1507blog

But then we were back to this.IMG_1510blog

And this.IMG_1512blog

There were some uphill parts, but we took it slow and steady.IMG_1515blog IMG_1520blog IMG_1522blog

We didn’t see much wildlife (although it appears there is definitely the potential for moose or bears in these parts), but we did get to see our first marmot! I had to go home and Google it because I had no idea what this little guy was.
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We still hadn’t seen hardly anyone else along the trail although that didn’t bother us a bit. IMG_1546blog

We encountered water here and there, but we never had to cross any to stay on the trail.IMG_1552blog IMG_1555blog IMG_1557blog

Don’t mind me – just standing here candidly looking out over the gulch while James snaps my photo.IMG_1559blog IMG_1570blog

As we got higher, we definitely found more snow. And it became harder to figure out where we should go.IMG_1571blog

Thankfully there was a family ahead of us who helped lead the way. I’m pretty sure we got way off trail, but we didn’t get lost. So it all worked out.IMG_1576blog

We finally reached the lake. This is the view to the east.IMG_1579blog

And here’s the lake. It was windy and chilly, but man was it beautiful.IMG_1580blog

Because I couldn’t decide which shot to include, you get both!IMG_1586blog

Another look back east.IMG_1588blog

Wanna know how many shots with the tripod/remote it took to get one I liked? No, you don’t.IMG_1600eblog

This guy is my very favorite adventure partner.IMG_1608blog IMG_1614blog

I probably could have just stood up here and taken shots all day long. But it was cold, and the weather was starting to turn. Colorado afternoon thunderstorms are no joke, so we knew we needed to head back down. (Looking at the satellite image of the area, it seems there is another lake past this one. We didn’t realize that at the time though, so apparently we didn’t hike the whole trail.)IMG_1616blog IMG_1618blog

So back across the snow we went. (Microspikes would have helped at this part, but it wasn’t really necessary.)IMG_1623blog IMG_1624blog IMG_1625blog IMG_1631blog

We made it back down past the snow, and it actually took us a minute to find the trail again.IMG_1632blog IMG_1636blog

We had obviously passed this waterfall on the way up (since this is an out-and-back trail), but I decided to grab a photo as we were returning. Of course the blue skies had given way to gray clouds, and I was reminded that I should always stop and take the shot when I can. Always, always. But it’s okay, it’s still pretty. (And really, the lake was my happy place on this hike.)
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As we walked back down the trail, we encountered sooooo many more people. Like groups and groups of them. This photo tells a lie because it still looks like we were out here alone.IMG_1649blog

We met up with a nice couple while walking, and the guy happily offered to take this photo for us. And it turned out fantastically.IMG_1652blog

We made our way back down the road to our car. That was one great day.IMG_1653blog

For more information about this trail, check out AllTrails and the GoBreck website. My distance totals might be off, because we don’t use GPS often while hiking and the online reports are conflicting. But this hike took us a little under 4 hours because we went very slow (as always) and spent some time at the lake. As I mentioned above, we must not have hiked the whole trail, but we certainly enjoyed ourselves!

Here is a little map for ya:

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