Spruce Creek Trail (Mohawk Lakes)
When we visited Breckenridge this summer, I made a list of potential hikes. I had down both Spruce Creek Trail and Mohawk Lakes as they each had great reviews on AllTrails. We chose Spruce Creek first because it was shorter (6.2 miles), and we figured we should ease ourselves into it at the higher altitude.
However, when we got to the trailhead, we realized they actually both led to the same destination. According to AllTrails, the only difference is that the Mohawk Lakes Trail shows the track all the way to the Upper Mohawk Lake, and it doesn’t show you looping back on Spruce Creek Road. The good news is that it appears they’ve updated the trail description now, so Spruce Creek Trail reflects the fact that you actually see the lower Mohawk Lake and Continental Falls. Plus, if you veer off course just a tiny bit as we did, you can also experience the beautiful Mayflower Lake.
All in all, this is absolutely a beautiful trail in Breckenridge, and since we only made it to the lower Mohawk Lake (but we added on a bit to Mayflower Lake), this ended up being about 6.5 miles. The elevation gain (~1800 ft) kicked our butts though, and we spent the whole afternoon lounging around because this hike exhausted us. It did get easier for us as our trip progressed!
From downtown Breck, this is a quick drive south on Highway 9 and then west on Spruce Creek Road. The trailhead is impossible to miss.
When we parked, there was this cute little pine squirrel running around. I was only able to snap a few quick shots from our van before he ran off.
At this point, we were still a little confused about the trail. So we walked around a bit trying to figure out exactly why it said both Spruce Creek Trail and Mohawk Lakes.
This is me reading all of the information desperately trying to understand what the heck was going on. Ultimately, we did figure it out thanks to the fact that the trailhead had cell reception. And we figured it didn’t much matter anyway, we’d just follow the trail and see where it led us!
So we got going.The Spruce Creek Trail isn’t really hard to follow, but the blue diamonds nailed to the tree right from the get-go helped anyway.
However, the blue diamonds stop after the Wheeler Trail junction if I recall correctly, so these notches in the tree are there to guide you the rest of the way.
We quickly came to a creek crossing. The “bridge” was easy to walk on though. These creek crossings stress me out because I’m always carrying my camera equipment. I’m constantly grateful when I don’t have to hop rocks.
James brought along my backup camera, so he worked on practicing his photography skills. It turns out I’m quite the awkward model.
Freshly downed tree.
The farther we got into the trail, the more melting snow and mud we encountered. It was always passable though.
Although we didn’t see anyone else on the trail in the beginning, we did have some company in the form of a few Chinook helicopters.
Snow. And mud. Still cracks me up that there could be snow on the ground in late June.
More mud. But as you can see, we were able to walk around it each time.
Me in my happy place.
Wheeler Trail junction.
We got so excited when we saw this huge waterfall up ahead. At the time, we didn’t realize we’d end up standing right next to it.
Just after spotting the waterfall, we came to a clearing with this cute little secluded pond. I immediately began taking photos from every angle. (As I do.)
We believe the peak there is Mount Helen.
As we were walking back to the trail, we saw this scat. I really wanted it to be from a moose, because we were hoping so badly to see one while hiking. My research still hasn’t been conclusive but I think it’s from a moose. Just after the pond, it did get a little confusing about where to go. The blue diamonds had stopped, but we saw the notches in the tree across the creek.
I did not love these logs. I’m seriously the least adventurous adventurer there ever was. But I made it through.
I really love signage indicating we’re going the right way.
And then we had made it to the road. Now, as it turns out, there are parking areas all up and down this road between this point and the trailhead. The road is bumpy though, and our van wouldn’t have made it up. But we hadn’t seen a single person yet (and we were maybe 2 miles in?) so we wondered how in the world this could be such a busy trail.
I saw what I thought was a beaver right around here as we passed this diversion area, and I was SO mad that I didn’t get a chance to take a photo. But now, I think it was a marmot, and after two trips to Breck, we’ve seen quite a few of those furry little creatures.
Doesn’t everyone love a nice little drainage pipe photograph? So pretty.
Just past the road, we came to this sign. And then we found all the people.
The trail we’d been on had been decently flat and really not too cardio-intensive. That changed here.
And just as the sign indicated, we found the little path to Mayflower Lake about half a mile in. (Side note – I LOVE when I retain cell service throughout a hike, because I love AllTrails’ tracking option. I’m able to make sure we’re staying on the route.)
And then we saw the waterfall again, but this time it was much closer.
(We still didn’t realize it was a feature of the trail itself. We had apparently missed that ‘Continental Falls’ line on the trailhead sign.)
Mayflower Lake was beautiful. Not too deep but it had lots of fish in it.
So the next two photos show the moment I fell in love with my polarizing filter. I’ve owned this thing for years, but I had no idea what it was used for. But now I get it.
As far as lakes are concerned, it essentially removes the reflection. (It has lots of other purposes, including removing the haze on distant mountains and it clearly darkens the sky.)
So, see here? The fact that you can’t see through to the bottom of the lake very well?
And then, BAM – there are the rocks! I’m still learning how to use this thing, and it’s frustrating often because half my sky is darker than I want and no amount of spinning will fix it. But I’m excited to have a useful tool on hand.
We walked about halfway around the lake taking photos and checking out the scenery.
It does appear you could make it all the way around, but I was just ready to get back to the trail. James had other plans though – he was checking out everything. I stood there and watched. I also yelled up that I was ditching him if there was a rock avalanche. That’s true love right there, folks.
We got back on the trail and headed on up.
A small creek crossing. The water was rushing everywhere because of the snowmelt run-off.
A sweet little cabin.
And then we found the Continental Falls. It was raging and so beautiful. (And there were people everywhere, although my patience paid off, and I was able to get a few shots with just one woman in it.)
But here is where we got off track a bit. Instead of heading back the way we came to the main trail, we climbed up the side of the falls. I didn’t love that. James doesn’t mind acting like a mountain goat, but that’s not really my style. So I spent the rest of the trail being a bit stressed out. I might have said some not so nice things. It’s possible.
My advice is to go back the way you came. ALWAYS. (But the view was still beautiful.)
And we did go in the right direction. Meaning, of course, up.
(This is another good example of the polarizing filter. That distant peak was all blue and hazy without it, but I still couldn’t manage to even out the darkened sky. I’m learning.)
We did find the trail a time or two! But then we kept losing it.
Nice pano shot as we neared the lower Mohawk lake.
We finally made it up to this structure that had steel cables protruding from it and down the mountain. I assume this area was used for mining and this was the top end of that.
From here we encountered a few snowfields, and as you can see there are footprints going in all different directions. But it seems you could get there no matter which way you went. And we eventually found the path to the lake with the help of some other hikers. (Also, it doesn’t look like the snow is all that deep. But on my way back, I took a wrong step and ended up thigh-deep. Whew!)
And we made it to the lower lake! The actual ‘Mohawk Lake’ as defined on the map is another half mile, and we were wiped. Plus, if we understood correctly, it was up that hill you see in the photo below through the snow. We could see footprints but we didn’t encounter anyone who had been up that way or was planning on it that day. So we just decided to chill for a minute, have a snack, and go back.
Of course we had time for a photo. (Thanks to the nice guy who snapped it for us!)
Look at that polarizing filter doing its job.
One last look. (And James asked me about five times if I was sure I didn’t wanna try the upper lake. I was sure. Totally freaking sure.)
So we headed back down. And this time we made a concerted effort to find the dang trail. (And again, it wasn’t as easy as one would think!)
We did find it though. And I think the hike down was even more beautiful than the hike up.
I took a photo of this because we NEVER saw it on the way up. So look for this sign – it might have made the trail a bit easier to find.
When we got back down to the road, we had to decide if we wanted to make it a loop or go back through the forest. Because of the mud along the trail, we chose the road. Buuuuuut we ended up in the sun for two miles, so the trail might have been the better option. Plus we had two lovebirds in front of us who kept stopping to make out. And after you’ve hiked six miles and you’re exhausted & cranky, you’re not feeling like that’s very cute and sweet. I couldn’t have rolled my eyes any harder. (I think maybe I’m getting old?)
Anyway, this is a really beautiful trail, and the fact that you have multiple lakes in addition to a huge and raging waterfall? What more could you ask for? (Moose – I could ask for a moose sighting.) It took us five hours because we’re slow and I take a lot of photos. And there’s still a part of me that wants to go back and tackle that upper lake (and maybe even the smaller ones beyond it.) But my biggest recommendation would be to start this hike early. It does get busy, and you don’t want to be above the trail line in the afternoon when the thunderstorms roll in.
How to get there: