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8.5 miles

Elevation Gain

1600 ft

Route Type



Added by Charlie Jasper

Not for rookies to alpine hiking, this trek offers amazing vistas for more advanced novices and experienced trekkers and back-country fisherpeeps. Oh, and it's dog friendly.

My Fitbit may have lied on the distance, but let's ignore that.

Start at the Coldwater Creek trailhead and head due-south. It's about 50 yards ENE of the Duck Pass Trailhead, which is at the final parking/camping loop at the Coldwater Creek campground. Start along there and (well, the bridge was washed out) follow the trail - there was another path there not marked on any Google map but it's official and does the job. Walk along that trail until you get to a series of insane viewpoints in the canyon.

From there, you'll see a green lake (Emerald Lake) and a path up above you, as well as a trail sign pointing to Duck Pass Trail (L) and Gentian Meadows (R). Go left, which is roughly east.

Because of this past winter's and spring's weather it should be noted that many sections of trail were, while not eroded, covered in snow, and some alternate paths had been made that were parallel to the trail but not on the main footpath. These were not random scrambles, but rather blazed to avoid hazards to include fallen trees, melting snow, and relatively freshly fallen rock and scree.

Keep heading up and along the path, you may have to scramble around snow in certain times of the year, but you generally will not need poles or crampons or spikes - case in point, we did it without any of those. You'll get to a series of large outcroppings that are easily accessible for both overnighters, people caught in weather, and just plain old people taking in the view. From there, you can see the flat spaces and old fire rings used by backpackers and other folks. They're about 15 yards away from you and sheltered on at least 2 1/2 sides. Take your panorama pictures because holy cow, it's worth it, and descend to the fairly exposed and therefore easily accessible trail to Skelton Lake. Continue due-southeast past the creeks and cascades until you hit a flat, open space with some rocky ledges and some short pines. You'll hear a waterfall to your ESE, a remnant of a glacier turned into a small feeder lake that drains into Skelton. Further southeast are the paths to the Woods Lakes, Red Lake and Barney Lake, and ultimately, the Duck Lake Pass.

Take it in. Drop in a line. Catch a brook trout (the fish there used to be much bigger, but now they're small, so we released all of them). Eat some lunch. Have a shot of mountain whiskey with your crew. Relax and explore. Maybe get your feet wet. The water is incredibly cold and gets deep quickly, so I don't recommend going in and swimming, especially with the unpredictability of alpine weather.

When it's time to go back, head out the same way you came to the lake. Bear right at the fork for Emerald and Arrowhead Lakes (heading towards Arrowhead) and continue due-north. You'll see a clearly marked sign for a fork in the trail, the turn taking you back towards the western shore of Arrowhead Lake. Go down and explore for a few minutes, and then double-back and continue to a rocky precipice. There, you'll see an incredible view of the valley and surrounding mountains.

Follow the switchbacks down until they let out at the Duck Pass Trailhead at the very top of the Coldwater Creek campground/day-use parking area.

When you're done, go to the Mammoth Tavern for some of the best food in town.

Pictures taken by me and my friends Adam, Rob, Daniel, and Dave.

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Duck Lake via Duck Pass Trail

Pika Lake via Duck Pass Trail

Arrowhead Lake

Skelton Lake Trail

Heart Lake

Emerald Lake