Pierre Lakes, Maroon Snowmass Trailhead - Snowmass Falls Ranch, Aspen - Snowmass, Colorado
Pierre Lakes - 16.4 miles
Maroon Snowmass Trailhead - Snowmass Falls Ranch
|Round-Trip Length:||16.4 miles (distance will vary by route)|
|Start-End Elevation:||8,408' - 12,174' (elevation at largest lake)|
|Elevation Change:||+3,766' net elevation gain (+4,935' total roundtrip elevation gain)|
Pierre Lakes - 16.4 Miles Round-Trip
The Pierre Lakes occupy a massive, rocky basin below Capitol Peak (14,130’) and Clark Peak (13,568’) in the Maroon Bells – Snowmass Wilderness. No maintained trail reaches the lakes, however a strenuous and navigationally challenging route follows Snowmass Creek and Bear Creek up to the basin. Only experienced hikers should attempt this route.
The hike can be tackled in five parts:
- The Maroon Snowmass Trail to Snowmass Creek (GPS points 1-8)
- Snowmass Creek ford into the Bear Creek drainage (GPS points 9 - 10)
- Unmaintained route up Bear Creek to the waterfall (GPS points 10 – 12)
- Scaling the waterfall (GPS points 12 – 16)
- Waterfall up to the Pierre Lakes (GPS points 16 – 26)
Distances and GPS points provided here are only a guide and individual routes will vary.
The route generally follows an old trail of which parts are still clear or intuitively followed. Other segments follow cairns though you’ll likely find multiple sets. Navigation is much easier past treeline where you can simply trace the creek.
Arguably the biggest challenge is the waterfall on Bear Creek. It’s steep and requires some Class-3 scrambling and bushwhacking through cheese grater-like brush. It can take 1 – 2 hours (each way) to clear the waterfall.
Cairns offer guidance but are easily lost and difficult to follow. This description runs up the right side of the waterfall, and acknowledges but can’t attest to possible routes up the left side.
Travel is generally rugged once off the main trail with heavy brush and long sections of rock, especially leading up to the waterfall and across the Pierre Lakes basin. These sections slow travel and should factor in to your schedule.
Visitors will enjoy stunning scenery throughout that few people have a chance to see:
Maroon Snowmass Trail to Snowmass Creek (GPS points 1-8)
The trail rises through tall aspen to views over Snowmass Creek (1.1 miles : 8,648'). It levels on a high bank to the West Snowmass Trail split (1.45 miles : 8,638') and runs fast on mild grades in a thick aspen forest.
You’ll generally want to cross Snowmass Creek as close to Bear Creek as possible to avoid unnecessary bushwhacking on the far side, but it’s difficult to discern this drainage from Copper Creek (approximately .12 miles before Bear Creek).
Some trip reports suggest there’s a bridge over Snowmass Creek near the ideal cross-point, but it’s hard to find and its condition can’t be verified.
One efficient point is approximately 3.7 miles up the Maroon Snowmass Trail. This approximate location will place you near the mouth of Bear Creek on the north side where you’ll find the designated route.
Snowmass Creek ford into the Bear Creek drainage (GPS points 9 - 10)
Leave the main trail and head down to Snowmass Creek (approx. 3.7 miles : 9,125’). Snowmass Creek is voluminous, especially during runoff. Prioritize safe crossing over location – once over the best available terrain will naturally funnel you into the Bear Creek drainage and up the north side.
Some trip reports suggest crossing before or just after Copper Creek. It seems unnecessary to cross that early unless volume is prohibitive near Bear Creek.
A decent track leads from Snowmass Creek into the drainage where navigation is fairly straightforward up to the waterfall.
Unmaintained route up Bear Creek to the waterfall (GPS points 11 – 13)
The unmaintained route runs along Bear Creek through intervals of meadow, open rock, tall brush and timber (4.3 mile mark). Terrain is uneven but grades are generally moderate with easy navigation along the creek.
Raspberries are abundant across open slopes. Be mindful of bears, especially where visibility is limited.
You’ll reach a big opening in the valley at the edge of a long rock slide from which you’ll see the waterfall (4.9 miles : 9,640’). Cross this rocky section to a swath of willow between you and the base of the falls (5.2 miles : 9,850’).
You can climb up / around this rugged (and deceptively long) segment, but it’s advisable to stay low and punch through to the far side where you’ll find cairns leading up the right side of the waterfall (5.25 miles : 9,850’).
Scaling the waterfall (GPS points 13 – 16)
Cairns head straight up with Class-III scrambling in places. You’ll likely lose one route and pick up another by following natural lines and best available terrain. Dense brush can present a bigger challenge than rock or pitch on this scramble - the best way is often a hard-nosed punch right through it.
The route climbs 600’+ across boulders, open ledges and brush before tilting back down to glades above the waterfall (note the waterfall isn't 600' tall, but the route leads you higher to avoid cliffs).
Head toward the creek where a good path will soon emerge (5.55 miles : 10,560’).
Mark your transition point from brush to glades because it’s difficult to find on the return. The waterfall descent is equally challenging and time consuming. Routing is especially important on the return, as it’s possible to get cliffed-out and backtracking is difficult.
Waterfall up to the basin (GPS points 16 – 26)
Once above the waterfall travel moderates to another long, open rockslide (6.0 miles : 10,570’). The valley is flat here but the center is cluttered by willow, forcing you up the rock. Head straight across to find a grassy track that leads to a well-marked creek crossing (6.4 miles : 10,790’).
This is where Bear Creek forks and the route crosses the north fork to a steep ridge between forks (the north fork leads to the lower lakes, and the south fork leads to the largest lake). It follows cairns up this steep ridge while favoring the south side and losing sight of the north side (GPS points 19 – 22).
Cairns seem to disappear as timber thins and big meadows along the south fork of Bear Creek emerge below (7.1 miles : 11,570’).
Both routing and terrain become much easier as you pass treeline (7.2 miles : 11,525’) into alpine meadows along the south fork of Bear Creek. Follow the creek to a steep rocky ridge (8.1 miles), which you’ll scale to reach the Pierre Lakes basin (8.2 miles : 12,174’).
- N39 11.992 W106 59.643 — 0.0 miles : Maroon-Snowmass Trailhead
- N39 11.825 W107 00.073 — .5 miles : Fast travel in aspen forest
- N39 11.602 W107 00.647 — 1.1 miles : Pass through cattle gate
- N39 11.403 W107 00.877 — 1.45 miles : West Snowmass Trail split
- N39 11.200 W107 01.093 — 1.85 miles : MB - SM Wilderness Boundary
- N39 10.870 W107 01.267 — 2.3 miles : Fast travel in aspen forest
- N39 10.272 W107 01.305 — 3.0 miles : Fast travel in aspen forest
- N39 09.775 W107 01.289 — 3.7 miles : Spur leading to Snowmass Creek
- N39 09.787 W107 01.349 — 3.75 miles : Cross Snowmass Creek
- N39 09.383 W107 01.320 — 4.3 miles : Faint path runs along Bear Creek
- N39 08.979 W107 01.607 — 4.9 miles : Begin long stretch of talus to base of waterfall
- N39 08.806 W107 01.833 — 5.25 miles : Base of waterfall, look for cairns leading up
- N39 08.827 W107 01.896 — 5.35 miles : Follow cairns on steep route
- N39 08.830 W107 02.058 — 5.45 miles : Cross steep talus above waterfall
- N39 08.756 W107 02.088 — 5.55 miles : Exit brush and find trail in sloping glades
- N39 08.699 W107 02.120 — 5.85 miles : Cairn on faint path
- N39 08.605 W107 02.228 — 6.0 miles : Campsite on edge of scree field
- N39 08.411 W107 02.715 — 6.4 miles : Path follows creek to well-marked crossing
- N39 08.340 W107 02.913 — 6.75 miles : Cairns lead up steep ridge
- N39 08.215 W107 03.007 — 6.85 miles : Steep travel up ridge between creek forks
- N39 08.068 W107 03.189 — 7.2 miles : Travel moderates through alpine meadows
- N39 08.132 W107 03.180 — 7.3 miles : Drop into meadows along Bear Creek
- N39 08.079 W107 03.667 — 7.9 miles : Pass tarn in upper valley
- N39 08.211 W107 04.002 — 8.1 miles : Steep push up rock slide to lake
- N39 08.282 W107 04.028 — 8.2 miles : Reach edge of largest lake (12,174')
- N39 08.539 W107 03.687 — 9.1 miles : Top of knoll of lower lakes (12,319')
- Pants or gaiters are recommended for dealing with long stretches of dense brush, brambles and nettles.
- Once off the Maroon Snowmass Trail travel is generally rugged with long stretches of rock and thick overgrowth in several places.
Camping and Backpacking Information
- Dispersed backcountry camping is permitted in the Maroon Bells - Snowmass Wilderness. Self-registration permits are available at each trailhead and/or Wilderness Boundary. There is no fee or limit to the number of permits issued. Backpackers must carry a completed registration form with them for the duration of the trip.
- Camping is prohibited within 100' of any trail, lake or stream. Group size is limited to 10 individuals (or 15 with people + stock).
- Campfires are permitted in the Maroon Bells - Snowmass Wilderness, with potential seasonal restrictions. Campfires are not permitted above or within .25 miles (440 yards) of treeline, or within 100' of any lake or stream. Location and seasonal-specific restrictions may also apply.
- Contact the Aspen Ranger District (970.925.3445) or Sopris Ranger District (970.963.2266) for the latest weather, trail conditions and trail-specific guidelines when planning your trip.
- There are several fairly well-established campsites along the route described above. The best available terrain can generally be found between Snowmass Creek and the waterfall, and in meadows leading to treeline along the south fork of Bear Creek.
- Fishing is permitted in the Pierre Lakes and along Snowmass Creek, Bear Creek and West Snowmass Creek with a valid Colorado fishing license.
- Be mindful of private property lines in the lower valley (fishing is not available to the public on private lands).
Rules and Regulations
- Dogs must be leashed at all times in the Maroon Bells - Snowmass Wilderness.
Directions to Trailhead
The Maroon-Snowmass Trailhead is located on Divide Road on the (west) backside of Snowmass Village.
From Highway 82, turn onto Brush Creek Road and follow it 5.4 miles to Divide Road. Bear right on Divide Road and continue past Krabloonik Restaurant and Kennels, where it will turn steeply down toward the valley floor and turn to dirt/gravel.
Keep left at the fork and continue to the dead-end parking lot at Snowmass Falls Ranch. The trailhead is 1.6 miles from the point where the road turns to dirt. High clearance is preferable but may be attempted by 2WD cars when the road is clear.
Maroon Bells - Snowmass Wilderness | Aspen Ranger District
806 West Hallam
Aspen, CO 81611
Maroon Bells - Snowmass Wilderness | Sopris Ranger District
620 Main Street
Carbondale, CO 81623
White River National Forest
900 Grand Ave.
P.O. Box 948
Glenwood Springs CO 81602
970.945.2521 | 970.319.2670