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Long Eaglesmere - Upper Cateract - Surprise Lake Loop

Intermediate/Difficult
 4.5 (4) RECOMMENDED ROUTE

Four lakes and a beautiful above tree line ridge that has mountain views on both sides.


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Map Key

25.3

Miles

40.8

KM

87%

Runnable

11,925' 3,635 m

High

8,633' 2,631 m

Low

4,232' 1,290 m

Up

4,424' 1,349 m

Down

6%

Avg Grade (4°)

33%

Max Grade (18°)

Dogs Leashed

Features Birding · Commonly Backpacked · Lake · River/Creek · Views · Wildflowers · Wildlife

Overview

This loop takes runners to four different lakes, each with camping spots. Mirror Lake and Upper Cataract Lake are right at the base of Eaglesnest Mountain. Elliot Ridge has beautiful views of the surrounding mountains on both sides and leads right up to the base of Eaglesnest Mountain. The trip was just over 26 miles, making it a grueling two-day trip and a good three-day, two-night trip.

Need to Know

Do not leave any valuables in your vehicle. Ours had a window broken and items stolen out of it.

Watch for the turn and river crossing right after Mirror Lake.

Watch the weather before proceeding on the Elliot Ridge Trail; you'll be above tree line for approximately 7 miles, and storms blow in fast.

Description

You can start at either Eaglesmere Trailhead or the Surprise Lake Trailhead. We started at Eaglesmere and spent the first night at Eaglesmere Lake. The Eaglesmere Trail leads steadily upwards with great views of Lower Cataract Lake and the surrounding mountains for the first 1.5 miles. Around 3 miles in, you take a right turn onto the Gore Range Trail to head to Eaglesmere Lake. Eaglesmere Lake is approximately 0.5 miles further. There is a trail around Eaglesmere Lake and there are plenty of campsites around the entire lake.

Continue down the Gore Range Trail and take a left turn toward Mahan Lake and County Road 1831. After the first two miles, the trail will come to a trailhead and turn into County Road 1831. Take this until you get to a left turn, at which point you'll see the Elliot Ridge Trail.

The Elliot Ridge Trail is almost seven miles and is mainly above tree line. You'll have great views of the surrounding mountains on either side. Watch the weather closely, as storms can blow in fast. As you continue along the trail, you'll approach Eagles Nest Mountain, finally dropping into the bowl to head down to the base once you reach the Mirror Lake/Upper Cataract Lake Trail. The Elliot Ridge Trail gets less defined as you go. Towards the end, there is not much of a trail at all. Continue going uphill until you reach a sign saying you are at the Mirror Lake/Upper Cataract Lake Trail. The Elliot Ridge Trail does follow the county line and there are blank signs that denote this.

The Mirror Lake/Upper Cataract Lake Trail is very hard to follow in the beginning. The trail is very faint and you'll need to follow posts held up by rocks. These will guide you down into the bowl until the trail is easily picked up again. They are not hard to follow, and there is always one within eye sight. The trail switchbacks down the bowl for longer than you would think, and it takes quite a while to get to Mirror Lake. You cannot miss Mirror Lake, so keep going until you get there.

Mirror Lake has three or four good campsites. There is not much else for campsites due to the steep nature of the terrain around the lake. If all sites are taken, you can continue to Upper Cataract Lake. There are many more campsites there.

When leaving Mirror Lake, you need to cross the river/creek right before the first bend. The trail is not well marked and somewhat hard to see. It appears the trail continues straight along the river and crosses further down; however, this is not the case. This only leads to a campsite further down the river. If you get to a point where the river crossing is not obvious, you went too far. Backtrack until you find the first bend in the river and the proper river crossing.

Upper Cataract Lake is an uphill climb from Mirror Lake. Once you get there, however, it is all downhill to the Surprise Lake Trailhead. Continue along Upper Cataract Lake Trail until you again run into the Gore Range Trail. Turn right onto this. Once you pass Surprise Lake, turn left onto the Surprise Lake Trailhead, and you'll be back to the Surprise Lake Trailhead in 2.4 miles. The views are not as good from the Surprise Lake Trail as there are from the Eaglesmere Trail. Once at the trailhead, you'll need to run 0.5 miles back to your vehicle at the other trailhead.

Flora & Fauna

Lots of wildflowers. We only saw bunnies and birds and one deer, but there were many signs of larger animals (tracks and scat).

Contacts

Shared By:

Brendan Tuchowski

Trail Ratings

  4.5 from 4 votes

#3

in Heeney

#2261

Overall
  4.5 from 4 votes
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Recommended Route Rankings

#3

in Heeney

#313

in Colorado

#2,261

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3,427 Since Aug 1, 2018
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Photos

Final descent to Upper Cataract Lake with Eagles Nest looming in the distance.
Aug 11, 2019 near Vail, CO
Mountains in the distance above Lower Cataract Lake
Aug 1, 2018 near Vail, CO
Heading towards Eagles Nest Mountain along Elliot Ridge Trail
Aug 1, 2018 near Vail, CO
Very north end of Mirror Lake looking South
Aug 1, 2018 near Vail, CO
Upper Cataract Lake looking south.
Jul 14, 2017 near Vail, CO
Upper Cataract Lake in November
Dec 23, 2019 near Vail, CO

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