The Native Lake / Highline trail traverses the eastern flank of the Continental Divide near Leadville. Along the way the route crosses a broad tundra clad plateau featuring wonderful views of the Continental Divide and Mt. Massive (14,421-ft.), visits scenic Native Lake and then wanders through woods and meadows to two small lakes along the base of Mt. Massive.
Distance from Trailhead: 4.6 miles (round trip)
Ending/Highest Elevation: 11,860-ft.
Elevation Gain: 1,080-ft.
From the parking area (see driving directions) the Native Lake trail immediately enters a thick forest of conifers and starts climbing the ridge defining the south side of the Busk Creek drainage. The trail crosses a stream several times as it ascend a series of long switchbacks on moderate grades up the forested hillside. Well watered meadows around the stream crossings support dense displays of wildflowers. Openings in the trees provide nice views of the Continental Divide to the west.
As you near the top of the ridge the trees thin and views unfold to the west of the peaks and ridges along the Continental Divide. Two miles from the trailhead the trees give way to sprawling meadows with patches of scrub willows and small copses of stunted firs.
Soon the grade abates and the trail wanders across a high tundra clad plateau with wonderful views of Mt. Massive and the peaks and ridges along the Continental Divide. To the east are expansive views of Leadville framed by a wall of 13,000 and 14,000-ft peaks. Shortly after reaching the high point of the plateau, the divide between the Busk Creek and Rock Creek drainages, the trail passes to the left of some small picturesque tarns.
Distance from Trailhead: 7.8 miles (round trip)
Ending/Highest Elevation: 11,240-ft.
Elevation Gain: -620-ft.
At 2.6 miles the trail swings to the west and starts descending to Native Lake. The upper reaches of the decent feature great views of Mt. Massive towering above the valley to the southwest.
The trail drops on moderately steep switchbacks through a rocky basin scattered with trees and then curves south. As you descend the trees thicken. At the bottom of the descent a spur trail leads to pretty Native Lake at 3.9 miles. The lake sits in a marshy basin surrounded by forest. Mt. Massive dominates the scene to the southwest.
Distance from Trailhead: 11.2 miles (round trip)
Ending/Highest Elevation: 11,615-ft.
Elevation Gain: 375-ft.
For many hikers Native lake is a good turnaround point. If you wish to continue along the Highline Trail follow the spur back to the main trail and turn left (southeast). The trail, which is difficult to follow at times, leads through the marshy area to the west of Native Lake, crosses the lake’s inlet stream in a willow thicket and then heads back into the trees.
For the next mile the path makes a fairly level traverse through woodlands and pretty meadows, occasionally crossing streams emanating from the aptly named Hidden Lakes, located to the west of the trail. From the meadows enjoy nice views of Mt. Massive and distant views of Leadville and the peaks to the northeast.
At the end of this segment the trail enters a large meadow choked with scrub willows, crosses a stream and then starts to ascend a hillside through meadows. To your right you will see ponds created by the area’s industrious beavers.
Soon the meadows give way to trees and the grade steepens. Near the top of the ascent the trail climbs beside a small stream. At the top of the hill views open to Mt. Massive rising above two small tree-lined lakes (11,615-ft.) at 5.6 miles.
This is the turnaround point for the out-and-back hike. A car shuttle is required to hike beyond this point. From the lakes the Highline Trail turns east and drops through forest to the Evergreen Lakes and the Leadville Fish Hatchery, 9.4 miles from the trailhead.
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From US 24 in Leadville, turn west on County Road 4/McWethy Drive and drive 3 miles to a three way “Y” intersection. (Paved to left, dirt in the center, paved to right.) Take the paved road to the right at the intersection to stay on County Road 4, following the signs to Turquoise Lake. Further on the road will travel along the south side of the lake.
Toward the head of the lake reach a “Y” intersection (7.4 miles from US 24) and bear left on the Hagerman Pass Road (Forest Service Road 105) and drive 3.6 miles to the trailhead parking lot, located on the south side of the road.