A Three Day Hike to Emerald Lake and Moon Lake in Weminuche Wilderness, Colorado
Pine River Trail
For the first part of our honeymoon last summer, my husband and I went on three day hike in the Weminuche Wilderness area. It was supposed to be a four day hike, but some unfortunate events on day two cut the trip short to a 3 day hike. The night before the hike we stayed in a cute little cabin in Pine River Lodge on the shores of Vallecito Reservoir. It was only a short distance from the trail head so we were able to get up early and head out on the trail. It was early August, but the morning had a hint of a chill that can only be felt in the middle of the summer in the mountains. Pine River Trail is 49 miles out and back and the elevation ranges from 8,000 to 10,500 ft. We were only going to hike as far as Moon lake which was about 15 miles in.
To Emerald Lake
Hiking in Weminuche Wilderness on Pine River trail to Emerald Lake and Moon Lake begins at Granite Peak Ranch a few miles away from Vallecito Reservoir. The first few miles of the trail go through the ranch before you head into the Weminuche Wilderness. The trail gains quite a bit of elevation and meanders through streams, forest, and meadows. At that elevation, it never gets hot, but it does get warm. We were cooled off by a light rain that lasted for a few hours.While the trail leveled off in places, in was a pretty steady climb. The elevation at Granite Peak Ranch is 8000 ft. If you're not acclimated to higher elevations you should take it easy the first day. Getting altitude sickness in the middle of the wilderness will definitely put a damper in your trip.
Right before you get to Emerald Lake, you will arrive at Little Emerald Lake. This is where we camped. People like to fish in Emerald Lake and horseback up to the lake so the area is not completely secluded.
To Moon Lake
The next morning my husband and I woke up ready to go. The plan was to leave our camp set up so we wouldn't have to carry as much weight as we made our way up to Moon Lake. The morning was cool, but it was rapidly warming up. We packed up small backpack with lunch and our rain jackets and headed out. Hiking along Emerald Lake was breathtaking. I love lakes tucked into the mountains. Beyond the lake, we encountered the most spectacular field of wildflowers either of us had ever seen. It looked like something out of a painting.
As the trail continued, it ran across small streams and a couple not so small streams. It started clouding up a little but we had our rain jackets so we weren't too worried. The trail went through forest for a bit, and then we were steadily climbing along the tree line. The rain began, light at first. Soon it was pouring. When we finally made it to Moon Lake we were drenched. It was a nice little lake, but I have to admit after trudging through the rain I was expecting something a little more spectacular. We huddled under a tree to eat our lunch and wait out the rain. Finally, we decided to tough it out and head back.
We encountered a problem immediately. The small streams we had crossed on the way up had swelled. Most were still small enough that we crossed cautiously without difficulty. The rain soon stopped, and our wet clothes felt nice in the warm sun. When we were almost back to the wildflower field we reached a creek that was about 15 feet across with rushing water that reached to right above my knee. My husband crossed with the aid of trekking pole. I started to cross and knew I was in trouble. I made it almost all the way before the current grabbed me. Somehow I was able to keep my wits for the next few seconds. My husband reached out to me with the trekking pole that broke immediately. After that I grabbed a rock and held on for dear life. He was able to reach me and pull me to safety.
I was pretty shook up but I had no serious injuries, which was extremely lucky. We had originally planned to hike back down in two days, but for once I was done with the wilderness. We easily made it down the next day and headed to Durango for the night. We found a great little pizza place with local beer. The next day, we headed to Silverton, CO for the remainder of our honeymoon.
We learned a valuable lesson on that hike. What comes up, must come down. If you are hiking up a mountain and crossing a lot of water, beware if it starts to rain. Take appropriately precautions and always check the weather forecast before you leave. Even a small chance of rain (which is what our forecast was) is worth taking seriously.