Beginning in dense woods the trail passes cascades and waterfalls along Cataract Creek, travels through beautiful alpine meadows and visits a scenic alpine lake on its way to the Continental Divide.
Trailhead to Cataract Lake and the Continental Divide
Just beyond the trailhead parking area the trail up Cataract Gulch crosses Cottonwood Creek on a bridge and then begins a steep ascent on switchbacks through dense stands of spruce-fir forest. As you climb the trail crosses Cataract Creek five times without the aid of bridges. Generally these crossing are not a problem although you should be prepared to get your feet wet.
During the first 2.0-miles of the hike the trail gains over 2,000-ft. Waterfalls and cascades along Cataract Creek, spectacular displays of wildflowers and an old miner’s cabin will help divert your attention from the steep climb. Be sure to turn around when you get to openings in the trees for nice views of Sunshine Peak (14,001-ft.), located to the north (down canyon) across the Lake Fork Valley.
At 2.0 miles the grade eases a bit as the trail climbs through meadows with patches of low lying shrubs. Along this section of the trail views open to Half Peak (13,841-ft.) rising to the west of the trail. A short distance beyond the climb resumes and the trail passed a beautiful waterfall at 2.1 miles. This is a good turnaround point for a short hike.
The grade eases briefly at 2.7 miles where views open to a pretty meadow with beaver ponds. Soon the trail turns left (east), climbing steeply up a bluff to the upper basin at 3.5 miles. Here the grade abates as the path ascends on gentle grades through alpine meadows and willow clusters to Cataract Lake (12,100-ft.) at 4.6 miles. The lake lies in a pretty meadow scattered with willows just below the Continental Divide.
To reach the Continental Divide, follow the trail as it curves to the southwest and ascends above the west side of the lake to the Divide (12,200-ft.) at 5.0 miles. A small pond lies cradled atop the divide. From the divide views stretch south down the Pole Creek Valley and beyond. To the north are great views down Cataract Gulch to Sunshine Peak.
The divide is the turnaround point for day hikers. It is possible to connect with the Cuba Gulch Trail by following the CDT west through open tundra for 2.0 miles to the head of Cuba Gulch. You can also walk east along the divide for more great views.
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Driving Directions from Lake City: From Lake City take Highway 149 south for 2.5 miles. Turn right onto CR 30,the road to Lake San Cristobal. Follow the paved road approximately 4 miles then continue on the dirt road for about 8.3 miles. At the fork in the road turn left on CR 35 toward Sherman and drive 1.4 miles. A sign marks the trailhead on the left (south) side of the road.
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