Hike to Fancy Pass

Colorado Fancy Lake Trailhead

Added by Johnathan Valdez

Experience hiking above treeline, creeks, a waterfall, an alpine lake, and mining ruins along this 6-mile hike. This can serve as a fun overnight backpacking trip as well.

The Fancy Pass Trail near Red Cliff is an excellent option for those looking to experience hiking in the rugged and pristine conditions of a wilderness area. This 6 mile roundtrip trail will take you into the Holy Cross Wilderness and up close and personal with towering peaks, verdant meadows, and the picturesque Fancy Lake. Summer in the high country doesn’t last very long, so this trail is typically open from mid July to late September. However, the road to the trailhead is easily passable by a standard commuter car and the parking here is plentiful.

There are two trailheads right next to each other, so make sure you take the trail for Fancy Lake. From the trailhead you will start hiking uphill through a lodgepole pine forest on a series of switchbacks. Be sure to stretch and limber up a little bit before you head out because there is no warm up section on this trail. After hiking for about a mile and 350’ of incline, you will reach the boundary for the Holy Cross Wilderness. Not long after this you will reach a crossing with the Fancy Creek drainage. The Zen Bridge, a sturdy log footbridge, has been built across the creek so there’s no worries about having to get your feet wet, just be careful with your steps because it can be slippery. From here the trail continues its upward climb until it crosses over a small tributary creek and levels out to a large meadow. Stop to admire Savage Peak to the southwest as well as the wildflowers in the meadow. During the summer the flowers will be plentiful.

After leaving the meadow, the trail will push upward on a long series of twisting switchbacks. The trail will follow a deep gorge cut by Fancy Creek and will eventually reach an overlook of multiple waterfalls created by Fancy Lake’s outlet stream. After about a half mile from the meadow and 400’ of elevation gain the trail will level out and reach the outlet of Fancy Lake (11,540’). The lake is enclosed by steep mountain slopes and boulder fields, so exploring the shoreline can be difficult. Nonetheless, it is a perfect setting and definitely worth all the effort that it took to reach. For the backpacker, there are several campsites near the lake, just be sure you camp at least 100 feet from all water sources. Also, campfires are not allowed. Be sure to read the trailhead signs for all Forest Service regulations if you are staying overnight in the area.

For the leisurely hiker, Fancy Lake would be a good place to relax, have a lunch, and maybe soak your feet; from the trailhead to the lake its about 3.2 miles one way. For the more adventurous hiker, leave the lake and head north to make the summit of Fancy Pass. Not far from the lake you will reach a small creek crossing and the Holy Cross City Trail split. Take the trail to the left to go towards Fancy Pass; 0.6 miles and 830’ of elevation remain until the pass’ apex. From the split, you will hike up the slope just north of the lake on a rocky trail with steady incline. Be sure to admire the view behind you because you will be treated to spectacular views of Fancy Lake below and the mountains to the southeast. As you climb the trail will become rockier and narrower; the steepest sections are near the end. Old mining ruins and abandoned steel will dot the path, but keep pushing because the apex isn’t far away. Eventually you will finally reach the high point of Fancy Pass at 12,390’. Be sure to pack a light layer as the winds can be strong at the top off the pass and the temperatures chilly, even in mid summer. Blogget Lake and Treasure Vault Lake can both be seen in the distance towards the southwest and it will be hard to pull yourself away from the wide open and sweeping views of the Rocky Mountains and the Holy Cross Wilderness.

As always, its best to get on the trail early in the morning so that you avoid thunderstorms that are typical in the afternoons in Colorado. Be sure to pack a light layer, a hat, sunscreen, and plenty of water. The weather can change rapidly at high altitude and if it looks like it’s starting to turn, get below treeline as soon as possible.

Pack List

  • Study hiking shoes or boots
  • Day pack
  • Light jacket
  • Hat
  • Sunscreen
  • Plenty of water
  • Trail snacks
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Backpacking, Hiking, Photography

Skill Level:



Summer, Autumn

Trail Type:



6 Miles

Elev. Gain:

2373 Feet



Dog Friendly
Easy Parking

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10 months ago

This is a very popular backpacking spot in the Holy Cross wilderness and can be packed in the summer, but it's worth it. The views are spectacular and the trail isn't too hard.

10 months ago

Added by Johnathan Valdez

I'm a Colorado native that's passionate about photography, exploring nature, live music, and craft beer. On my free days you'll most likely find me on the trail and behind my camera. Life is short, get out there and explore! Follow my adventures here on The Outbound and on Instagram @capulinflicker.

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