Cross-Country Ski to American Lakes

Rate this Adventure Colorado Michigan Ditch Trailhead, CO

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This well-marked winter trail to American Lakes offers up incredible views of Nokhu Crags, overnight camping, and great backcountry skiing.

WARNING! AVALANCHE DANGER!Make sure you have avalanche safety knowledge and equipment. This route enters avalanche terrain.

If you are looking for one of the ultimate cross-country ski treks along the northern Front Range, look no further. This trip takes you to the American Lakes at the base of the Nokhu Crags providing you with ample views and the potential to see elk and moose. This trip is 12 miles roundtrip and can be done in a day or as an overnight trip.

To get there, take CO SH 14 from Fort Collins up the Poudre Canyon to Cameron Pass, about 2hrs. This drive is incredible and can provide opportunities to see moose and other wildlife, so try to do it in the daytime. At the top of Cameron pass there is a parking lot on the right with a restroom, park here. Across the street is the Michigan Ditch. It will look like a road closed off by a gate. After the gate you will see a sign and a box with permits on the righthand side. The permit is required for being in the Colorado State Forest and costs $3. Make sure to have cash.

Now the trek begins. Ski along the ditch on the road for 3 miles. This part is straightforward and flat. After 3 miles you will see a trail heading off to your left with markers on the trees. Most likely there will be tracks heading in this direction either from other skiers or snowmobiles. This should take around 1hr 30min to reach this point.

This is where the trail begins to go up in elevation. After a short distance the trail emerges from the woods into a large meadow where you will see poles indicating the trail. At the end of the meadow the trail begins to zigzag up the valley to your left. This is the final ascent to the American Lakes and the steepest part of the trail. Once you come out of the trees again you will have one short steep section and then you will see the lakes and the majestic scene they are a part of. Account for about 2 hours to get to the lakes from the Ditch.

There are good campsites near the second lake well away from any avalanche danger. There is also some great ski terrain in this bowl if the conditions are right.

I did this trip in early fall so the avalanche danger was low, but the snow was shallow. In the middle of winter this area is known for getting large amounts of snow, so beware it may be incredibly deep and the possibility of bad weather is high in winter. This area is known for having storms just sit over it while everything else is clear.

There is another route option, which takes off from near the Lake Agnes area. This route will add elevation and distance, as well as avalanche hazard. Most of this route is in the trees until you reach the fork at the Michigan Ditch, so there aren't as spectacular of views as along the Ditch. To get to this trailhead, you will need to park along CO SH 14 on the westside of Cameron Pass on the left.

This is a great winter trip to get out and experience the amazing Never Summer Range covered in snow. I personally think that the Nokhu Crags in winter are some of the most beautiful peaks in Colorado. Get out there and enjoy!

Pack List

  • avy gear (probe, shovel, beacon)
  • first aid kit
  • headlamp
  • skis or splitboard
  • ski poles
  • sunglasses
  • boots
  • puffy jacket
  • Colorado State Forest permit or pass
  • $3 for permit
  • USGS map of Nokhu Crags area
  • food
  • backpack
  • camera
  • beanie
  • compass
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Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures. Be aware of local regulations and don't damage these amazing places for the sake of a photograph. Learn More



Backpacking, Camping, Photography, Skiing

Skill Level:



Spring, Autumn, Winter

Trail Type:



12 Miles

Elev. Gain:

800 Feet


Easy Parking

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Added by Devin K

My passion is to be outside exploring. Every weekend my wife and I take off to the mountains or the desert to find something new. I try to capture the places we visit to share them with people to hopefully make a connection and a desire to protect these places.

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