Cross-Country Ski to American Lakes

12 miles 800 ft gain  - Out-and-Back Trail

Added by Devin K

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!

Read More


Easy Parking


Leave a Review

Overall rating: 

🥇Top Contributor

4 months ago


Just want to echo, I've heard of friends who experienced slides here despite snow assessments, so be extra diligent

Stay Nearby

Bellvue, Colorado

Chambers Lake

Overview Chambers Lake Campground is located approximately 60 miles north of Fort Collins, Colo., on beautiful Chambers Lake. Visitors enjoy the area for its great fishing and canoeing, as well as ...

Grand Lake, Colorado

Charming Cabin In The Woods — Near Hiking & Lakes

• TurnKey photo-verifies this home is professionally cleaned with products approved by the EPA for use against COVID-19. •Nestled in the woods of a private community, this 3BR/3BA log cabin in Gran...

From $137/night

Estes Park, Colorado

Moraine Park Campground

Overview Moraine Park Campground (8,160 feet) is located in Colorado's awe-inspiring Rocky Mountain National Park, near the Beaver Meadows Entrance on Highway 36. It is situated on the north side o...

Grand Lake, Colorado

Secluded Mountain View Log Cabin, Near Snow Trails

• TurnKey photo-verifies this home is professionally cleaned with products approved by the EPA for use against COVID-19. •Tucked quietly away at the edge of the Rockies, this adorable two-story 2BR...

From $86/night

Nearby Adventures

  • Snowshoeing at Blue Lake near Cameron Pass

    While the trail does have quite a bit of elevation gain you don't really feel it since it is dispersed among five miles of trail. The first part of the trail is a wider road with a few look out points of nearby Chambers Lake. About two miles in yo...

    10 miles 1500 ft gain

  • Backcountry Ski or Snowboard at Cameron Pass

    To get to Cameron Pass, drive west out of Fort Collins from Highway 287, to Highway 14, into Poudre Canyon. Take the drive all the way through Poudre Canyon, and soon you will climb out of the canyon and towards the continental divide at Cameron P...

  • View Fall Color on Cameron Pass

    From the front range, drive west of Fort Collins, Colo. on Highway 14 towards Walden, Colo. When you enter Highway 14 from Fort Collins, look for Ted's Place. Ted's is a gas station and convenient store, stop here to hit the bathroom, fill up on g...

  • Hike to American Lakes

    American Lakes are two high alpine lakes located within State Forest State Park and the Never Summer Mountain Range. The park is located about 75 miles west of Fort Collins, Colo. along Highway 14 on the west side of Cameron Pass.Coming down from ...

    11 miles 1680 ft gain

  • Inspire Your Fall Aspen Trip!

    Autumn days in Aspen are filled with sunshine and nights with crisp cool air. Watch the mountains and valleys turn gold with the changing Aspen trees. Take in the scenery while enjoying scenic drives, hiking through forests, road biking, and exploring our IMBA Gold Level Ride Center recognized mountain bike trails. 

    Learn More