Hike of the Week: Most alpine lakes are still covered in snow, but the Nolan Lake hike isn’t
Hike of the Week
Distance: 3 miles one way, 6 miles round-trip
Elevation: 1,500 feet
While many of the high alpine lakes in the Vail area remain covered in snow and ice, Nolan Lake near Fulford is ice-free and ready for a midsummer dip.
The trailhead for Nolan Lake is in Fulford, a 1 hour and 15 minute drive from Vail. Take Brush Creek Road out of Eagle. Just after the Sylvan Lake Visitor Center, take the left fork in the road and continue past Yeoman Park. There is a road with a sign pointing to Fulford just before Yeoman, however this road is a 4×4 road. The better option is to turn left onto Forest Service Road 418 just after passing Yeoman Park. There is an obvious parking area on the left and a sign for Nolan Lake in Fulford.
What to Expect
The Nolan Lake trail is one of the easier day hikes in the Eagle River Valley, but still has a few steep climbs along the way. The hike to the lake is 3 miles — 6 miles round trip — with 1,500 feet of elevation gain. With an average grade of 400-500 feet per mile, you definitely earn the views with this hike.
Follow the well-maintained trail, with a few downed trees and 2-3 easy water crossings. At 2.5 miles, you will reach an open wetland meadow, a fantastic place for late season wildflowers. There is a wood sign pointing toward Nolan Lake. For those looking for a summit and a more adventurous day, turn left here for the “trail” to New York Mountain. However, keep in mind that though this trail is marked on the map, it is faint and hard to follow — regularly spaced rock cairns will help you stay on the trail.
To continue to Nolan, simply follow the obvious trail another half mile to the lake. Once you reach the lake, find one of the many rocky outcrops and enjoy the views of Craig Peak and the northern Sawatch Mountains.
Note on Conditions
Sitting at 11,400 feet, Nolan lake is one of the best options to explore Alpine terrain without hitting snow. The trail is in great shape, with a few downed trees that are easily negotiated. All water crossings are low and don’t require wading.
Nathan Boyer-Rechlin is the community outreach coordinator at Walking Mountains Science Center. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.