Tucked in the remote northwest corner of Rocky Mountain National Park, it will take you just as long to drive to the trailhead as to hike to this stunning alpine lake. You’ll have to work a bit to get there and pass through the scar of the 2020 Cameron Creek Fire. While taking away the shade from the trees (and making it hotter), the hike now offers many more views than in the past as you ascend.
In 2019, I took the long drive to Long Draw Campground tucked away in the remote, northwest corner of Rocky Mountain National Park.I was working on my Day Hikes of Rocky Mountain National Park map and headed there to explore some of the day hikes in the area. The following year , I came out with my map and then two fires burned into Rocky Mountain National Park.
One of them, the Cameron Creek Fire, happened to drop right in the valley and burned up the ridges that lead to Mirror Lake. It took a few years for the trails to open up. When they finally did this year (2023), Kristen and I headed back down to re-hike the trails to see what changed and updated the map.
At the Corral Creek trailhead, we dropped into the forest and descended along the playful Corral Creek. The beginning of the hike is mostly green trees and small meadows, but it didn’t take long for us to get in to the edge of the burn as Corral Creek dropped down into the valley below.
The trail bounced in between meadows and forest both burned and unburned as we dropped about 350ft to the valley floor. Along the way, Corral Creek fed into La Poudre Pass Creek which forms the boundary with the park. After a trail junction where we stayed right, we crossed over this lovely creek, officially entering into Rocky Mountain National Park.
It continued to be a similar mix of meadows and forest (initially fairly unburned) as we worked up alongside the Cache la Poudre River. A Belted Kingfisher chattered along the river. When I hiked the trail in early August of 2019, flowers bloomed along the trail, but here in late September, fall colors popped where flowers once bloomed.
The trail here was lovely and level as it gave wonderful views of the river before taking a left and crossing over it. We skirted a lovely meadow and passed Hague Creek Campground before coming alongside its namesake creek. On our right, Hague Creek chattered away through the green forest as it tumbled from the meadows above us. To our left was a forest of burnt sticks as the trail seemed to be a sort of fire break.
We climbed up to the wonderful meadow that Hague Creek gently winds a serpentine path through. Flanking the meadow are two ridges, once evergreen forests, but now burnt stands of trees. We wrapped around the foot of the meadow and began climbing in earnest, feeling our lower elevation lungs. Fall migrant birds mixed with locals as they flew, pecked chased, and snacked amongst the trees. Flashes of blue from Mountain Bluebirds, yellow from the Yellow-rumped Warblers, and a variety of reddish hues from Northern Flickers, Dark-eyed Juncos, and Hairy Woodpeckers.
While an evergreen forest is more pleasing to the eye and provides more shade, keeping you cooler on your climb, the lack of vegetation opened up the views immensely. As we stopped to catch our breath, we could see down into the valley and up to the surrounding peaks. Kristen commented, “Did you just hear an elk bugle?”, then I did! We heard a few elk bugles. As we climbed, I mentioned how you could sure smell their musky scent… then we saw a herd trotting up through the trees from Hague Creek up and over into the Cascade Creek drainage!
As we approached the top of the ridge, suspended ponds were surrounded by tall grasses. A herd of four Mule Deer trotted on by and we kept ascending. Once at the top of the ridge, the trail leveled out, and we got views looking into the gash in the mountain where Mirror Lake was perched. Up here, the fire spared some of the trees giving us some more green evergreens.
We came to the junction with the Mummy Pass Trail. The trail was blocked off as it has remained so since the fire. We turned left and headed toward Mirror Lake. The trail skirted burned forest for a bit, then became solely unburned forest as we wrapped around Comanche Peak. A surprising amount of trees were dead, however, most likely due to beetle kill in the area.
As we came to the junctions for Koenig Campground and the Comanche Peak Trail, we entered into one of a couple of meadows that Cascade Creek flows into. As before, a few holdout flowers clung to their petals, but my trip in August yielded many more. We wrapped around the meadows, climbing still. Granite boulders poked up from amongst the vegetation with jagged striped patterns and a variety of pastel colors.
The trail climbed up through a cool cliffy draw before popping out by the campgrounds below the lake. Cascade Creek chattered as it left Mirror Lake and grew louder as it announced around arrival. When I came in August, it was an overcast day. A Golden Eagle soared above and the lake was still enough to be able to capture the namesake mirror of gray clouds and dramatic cliffs flecked green with vegetation. This September day gave us a bright sunny day, no eagle, and maroon vegetation of fall flecking the cliffs. I’m always amazed at how the same hike can feel so different throughout the year.
We ate lunch while admiring the stunning wall on the opposite shore and laughed every time an American Pika let out its signature “Eeeep!” call. The cool air with a slight breeze didn’t afford us the opportunity for a perfect mirror lake, but more of a stained glass effect. Either way, that and the sunshine were welcome.
That same breeze also reminded us to keep moving, so we packed up our stuff, turned around and headed back down.