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Wheeler Lake - Park County

Length: Approx. 7.75 miles roundtrip
Spectacular alpine lake, historic ruins, views of Mt. Lincoln and Platte Gulch.
Difficulty Rating: Intermediate
Elevation Gain: Approx. 1,200 ft.

From Breckenridge proceed south on route 9 to Hoosier Pass. As you begin to descend the pass toward Alma, look for county rd. 4 on your right. Turn here & take the first fork on your right to go above and around Montgomery Reservoir (the fork to the left takes you down to the reservoir).

Proceed to the dead end at the inlet. There is parking here, picturesque waterfalls and the ruins of Magnolia mine to the north. This area was home to over 1,000 people by 1862 and Magnolia mine was the site of a mill that processed gold ore. 

Above: Initial ascent up towards Magnolia mine.

 Below: Just past Magnolia Mine a sign marks the beginning of the Wheeler Trail

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You begin your hike by taking the 4wd road to Magnolia mine and following the Wheeler Trail through Platte Gulch.  The Wheeler Trail is really a 4x4 trail with challenging obstacles for four-wheel drive enthusiasts. Normally, SCE members would have overlooked a hike along this trail to avoid the congestion of recreational vehicles, but a tip from the hostess at the Alma Coffee Shop convinced us that there was an impressive view above Platte Gulch culminating at Wheeler Lake that would be worth the trek.

Beginning above the Montgomery Reservoir, the trailhead runs underneath an abandoned mine building at an elevation of about 11,000 feet.

The trail is rather rocky and occasionally it is necessary to bypass water run-off which can accumulate into sizable water obstacles on foot. Sturdy hiking shoes are suggested.

Although there are numerous obstacles for 4x4 enthusiasts, hiking the trail is not particularly difficult for the first three mile(s). The freshly dropped transmission gear box we found lying in a puddle along the trail suggests that the rock outcroppings are far less forgiving of improperly equipped 4x4's than of hikers seeking the beauty of the Pike National Forest between Mt. Lincoln and North Star Mountain.

Above: Looking back Platte Gulch as the trail begins

Above: about a half mile before the lake the
final ascent begins

Above: final approach to Wheeler Lake

Above: falls at the top of the ridge

Abandoned mines dot the landscape on either side of the trail as you make your way deeper into the gulch along the middle fork of the South Platte River. The rock-strewn trail continues to follow the gulch while gradually climbing above tree line to 12,200 feet.
Above: mining ruins at the far end of Wheeler Lake  

Above: finally - a little lunch break at the top while enjoying the view


After approximately three miles, the trail begins a steeper ascent and eventually turns to the right for a few switchbacks and the last uphill pull to the lake. The hostess in Alma was right, a spectacular view of Wheeler Lake in a bowl at the base of Wheeler Mountain unfolds. Two waterfalls, abundant wildflowers, rock outcroppings, abandoned mines, and the solitude of the lake make this destination well-worth a visit. Looking back towards the gulch and off to the right, ruins of an old mining community await the eager explorer in Platte Gulch at the base of Traver and McNamee Peaks. But for now, SCE members simply enjoyed the lake views and strolled deeper into the bowl itself.

If you plan to hike this trail, get there early. The longer the day progresses, the more you might find yourself stepping aside to share the road with four-wheel drive vehicles. After enjoying this view, the SCE crew recommend a stop at the coffee shop in Alma to complete the experience.





  beginner intermediate advanced
    Black Powder Pass   Mohawk Lake   Quandary Peak  14,265'
    Lily Pad   Chihuahua Gulch   Lincoln & Bross 14,291' / 14,177'
    St. John's   Mt. Royal   Bierstadt Peak 14,060'
    Mayflower Gulch   Wheeler Lakes   Willow & Salmon Lakes
    Loveland Pass   Radical Hill Trail   Upper Crystal Lake
    Salt Lick Trail   McCullough Gulch   Gray's & Torrey's 14,278' / 14,267'
    Mesa Cortina Trail   Mt. Sniktau   Mt. Democrat 14,152'
    St. Mary's Glacier   North Ten Mile Trail   Mt. Victoria
    Sally Barber Mine   Willow Falls  

Mt. Elbert  14,433'

    Oro Grande Trail   Eaglesmere Lakes   Buffalo Mountain  12,777'
    Meadow Creek-Salt Lick   Mosquito Pass   Eccles Pass
    Shrine Mountain Trail   Webster Pass   Mt. Huron  14,003'
    Ptarmigan Trail   Ptarmigan via Wilder Gulch    
    Peaks Tr. Barton Gulch   Wheeler Lake - Park County    
    Hoosier Pass Loop   Lenawee Trail    


  Spruce Creek Loop   Nightmare on Baldy Mine    
    Tenderfoot Mountain Trail        

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Note: The Summit County Explorer website is for entertainment purposes only. SCE will not be held liable for the any accidents or injuries resulting from the activities listed on this site. Trail conditions change daily and we assume no responsibility for the safety of any individual during any of these activities. Please consult actual trail guides and maps before attempting any of the activities mentioned here.