There are two Michigan Lake trailheads that I am aware of. One starts at the top of Cameron Pass. You park in a national forest parking lot, walk across the highway (watch your little children don't get hit by a car; pretty good visibility, but it IS a highway), and start walking up the Michigan Ditch. That was what I did. Mostly because the other trailhead begins about 500 feet lower in elevation down on the other side of Cameron Pass (still, it might be a pretty trail). You immediately get to the self-pay station.
So, for the first one to two miles the "hike" is along a dirt road that follows the ditch. This water ends up in the Joe Wright reservoir which ends up in the Poudre River (which provides for the farmers and Fort Collins).
History and current events pause/
I think the Joe Wright Reservoir was built in 1905. Some interesting history of the Poudre Canyon area and water projects can be found at this site http://www.coloradoan.com/news/poudre/history.html and also here for the front range of Colorado in general http://warnercnr.colostate.edu/geo/front_range/LandUse.php#flowreg . Note that unlike the Grand Ditch , this ditch does not take water from the west slope and move it to the east slope. It rather diverts water that is bound for Wyoming's east slope (Laramie River which flows through Laramie, Wy) to the east slope of Colorado. These types of projects would never be allowed during the current times. Well, not without a lot of court room battles. There is a project, still under review, that would carry water from Wyoming's Green river through a pipeline to Denver, CO. Here are a few links to the project details. Pretty interesting stuff (and it will become even more so after another drought or two : )
/back to the hike : )
I saw no vehicles and only two people along the way. Even better, the views were great and there were a lot of pretty flowers along the "stream".
I did pass by a nice looking cabin. Probably used by state workers that keep the ditch in good repair.
Did I mention the views? Nice. One thing is I really didn't know where I was headed. I figured it was towards that area that you can see in this photo So, the lakes would be right under those snowfields. I was wrong. Michigan Lakes is on the other side of that ridge and mountain. In fact, I eventually came up on the trail from the other side, stood on that ridge to the left of the peaks..........
,,,,,,,,,,,,,,Zoom in a little. So, I think I was on the far ridge all the way to the left. From there I took a photo of myself with the Rawahs in the background. I'll remind you when I get to that point.
Zoom even more. The Crags. I did check on the topo map and there does not appear to be any lake up there. But, neat looking place. Could do a little summer snow boarding on that snowfield (not sure that is legal, as St. Mary's glacier used to be (may still be open during the summer for all I know), so if you think about doing it, check with the state forest officials first).
Oh, yeah, the flowers.
Eventually you reach the trail intersection. The Michigan Lake trail takes off to the left here. For the first half mile or so, the "trail" is an old jeep trail.
Detail of the signs. Yeah, American Lakes is the same as Michigan Lakes. Not sure where they came up with "American" Lakes. Probably decided to do another "Freedom Fries" trick a few years ago. Hard to say.
You soon get to a very nice view of the upper Michigan River meadows. I took off my pack at this point and spent a few minutes just enjoying the view, eating a snack, and absorbing some Gatorade. Very nice. Took some more photos on the way back down later in the afternoon as the lighting was different (any excuse to take more photos : )
The "trail" continues up the valley and then bends to the right as the river heads towards the west and the lakes.
This is looking back towards a small bridge (I'll have a photo of it on the way back down) where the trail crosses the Michigan River. At this point you are no longer following a jeep trail, but an actual walking trail. This is also where the trail begins to gain altitude. Nothing extreme, but you will be going uphill and using some occasional switchbacks to get up into the timberline country.
Even though you are gaining altitude, the trail is pleasant enough that it rarely, if ever, becomes any sort of a trudge. I was seeing an occasional group of people. But, nothing like Rocky Mountain National Park. Very nice. Especially considering this was the 4th of July.
Crossing a few small streams keeps the spirits up.
There are some intriguing overnight (or, very long one day) hikes in the area. Some of which would be best done with two vehicles in a shuttle mode (so, you drop one vehicle off at the "end" of the hike, and use the other vehicle to get to the beginning of the hike). Looking up one valley across the way I could see where a faint trail goes over a pass (into the Bennett Creek drainage, I think).
Zoom some. Still faint. You can see it much better on my smugmug site where the photos are the much larger variety.
Looking more to the NE, towards Iron Mountain, I could see another trail going over a ridge (into the Neota Creek Drainage, I think).
Zoom. Note that these faint trails are NOT marked with signs or maintained.
And then, the trail gets into timberline country.
I could now look across the upper meadows of Michigan Lakes. Nice place.
The Crags looked a little different from this angle. Still inspiring.