A mere afterthought for most hikers arriving at the Kite Lake trailhead out of Alma, Colorado, is the Emma Lake trail. All the attention by the 14er-obsessed hiker community arriving at Kite Lake is to bag one or more of the four peaks (Democrat, Cameron, Lincoln, and Bross) whose elevation is over 14,000 feet. Some do all four in one day, which is a feat made possible by a high level of fitness and good weather, since one is on high ridges for much of the way. Back to Emma Lake. On the day I discovered Emma Lake, I had attempted to do Bross from the east side during iffy weather. I never made it to the Bross trailhead because of the rough road but was only two miles from Kite Lake, so wallah (is that a word?), I wound up doing a short hop to the saddle between Democrat and Cameron, and got down before the rains came. So, I included Emma Lake also, lucky for me.
The well used trail starts toward the west up an easy slope. It continues with a mild ascent across a wetland filled with wildflowers, boulders and some furry animals. The basin and the semicircular col above it are absolutely gorgeous. After about half way, the trail snakes around to the north toward the base of Mount Democrat. Near the end, you arrive at the base of a cascading waterfall which originates from Emma Lake, but you still have work to do. There is a fairly challenging, 300 feet or so, class 3 scramble up a boulder strewn slope to reach the lake. If you want to reach the lake, there is no way around this part.
The lake is crystal clear and was still half frozen when I visited in early July. At this point, you are about 2/3 mile directly south of Mount Democrat, so close that you can’t see the hikers on it. Along this trail, there are great views of Mount Bross and down-valley toward Fairplay. This is not a hard hike but the scramble just below the lake will deter many people.
Emma Lake is worth the relatively tortuous 6.5-mile drive up from Alma just by itself. I know this because there was a meet-up group doing this hike (who invited me to go along, I guess because I looked like them, i.e., retired). If you’re in the area, and the weather is iffy or your time is limited, try this one, it’s a gem.
Check out the Official Route and Triplog.