Carson Lake’s lure

You can see for miles and miles off Lands End Road ... and snag some nice, fat trout while you're there

It’s not a long drive from Grand Junction to Carson Lake on top of Grand Mesa.


Carson Lake Trail 728

Drive time and distance: 1 hr, 35 min; 43.2 miles

Length: 2 miles ... maybe (extra if you park at the top of the hill)

Hiking Time: 1.5 to 2 hours (extra if you park at the top of the hill)

Difficulty: Easy, except the bog at upper end of lake

Carson Lake has long held a soft spot in my heart. Maybe it’s because Carson is a lovely, pristine mountain lake. Or maybe it’s because Carson Lake is so close to town, I can beat the heat in about an hour and a half.

Maybe it’s because one of the finest short drives in the West, the Lands End Road, takes you right up to Carson Lake. (Lands End is a spur of Grand Mesa National Scenic Byway!)

Most likely, however, it’s because I can catch lots of wild, fat brook trout there.

The road is in good shape, and the trek around the lake is an easy hike, except for the bog near the inlet (wear appropriate foot gear!). It’s also a spotless recreation area and we can thank the local Grand Valley Anglers chapter of Trout Unlimited for adopting this lake and keeping it so clear of litter.

There are two ways to find Carson Lake, both accessible via 2-wheel sedan (although the 1.4-mile drop down into Carson Lake is a little tough if it’s your own personal sedan. Get your buddy to drive!)

You can take I-70 east into De Beque Canyon, turn off at the Powderhorn/Grand Mesa exit, drive all the way to the top of the mesa, turn right on the Lands End Road, and go until you see the Carson Lake Sign. Or, you could go up Lands End Road.

Lands End Road just happens to be one of the most spectacular drives around.

Here are directions going up Lands End: Take Highway 50 south past Whitewater to the Lands End/Kannah Creek Road (.5 miles past mile marker 45 on Highway 50).

Turn left (east) and travel 2.9 miles to where the road splits with Kannah Creek/Purdy Mesa. Veer to the left and stay on the Lands End Road all the way to the top.

The road has a few washboards and there are several switchbacks, but the family sedan can make it, although it was more mentally comfortable in a truck, an SUV, or your buddy’s car.

With all the recent rains, Mesa County road crews have kept this road in remarkable shape. There’s one point, about half-way up the hill, where a very small section of the road washed away, but it’s safe and secure — as long as you’re not freaked out about steep drop-offs.

On my way up the mountain the other day, some type of hawk flashed quickly before my windshield at about the same spot where, a year earlier, I’d spied a mother fox and her three kits. There are black bears in the area, too, although I didn’t see any the other day.

From the top of Lands End Road near the Lands End Observatory, it’s 9.6 miles to the Carson Lake turnoff, then another 1.4 miles to the lake. The observatory, built by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) and the Western Power Association (WPA) in the 1930s, is a nice place to stop.

It’s usually manned by Forest Service volunteers from July through Labor Day, from 9:30 am to 4:30 p.m. During the month of September, it’s open on the weekends only. You’ll find good information, maps and books here.

From the observatory, you can see for miles and miles and miles — all the way to the La Sal Mountains in Utah, and the San Juan Mountains south of Ouray.

Between the observatory and the Carson Lake turnoff, fields of wildflowers line the route, and I spied a rather large herd of elk grazing on tall grass in close proximity to dark timber north of the road the other day.

A little farther, you’ll pass the old Raber Cow Camp cabins. The camp was renovated in 1993 as an example of what life was like on Grand Mesa in the 1940s and 1950s.

Keep going past the Raber Cow Camp to the Carson Lake Turnoff. The forest service is currently re-constructing the parking lot at Carson Lake. Work is scheduled for completion by Aug. 12.

Until then, it may be necessary to park at the top of the hill and hike the 1.4 miles down to the lake, but it’s well worth it.

You’ll enjoy an invigorating trek through a fresh quaking aspen forest where the forest lawn is thick and wildflowers are booming with this recent moisture.

Once at the lake, you’ll see hundreds of little brookies chasing tiny caddis flies into the air, Yellow-bellied Marmots lazily snacking on flowers, and Golden-mantled Ground Squirrels scurrying across the dam.

I was astounded by the lack of mosquitoes last week. Take bug juice, though, just in case. Also, go early in the day, as afternoon thunderstorms seem to be the norm lately.


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