From the trailhead to American Lake is a short but vigorous hike, with an altitude climb of around 2,000 feet in about three miles. A roundtrip hike at a casual pace will take less than four hours.

The first mile is the steepest and low-altitude Easterners will need to rest frequently. The trail begins among aspen trees, and zig-zags its way up a clearly-marked rocky trail. The flora will become more and more diverse after the initial ascent.

Around mile one, you'll have your first comfortable resting spot amid a grassy meadow. The meadow rises dramatically to a ridge above the right of the trail. To the left, the field continues downward for a short distance, abruptly ending in forest with mountain tops in the far distance.

After the meadow, the trail continues its climb through the forest, passing from aspen grove to spruce before approaching a comfortable level resting spot in a forest clearing. The trail will descend slightly (this is the only descent on the hike to the lake) before it quickly levels and begins it climb again.

Before long the trail opens up into a dramatic gray-maroon rock slide, offering clear views of the surrounding mountains and a nice reminder of how Colorado got its name ("color red"). After the slide, the trail climbs back into the forest and soon passes through a second, smaller rockslide. The lake is immediately after the second rockslide.

American Lake is a small (around 5 acres), shallow, and crystal clear collection of rainwater and melted snow. The trail emerges just above a rocky beach of sorts. Hikers will find a comfortable place to admire the setting to the left of and down from the trail on a little tree- and shrubbed-covered rock outcropping. The outcropping looks across the lake and up toward the mountain's ridge.

Expect to be found by some overly-friendly jays, eager to participate in any snack you may pull from your pack. They will give up within a few minutes (if they find no food), leaving you to enjoy the lake in quiet solitude.

The hike back to the trailhead is much faster (and easier) than the climb to the top, but be especially mindful of your footing on the steep and rocky trail.

American Lake Meadow