An old road goes most of the way to the lake, and starting on the turnoff from the main Snake Creek Road (see map at bottom; near the Shoshone trail at the road junction), we began hiking at an elevation of about 8200 ft. The road is easy to follow, traversing mixed conifer, then meadow, and aspen stands.
Although the road is easy to follow, it is steep! I was happy to pause to take a photo of this majestic ponderosa pine surrounded by green leaf manzanita (Arctostaphylos patula). Photo stops = catching my breath!
As you progress along, it's easy to miss the turnoff to the lake, seen below. Look carefully for the rock cairns. (A better trail to Dead Lake is in the works and may happen as early as next summer.)
Following the rock cairns, you arrive at this luscious meadow. A small creek (South Fork of Snake Creek) meanders through the meadow. It's one of the prettiest spots in the park. If you'd like a detour, follow the creek up to its source--several scenic springs surrounded by conifers. If you want to get to Dead Lake, cross the meadow and keep heading north. We lost the rock cairns and wandered a bit.
Of course wandering can lead to some beautiful sights, like these pinedrops (Pterospora andromedea). they used to belong to the Monotrapaceae (Pinedrop) Family but have been reassigned to the Ericaceae (Heath) Family, the same family that manzanita belongs to.
this Southwest Colorado Wildflowers page. For parasites, they're quite pretty!
Eventually we spotted a bare spot among the dense trees and found a big opening. But we didn't see a lot of water. Or even a lake. We found a puddle.
Dead Lake frequently is very low like this in the summer and fall. Researchers from the Ohio State University have done a sediment core on the lake and found that the lake has gone dry in the past. One recent year it was only about 5 feet across, so the puddle we saw on this day was actually quite a bit larger.
I walked around the lake, checking it out. A PVC pipe on a post was sticking above the water. This is part of a National Park Service project to monitor lake water levels and temperatures. Right now the lake is about eight inches below the lowest hole in the PVC pipe. Despite the low water level, the reflections are gorgeous, and in the fall, when the surrounding aspens turn color, this is a beautiful spot to visit.
It was 1.8 miles to get to Dead Lake, and over 1300 ft elevation gain. With heavy backpacks, it took us 1 hour and 20 minutes to get there. The UTMs for Dead Lake are 11 S 736259 4313177.