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Backpacking Lake Charles & Mystic Island Lake | Eagle, CO

sunset view of mystic island lake
Mystic Island Lake

Jake and I just got done backpacking to Lake Charles & Mystic Island Lake near Eagle, CO in Mount Holy Cross Wilderness and I couldn’t wait to share this experience with all of you! This quickly climbed the list on our favorite Colorado hikes. It definitely comes with some challenges, but it’s worth every step! Plus it’s a loop hike, so you get to experience new territory all along your route. Let’s dive into everything you need to know about Lake Charles & Mystic Island Lake.

Note: This hike can be done as an out & back day hike, but we highly suggest backpacking the loop route!

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Lake Charles & Mystic Island Lake Stats:

Distance: 12.3 miles

Elevation: 2,926ft

Type: Loop or out & back

Bathroom: Drop Toilet at Trailhead in Fulford Cave Campground

Dogs: Yes, allowed on 6 ft leash

Trailhead For Lake Charles & Mystic Island Lake:

Getting to the trailhead off I-70 (either direction), take the exit toward Eagle, CO. Through the traffic circles (roundabouts) stay on Eby Creek Rd. Once you come upon Grand Ave, exit the traffic circle to the right. Then turn left onto Capitol St. Shortly after, turn left onto Brush Creek Rd. This road starts off as a paved road. Follow this road for 9.8 miles. Then, there will comes a Y in the road where Brush Creek Rd continues but this is where you need to turnoff for E Brush Creek Rd (Rd 415) toward the trailhead. This will be a well-maintained dirt road that you follow 7.3 miles up to the trailhead. 

There is a separate area for parking for the trail which borders the Fulford Cave Campground. So be sure to not block any campground guests, and if the parking lot is full, you can park along the dirt road.

We highly suggest plugging in the directions into Google Maps to best help you reach the trailhead. These are the coordinates: (39.492250, -106.658660).

Cell Service At Lake Charles & Mystic Island Lake: 

There is no cell service along this trail. And you will lose cell signal halfway along Brush Creek Rd leading to the trailhead. So plan ahead.

Choosing your route | Ironedge Trail or Lake Charles Trail:

a map from Alltrails, showing the different routes your can take to hike to Lake Chalres & Mystic Island Lake
Map from Alltrails showing the different routes To Lake Charles & Mystic Island Lake

Since this hike is a loop hike, there are a few different routes you can take. One option being counter-clockwise up Ironedge Trail which is the more challenging of the two, but the route we suggest. 

Another option is to hike clockwise via Lake Charles Trail which follows along East Brush Creek. You will reach Lake Charles in about 4 miles. So if you are looking for a shorter backpacking trip or just plan to do a day hike instead, this would be the best (shortest and easiest) route. 

Or you can continue to make this a loop hike and climb up the Iron edge Trail on your way out. Plus, the accent to the summit will only be about 800 ft on your way out. But the way back to the trailhead will be pretty steep descent and hard on your knees and joints.

Personally, we prefer to get the harder parts over with first. And while the steeper ascent might be more physically demanding, it’s easier on the knees to descend the less steep part of the loop.

Ironedge Trail: 

If you are like us and like to get the hard part out of the way first, then Ironedge Trail is the best route. The loop hike up Ironedge climbs more elevation in a shorter amount of miles making it much steeper of a climb. You climb about 2400ft of elevation in 3.5 miles through dense forest.

open valley along Ironedge trail on the hike to Lake Chalres & Mystic Island Lake

After climbing up and up in elevation through the forest, the trail opens up to a beautiful valley with stunning wild flowers in the summer. You can even seen the famous Maroon Bells in the distance, as well as many other beautiful peaks. The panoramas from the top make the climb worth it. There is one more steep push to the summit after this section.

At The Summit Of Ironedge Trail:

Summit on Ironedge Trail hiking to Lake Charles & Mystic Island Lake with Jake & Emily with their backpacking packs on
A lookout a little past the Summit on Ironedge Trail

Once you reach the summit, you get sweeping views of the valley and surrounding mountains. This is a great place to sit, enjoy the view and have a nice lunch or snack! 

Once you are done with your break, there are a few more ups and downs with the elevation until you start the true descent toward the lakes. But none of the elevation changes are super challenging after you just conquered the steep climb up to the summit. 

One of my favorite parts of the trail is climbing across the Ironedge with the beautiful views of the nearby mountains peaks. This section is about 1.2 miles.

Then, you descend toward Lake Charles for about 1.5 miles. This beautiful section leads you through some marshy areas as you descend into the valley. It is easy to lose the trail in the marshy sections, so it’s a good time to have GPS or maps downloaded. There are some cairns, but even still many people claim losing the trail briefly in the section.

We thought you might get a beautiful view of the lakes down below, but you really don’t see Lake Charles until you actually reach the shore. 

Lake Charles:

a view of a yellow tent with Lake Chalres in the background
Lake Charles

Lake Charles is an absolutely breathtaking alpine lake. Many people choose to set up camp here and at least when we went, this lake was much more popular. There are a few good spots around the lake, and a few more tucked further up the trail away from the lake, but still with great views. 

If you want to continue on to Mystic Island Lake, follow the trail clockwise around the lake. The trail from Lake Charles to Mystic Island is beautiful through a lush meadow with the creek snaking along the valley floor. If you travel during July and August you can see tons of beautiful wildflowers. The trail can be a bit muddy, and there are a few creek crossings. But for most areas, there are either logs or rocks in place to help you get across without getting wet. 

Mystic Island Lake: 

Mystic Island

About a mile further up the trail you will find Mystic Island Lake. The lake is named after a small island on the south edge of the lake. Mountains encompass three sides of the lake for stunning reflections in the morning and evening.

This is where Jake and I decided to set up camp. On a Saturday night in July, we only shared this lake with one other group of campers, and they were set up about ¼ miles from us, so it was very peaceful. But, I’d say there are fewer camping options at this lake. Most people seem to just check out this lake as a day hike from their camp at Lake Charles.  And in some ways, the mountain views around Lake Charles are even more impressive, but you will not be disappointed with either.

If you chose to begin with the Iron Edge Trail, then the hike to Mystic Island from the trailhead is about 7 miles one way. So once you reach Mystic Island, you are sure ready to just sit and enjoy this serene place. Or even take a dip, but remember this is an alpine lake, so you won’t be able to swim for too long!

Rules of Backpacking near Alpine Lakes:

Be sure to follow the rules of hiking in the backcountry near a body of water. You must camp at least 200 feet away from the water. Don’t make a new camp, find campsites that are already created and have been heavily impacted. 

Always leave no trace! Pack it in, pack it out!

For solid waste, you need to dig a hole at least 6 inches deep and at least 200 ft away from the water, a campsite & the trail.  Or consider using a wag bag for the least possible impact.

Bear Country:

Bear Vault Bear Canister at Mystic Island Lake

This is bear country, so you either need to have a bear hang or a bear canister. 

Jake and I always travel with our Bear-Vault, bear canister. It is super helpful to keep all our food in one place and helpful to keep small critters out when we are just hanging out around camp as well. Plus we find it much easier than setting up a bear hang. It also doubles as a seat.

If you choose to do a bear hang, you must find a tree tall enough to hang the bag where a bear can not reach it. The bear hang should be at least ten feet away from the trunk and 15 feet above the ground. And you should consider setting it up at least 200 feet away from your camp. You don’t want a bear trampling through your camp because they can smell food.

In our experience, there are very few trees in these environments that are suitable for a proper bear hang. There simply aren’t branches long enough to provide proper clearance from the ground and tree trunk. So that’s why we always default a bear canister.

Swimming in an alpine lake:

You need to be extra careful when swimming in alpine lakes. When diving into frigid water, you can experience cold water shock. 

This is when you experience an involuntary gasp, rapid breathing or hyperventilating. When this happens, it can cause your limbs to freeze and not be able to swim. Or if you inhale water, you might not be able to keep yourself afloat. So make sure if you do swim in an alpine lake, you are with someone, consider wearing a life jacket or consider just slowly getting in rather than diving in head first. 

Best Time To Visit Lake Charles & Mystic Island Lake: 

Mystic Island Lake

July through August are the best times to hike Lake Charles & Mystic Island Lake. Between these months the snow has finally melted from the trail, the lake is defrosted and the wildflowers are in full bloom. Plus the temperatures are much more enjoyable.

You might be able to travel mid-June, but there might still be snow on the trail at higher elevations and the lake still might be frozen. It would be best to travel with Yaktrax or Crampons if you choose to go in late spring.

Also, you can hike in September as well, especially experiencing beautiful colors of the leaves changing. Just be sure to pack layers as the temperatures are probably dropping much lower at night. Be prepared for potential snowfall at higher elevations. October and November may still be possible depending on early season snowfall.

What To Pack For Lake Charles & Mystic Island Lake

Ultimate Backpacking Checklist <— Here is a list of everything we take backpacking.

For this specific backpacking trip, I highly suggest a mosquito face net and if you plan to bring a hammock, a hammock bug net too. This made our downtime at the lake much more enjoyable.

Also, with the steep terrain, we highly suggest bringing trekking poles along! We feel they are a huge life saver for your joints going both up & down the trail. And a good pair of hiking shoes is a must, such as the Altra Lone Peaks. (Here is our full review on the Altra Lone Peak hiking boots).

Take A Virtual Tour Of The Lakes With Us:

We vlogged our experience while backpacking Lake Charles & Mystic Island.

Takeaway | Our Thoughts On Lake Charles & Mystic Island Lake:

Like mentioned above, this quickly made our list of favorite hikes in Colorado. The views along this hike are simply breathtaking and make this challenging hike worth it. If you are short on time or don’t really backpack, then this hike can be done as a long day hike via Lake Charles Trail out and back. But we highly suggest taking in the full experience and enjoying this place for a couple days.

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