As a Colorado local, Clinton Gulch Dam Reservoir is one of my favorite shorter hikes in Summit County, and a great way to get away from the crowds in the Breckenridge and Copper Mountain areas. At over 11,000 ft elevation, it’s a true stunner.
It’s certainly less crowded than next-door Mayflower Gulch (another personal favorite), that tends to fill up very quickly on summer days and weekends. But I’d argue the views at Clinton Gulch Dam Reservoir might just be better (and they require a lot less work to see).
In the summertime, you can expect gorgeous wildflowers and ample fishing opportunities at Clinton Gulch. In the winter, you get stunning views of the snow-covered peaks, without a hefty trek.
Clinton Gulch Dam Reservoir is a hike I’ve done during every season of the year, so I’ll be sharing all those nitty gritty trail details you’ll need to know to plan the perfect hike there. This spot is vastly different in every season, so there’s a good bit you’ll want to know to come prepared.
I’ll be sure to include some gear recommendations for each season, as well as which towns are best for lodging if you plan on doing the Clinton Gulch Dam Reservoir hike.
Must-Know Details About Clinton Gulch
I’ve included a brief overview on Clinton Gulch Dam Reservoir trail details below, but I’ll go into each of these in much greater detail in this trail report, so you know exactly why I’ve provided the ratings I have.
Leave No Trace Note: Please stay on the trail at all times. Hiking on muddy off-trail terrain can cause erosion and can be dangerously slippery. While the wildflowers are beautiful here, please just observe, without picking them.
Where is Clinton Gulch Dam Reservoir Located?
Clinton Gulch Dam Reservoir is located in Summit County Colorado, in between Copper Mountain and Leadville, on Fremont Pass (aka Colorado 91). If you’re visiting from the Copper Mountain side, you’ll find Clinton Gulch on the lefthand side of the road. If you’re driving in from Leadville, expect it on the right.
Clinton Gulch Dam Reservoir is located right alongside the road, and you can see the water as you drive by. There are two parking lot options, one on either side of the reservoir, so you have plenty of options.
Clinton Gulch Pro Tip: If you’re coming from the Copper Mountain side on Fremont Pass, the first parking lot on the left (the north side lot) is very easy to miss if you’re not paying attention. Pop these GPS coordinates into Google Maps to navigate directly to the first parking lot (which is the one I recommend choosing to start with (39.416252, -106.171875).
While there is spotty service and data available on Fremont Pass (depending on your carrier, but I have Verizon for reference), that basically dies out once you get to the north side parking lot. Given this, I highly recommend downloading an offline map of the area if you’re new to Fremont Pass.
If you want the most bang for your buck (so in hiking terms, the best views with the least amount of work), Clinton Gulch Dam Reservoir is one of the best trails in Colorado.
It’s a great option for anyone who is easing their way into more challenging hikes at elevation (as it tends to be on the easy/moderate side, and is a great way to get your body used to harder stuff).
Clinton Gulch is also a great option for anyone looking for a great fishing spot (you’ll need a Colorado fishing license to do so), serene snowshoeing in the winter time, or wildflower peeping in the summertime.
Given its shorter length, Clinton Gulch Dam Reservoir is also one of the more kid-friendly hikes in the area (although, I tend to recommend summer if you’re bringing kids, as mud can be extremely intense in the late spring and snow can get quite deep in the winter).
If you’re traveling to Colorado from a lower elevation state or country, I highly recommend giving yourself at least 48 hours to get acclimated to the elevation before doing this hike. Even easier hikes like this one can lead to altitude sickness.
Be aware, Clinton Gulch Dam Reservoir sits at over 11,000 ft above sea level, so it is quite high up. Especially if you’re traveling from sea level, your body will need time to adjust. I recommend spending one night in Denver, and another in the mountains (in a spot like Frisco, Copper Mountain, or Breckenridge) before attempting this hike.
The closest town to Clinton Gulch Dam Reservoir is Copper Mountain, as it’s a 10 minute drive up Fremont Pass (a bit under 8 miles).
If you’re flying in from Denver, my personal favorite town, though, is Frisco (less than 15 miles and about 15 minutes without traffic to get to Clinton Gulch Dam Reservoir). There’s plenty of lodging in Frisco, and you have access to grocery stores, restaurants, and you’re a short drive from Breckenridge too. It’s perfectly central to so many good hikes, so this is my #1 recommendation.
If you plan on visiting Aspen during your time in Colorado, I’d recommend lodging in Leadville. It’s a bit over 15 miles and about 20 minutes of a drive from Clinton Gulch Dam Reservoir, but it’s the highest incorporated town in America, and one of my favorite places in all of Colorado (plus, it’s a lot more budget-friendly than Aspen).
Disclosure: I’ve included lodging and gear recommendations in this guide to Clinton Gulch Dam Reservoir. If you choose to book or buy through my links, I may earn a commission, at no cost to you. Shopping through these links helps support this small Colorado business. All recommendations are crafted with love and expertise, from platforms I use and trust for my own adventures.
If you ask me, Colorado is best seen by driving through as much as the state as you can. As a local that lives and works in the Rockies, I’ve crafted an epic itinerary that includes my absolute favorite spots.
The short answer? No, Clinton Gulch Dam Reservoir is considered an easier hike. It’s 2.4 miles in length, looping around the reservoir, with 232 ft of elevation gain. That said, this hike will be more on the moderate side if you’re traveling to Colorado from a lower-elevation state (or if you’re doing the hike during winter or mud season).
For this reason, I love this hike as a way to get used to more challenging hikes in the area. This is a great trail for anyone who is introducing themselves to hiking, as well as for families with young kids (although, if you’re visiting with kids, I’d recommend the summertime, as winter can have some deeply snowy areas).
The north side of the trail (the side that’s closest to Copper Mountain on Fremont Pass) is, for the most part, exposed to the sun. This continues on for a little over half of the loop, with lovely expansive views of the reservoir.
This section of the Clinton Gulch Dam Reservoir trail also has various sections where very small streams of water pass through the trail, which can lead to slippery and muddy sections in the spring and summer months.
The path also gets quite narrow in many parts of this trail section, with thick shrubbery on either side. If you’re hiking in a group, it’s definitely a single-file-line situation.
In general, the north side of the trail is the best spot for wildflower sightings and mountain views. There’s a whole area that’ll be on your left that features the prettiest purple field of wildflowers up on the hillside, and it’s one of my favorite parts of the trail.
At the tip of the reservoir, before you start making the trek toward the second parking lot (the one closer to Leadville), you’ll come across gorgeous meadow views and a cute little wooden bridge.
The second half of the trail is pretty much exclusively in the woods, This section of the Clinton Gulch trail, while still narrow, is a bit wider than the other sections.
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As a Colorado local, I make a point of visiting Clinton Gulch Dam Reservoir in the summer and winter for the most breathtaking views. For summer, the months of July and August (specifically, the first half of August) are my favorite. This is because Clinton Gulch has some of the prettiest wildflowers you’ll find in the area, and this time of year is ideal for the reservoir’s elevation.
As you start transitioning into later August, the wildflowers tend to die off and the grasses start their yellowing process for fall.
While fall in Colorado is absolutely stunning, the reservoir itself doesn’t have any of Colorado’s iconic aspen trees (although there are some aspen groves that are visible on the opposite side of the road from Clinton Gulch Dam Reservoir).
So in that sense, I don’t really recommend Clinton Gulch Dam Reservoir as a fall colors destination (hence my 2/10 rating earlier). All of that said, Fremont Pass, where the reservoir is located, does have roadside aspens, so you will get some leaf peeping in on your way up and down the mountain.
The photos below show what Clinton Gulch looks like in the summer months. All the photos were taken in either late June, July, or August.
Even in months like May, you can expect snow at Clinton Gulch, and as you transition into early June, expect extremely muddy conditions on several parts of the trail (enough to end up ankle deep in mud). This is generally why I recommend hiking Clinton Gulch Dam Reservoir at the beginning of July or later (no earlier than late June).
When it comes to winter, a lot of trails and mountain passes in Colorado tend to close for the season, but Fremont Pass (Colorado 91) where Clinton Gulch Dam Reservoir is located stays open year-round (although it can close intermittently for dangerous winter storms).
Honestly, the trail can be absolutely breathtaking during the colder months. The gallery of images below show Clinton Gulch in the winter and early spring. It’s a snowy wonderland.
Colorado definitely has its best and worst seasons, and I’ve broken them all down, so you know the perfect time to visit the Rockies and get the ideal views and experience.
If you’re visiting Clinton Gulch Dam Reservoir in the summertime, you will need bug spray. While you’re at over 11,000 ft elevation, this spot is definitely a mosquito magnet. This is my personal favorite DEET-free bug spray, and it works like a charm. I’ve worn it every time I’ve hiked the trail.
Also, given that half the trail leaves you basically exposed to the sun, you’ll want a really solid sunscreen.
Pro Tip: the sun is A LOT more intense at high elevation, and it’s very easy to burn. I have an olive complexion and virtually never get sunburned at low elevation (seriously, I can count on one hand the number of times it’s happened, and it takes hours of sun exposure). But in the mountains, it happens so easily, even for me.
Literally the only sunscreen I wear in the mountains is this brand, as it’s the only one that has avoided horrible sunburns (even when I forget to reapply). I use this one on my face (since it has no white, cakey residue) and this one on my body (it’s sweat-resistant, so perfect for this hike).
Another must-have when hiking at Clinton Gulch are waterproof hiking boots. There are a few areas with streams of water crossing the trail, and you likely will come across mud, even after mud season has ended.
If you’re planning to hike Clinton Gulch Dam Reservoir in the winter months, you’ll first want to check the conditions on Fremont Pass (this site has webcam footage that gives you an idea of road conditions).
Colorado chain laws will be in effect during this time of year, so either make sure you have an all-wheel-drive vehicle or tire chains with you.
As for the trail itself, in winter, you won’t make it far on the trail without snowshoes. The Clinton Gulch Dam Reservoir loop tends to not be a super trafficked trail, so MICROspikes aren’t really needed to trek over packed down snow and ice, but they’re good to have handy just in case (these are the ones that I use and love).
If you’re planning on hiking Clinton Gulch Dam Reservoir at sunrise (which is my personal recommendation, especially to avoid crowds) and are coming from the Copper Mountain side, I recommend parking in the first parking lot (and doing the trail clockwise).
This is because about half of the trail is not really shaded and half of it is forested. When you park at the first lot, you’ll do the non-shaded part first, leaving yourself less exposed to harsh sun later. This also makes enjoying golden hour easier.
If you’re doing the Clinton Gulch Dam Reservoir trail in the afternoon/evening and you’re coming from the Copper Mountain side, park in the second parking lot, a bit further down the road (and do the trail counter-clockwise). This will take you through the wooded section of the trail first, and then will allow you to experience sunset and alpenglow on the exposed section of the trail.
Clinton Gulch Dam Reservoir is just the tip of the iceberg. As a Colorado local, I’ve written plenty of guides to help you get started. If you’re looking to have the ultimate road trip through our state, I’ve created the perfect 2-3 week itinerary.
Not sure which towns are the best to see? I’ve rounded up my favorite mountain villages in Colorado that you can’t miss.
Not sure what time of year to visit CO? I’ve broken down the best seasons (and specific months).
Planning to see Rocky Mountain National Park while you’re out here? The park is basically my backyard, and these are my favorite things to do when I visit.
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