When it comes to breathtaking mountain views and alpine lakes, Silver Dollar Lake trail has to be one of my favorite Colorado hikes (and as a Colorado local, that rating doesn’t come easily). The trail features three lakes: Naylor Lake, Silver Dollar Lake, and Murray Lake, for a total of 4.1 miles in length and a bit over 1,000 ft in elevation gain.
While this is certainly a busy hike, I’ve found that with the right preparation, you can get away from the crowds and enjoy some of the most gorgeous high alpine lakes in the area. I’ll speak to that in this guide as well.
In the summer months, Silver Dollar Lake trail is home to some absolutely stunning wildflower blooms. And in the early fall, you can get lucky with a light dusting of snow, making the reflection of snow-speckled mountains in the lake water an unforgettable sight.
In this guide, I’ll show you all three lakes, in the order you’ll pass by them, discuss trail conditions you can expect, and review the best times of day and times of the week to hike this trail.
I’ll also include gear recommendations for the hike, in addition to where you’ll want to book your lodging if you’re visiting from out of town.
Disclosure: I’ve included lodging and gear recommendations in this guide to Silver Dollar Lake trail. 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.
Must-Know Details About Silver Dollar Lake
Below you’ll find a brief overview on Silver Dollar Lake trail, but I’ll expand on the points in this trail report in more detail later within this guide.
Leave No Trace Note: Please stay on the trail at all times. Parts of this trail are in the delicate alpine tundra (the spongy-grass-like material above tree line), where plant life can take decades to over 100 years to grow back.
Where is Silver Dollar Lake Trail Located?
Silver Dollar Lake trail is located off Naylor Lake Rd, which is right off Guanella Pass. Guanella Pass is a high elevation mountain pass that connects the towns of Georgetown and Grant.
Personally, if you’re planning on hiking to Silver Dollar Lake, I’d recommend coming from the Georgetown side (more on why later). You’ll take Guanella Pass up from town, and the turn off for Naylor Lake Rd (which gets you to the trailhead) will be on the right side of the road.
The opposite is true if you’re coming from the Grant side. You’ll take Guanella Pass up and hang a left onto Naylor Lake Rd.
You’ll drive up 0.7 miles on Naylor Lake Rd until you come across a small dirt parking lot (and the trailhead is right at this lot. GPS coordinates for the lot are: 39.606650, -105.727227.
Silver Dollar Lake Trail Pro Tip: Many trail reports will tell you that the full hike to see all lakes on the Silver Dollar Lake trail is 4.1 miles long. And it is, if you’re actually able to park at the trailhead on Naylor Lake Rd.
That said, Naylor Lake Rd is a very bumpy, pothole-covered (and by that, I mean very deep potholes) dirt road that is generally not a good idea to drive if you have a low clearance vehicle. And I’d also recommend having a vehicle with AWD or 4WD.
For perspective, I drive a Subaru Forester with 8.7 inches of ground clearance (and it’s AWD), and I personally opt to park at the small parking area at the start of Naylor Lake Rd, just to be on the safe side.
Parking before the start of Naylor Lake Rd requires a 0.7 mile hike up the road to the Silver Dollar Lake trailhead, so you’re looking at a total of 5.5 miles round trip for the entire hike.
The GPS coordinates I provided in the hiking overview section are for those hikers who want to drive to the trailhead along Naylor Lake Rd, but if you’d rather not risk it in a lower clearance vehicle, here are the coordinates to the parking lot that’ll get you the closest: 39.609523, -105.717984.
Silver Dollar Lake trail is technically rated as a moderate hike, but in my honest opinion, “moderate” is very relative. Yes, this hike is moderate if you’re someone who lives at elevation and likes to hike on a semi-regular basis.
But if you live at sea level, you’ll definitely find the Silver Dollar Lake hike a bit more challenging, which is totally normal. The air is super thin at this elevation!
This hike is also the easiest in the middle of summer, when snowfields have melted and there isn’t as much mud as say, mid-June (when a lot of lingering snow is creating slippery, muddy runoff).
If you plan on hiking Silver Dollar Lake trail and are visiting from a lower elevation state or country, you’ll want to take at least 48 hours to get acclimated to the higher elevation before doing the hike to Silver Dollar Lake. You can get altitude sickness without this acclimation time.
Be aware, this hike starts at over 11,000 ft elevation. The elevation of Silver Dollar Lake itself is 11,950 ft above sea level. And if you continue on to the third lake (which is 100% worth the trek), Murray Lake, you’ll be hiking above 12,000 ft in elevation.
All of this to say, your body will need time to acclimate to these higher elevations. So if you’re traveling to Colorado from out of town, I recommend spending one night in Denver (5,280 ft elevation) and another night in a nearby mountain town like Georgetown (8,530 ft elevation), before trying the Silver Dollar Lake trail hike.
The closest town to Silver Dollar Lake Trail is Georgetown, Colorado, located right off i70 and about an hour drive from Denver. To get to Silver Dollar Lake trail, you’ll drive up Guanella Pass for about 10 miles.
The next closest town is Grant, Colorado, which is located on the other side of Guanella Pass. If you’re traveling from Denver, the drive to Grant is a little over an hour, and the town is off 285 (one of my favorite scenic highways in the state). To get to Silver Dollar Lake trail from Grant, you’ll need to drive up Guanella Pass for about 16 miles (but you’ll be coming from the opposite side from Georgetown).
That said, lodging options in Grant are severely limited, making Georgetown the best option for finding great vacation rentals. Georgetown is also just a super cute mountain town in general, with local breweries and restaurants to choose from. Plus, its location along i70 makes for a short drive to other nearby mountain towns like Breckenridge.
Colorado is. huge. And in my humble opinion, our state is best seen by driving through our iconic towns and mountain passes. As a local that lives and works in the Rockies, I’ve crafted an epic itinerary that includes my absolute favorite places you can’t miss.
When you start the Silver Dollar Lake hike, you’ll be trekking through a gorgeous wooded area for a while (this lasts for about a mile from the trailhead). Eventually, you’ll ascend above tree line and you’ll reach a point in the trail where you can look down on the first lake: Naylor Lake.
Bear in mind, Naylor Lake is private property, so the best places to view it is going to be from this overlook area or various points along the trail as you continue up. Since you’ll be above tree line for the rest of the trail, you have a really nice view of Naylor Lake for most of the hike. All you need to do is turn around in the direction of the trailhead and you’ll see it.
Ahhh Silver Dollar Lake: the namesake lake of this trail. This is the second lake you’ll come across on the trail, and it is pressed up against Square Top Mountain (one of Colorado’s many 13’ers, sitting at 13,783 ft in elevation).
When the water at the lake is still, you get this stunning view of the mountain reflecting in it. It’s truly other-worldly. If you happen to do this hike on a sunny day and the light hits the water just right, you can truly see the greenish-aqua color of the water at Silver Dollar Lake.
While the lake is gorgeous to see from the shoreline, I actually think some of the best views of it come from hiking further up the trail toward the next lake: Murray Lake. Turn around and look back at Silver Dollar Lake. It’s a stunning perspective from higher up.
Murray Lake is our final lake on this trek, and it’s one a lot of people opt to skip. My advice? Don’t skip it. It’s stunning.
As you begin the trek up to Murray Lake, you can look back and get epic views of both Silver Dollar Lake and Naylor Lake way down below. Even just for those views, the hike is worth it.
This is the section of trail with the steepest incline. That, coupled with it being the highest elevation section of the trail, can make it a bit more challenging than the rest (which is why some people opt to turn around).
But if you’re feeling up to it, you don’t want to miss this beauty of a spot. Having a pair of lightweight, collapsible trekking poles can make this section a bit easier to do, though.
Gorgeous boulders in the mountainside frame sections of this lake, and from this lake, you have the most epic 360 degree mountain views.
And there’s nothing more exciting than sharing them with fellow adventurers. This list includes my favorite mountain villages in the state, including some lesser-known gems that’ll allow you to get away from the crowds.
Living in Colorado, I’m well acquainted with how the different elevations fare when it comes to weather and vegetation. And if you ask me, Silver Dollar Lake trail, given its elevation range between the low 11,000’s and low 12,000’s, is really best during July and August (specifically, July is the best for wildflowers on this trail).
Depending on how much snow we get in the winter (which can vary quite a bit from year to year), late June can be great too. Although in snowier years, you’ll still have snowfields blocking sections of the trail, and a lot more mud.
The later into August and September we get, the more the tundra dries out and yellows, so its not as scenic as July and early August. That said, September can be fair game for a dusting of snow, which can be gorgeous!
Fall in Colorado is absolutely stunning (after all, we have more aspen trees than any other state in the US). That said, Silver Dollar Lake isn’t a leaf-peeping destination, and you’re not going to come across those iconic fall colors in the same way you would with an aspen-lined trail.
For this reason, I gave this trail a 2/10 for fall colors. That said, the drive up Guanella Pass does have some aspens, so you can get leaf peeping in on the drive to the trailhead.
The photos below show what Silver Dollar Lake trail looks like during summertime. I’ve included some images of the lovely wildflowers in the area, too.
Colorado’s seasons can be finicky, and some are definitely better than others. 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 plan on hiking Silver Dollar Lake trail in the summer months, bug spray is a must-have. After all, this trail features three lakes and has snowfields into late spring, all of which attract quite a few mosquitos (yes, even at elevation!). This is the DEET-free bug spray I use every summer, and it works wonderfully for my hiking adventures.
It’s also important to note that the last two lakes on this trail: Silver Dollar Lake and Murray Lake, are both above tree line, leaving you exposed to direct sun for a majority of the hike. A solid sunscreen is essential, especially given how much more intense the sun can be at high elevations.
My go-to sunscreen for high elevation mountain hiking is this brand, as it’s the only one that helps me avoid terrible sunburns (even if 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, making it ideal for hiking).
Waterproof hiking boots are also a necessity for this hike. The trail can be quite muddy in sections, especially with snowmelt. And there are also sections where you’ll have to cross shallow water. Waterproof hiking boots will keep you nice and comfy, without soaking your feet.
Personally, I recommend doing Silver Dollar Lake trail in the summer months, but if you love winter sports, you can also snowshoe or cross country ski out here too.
One thing to note about Colorado during the colder months: chain laws will be in effect during this time, and the road to Silver Dollar Lake from Georgetown is a twisty one, with lots of switchbacks. If you’re not driving an AWD vehicle, you’ll need tire chains.
Pro Tip: Guanella Pass Rd, where Silver Dollar Lake trail is located, does close seasonally (usually from late November through Memorial Day weekend). The closure point, on the Georgetown side, will be near Naylor Lake (you’ll need to park before you get to Naylor Lake Rd, as the road will be inaccessible to cars in the winter). All of this to say, if you plan on hiking Silver Dollar Lake in the winter, you’ll really need to come from the Georgetown side, rather than the Grant side.
If you’re looking for a hike that’s short, sweet, and packs a serious punch, Clinton Gulch is one of the best. My trail guide covers everything you need to know to get the best out of this hike.
I’ve already mentioned this, but it bears repeating: Silver Dollar Lake trail is a busy one, especially in the summertime. So in order to have the most serene and private experience, I highly recommend doing this hike at sunrise on a weekday, if possible.
Even better if you can begin the Silver Dollar Lake trail hike before dawn with headlamps in tow (these are the ones I’ve used for years, and they’re amazing for night/dawn hiking), which is what I personally do. Not only is the light the prettiest in the morning, but you’ll come across a lot less visitors if you opt for an early wake up call.
Lastly, given the high elevation of this hike (and the fact that much of the trail is above tree line), high altitude afternoon lightning storms (which are quite common in the summer), can present a life-threatening risk.
Our summer weather tends to be more predictable and tame at sunrise, so you’ll get more stability if you opt to hike Silver Dollar Lake trail in the early morning versus the afternoon.
Colorado is home to some of the best trails and mountain villages in the entire US. As a Colorado local, there’s nothing I love more than crafting comprehensive guides to the best parts of this state. If you’re looking to plan an epic Rocky Mountain road trip, I’ve created the perfect 2-3 week itinerary.
Unsure about which towns are the best to visit during your vacation? I’ve rounded up my favorite mountain villages in Colorado that you can’t miss.
Curious about what time of year to visit CO? I’ve demystified the seasons, and share my best tips on which months are ideal and which ones you should avoid.
Visiting Rocky Mountain National Park while you’re out here? That’s basically my backyard, and these are my favorite things to do when I visit.
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