Turkey Lake (Weminuche Wilderness)

  • Rating: Difficult

  • Distance: 16.8 miles (out and back)

  • Elevation

    • Trailhead: 9200 feet

    • Max: 11,940 feet

    • Gain: 3,380 ft (1 way), 4,860 ft (round trip)

    • Lake: 11,150 feet

  • Road Status: Fourmile Road (FR645)

  • Trail: Fourmile (569) and Upper Fourmile Stock Trail (569)

  • Trailhead Directions (13.2 miles north of Pagosa Springs)

  • Trail Map

  • Notes: Not recommended for day hikers.  Lots of elevation gain at high altitude, with large sections above treeline (lightning warning).  Snow often covers the trail into July. Impassible stream crossings in early summer.

Deep in the Weminuche Wilderness near Pagosa Springs, Turkey Lake is a lush, glacially-scoured sub-alpine lake located in the upper Turkey Creek watershed.  The lake has many good camping spots and is loaded with brook trout (the biggest I caught was 13 inches).  The spruce beetle have recently killed the majority of the mature spruce and fir, but there is an abundance of younger trees regenerating the stand.  Turkey Lake can be accessed from either Fourmile Trail (569) or Turkey Creek Trail (580).  Fourmile Trail is slightly shorter and has a higher trailhead elevation than the Turkey Creek Trail.  I think the Fourmile Trail is more scenic, but you have to gain an extra 800 feet in order to cross the 11,940-foot pass, which could be dangerous during a thunderstorm (but the views are phenomenal).  

From Fourmile Trail

The Fourmile Trail begins at the end of Fourmile Road.  The 1st parking area that you encounter is mainly for horse trailers.  Bypass the 1st parking area and drive just a little further to the upper parking area at the end of the road.  There are pit toilets in both parking areas.

From the Fourmile Trailhead, the trail drops about 200 feet in elevation, and after crossing 2 small streams, begins to parallel Fourmile Creek.  In early August the trail is loaded with wild raspberries, but be careful because they are intermixed with toxic twinberry and baneberry.  Just after mile 1, there's an unmarked trail junction.  Take the left fork rather than the outfitter trail to the right.  About halfway to the falls, you'll have to cross a fairly large tributary that may be impassible at during May and early June.  The grade is moderate until you reach Fourmile Falls. 

As you approach the falls, it's confusing because the trail forks.  Take the left fork and climb towards the falls as opposed to taking a well-worn path that dead ends at Falls Creek and some serious deadfall. You'll climb briefly and then have to cross Falls Creek.  Once you cross Falls Creek, the trail climbs steeply toward the elevation of Fourmile Falls. The trail splits again - left provides direct access to the falls (worth seeing), right continues to climb steeply toward the lake.

The next 1.5 miles is difficult and rocky as the trail that gains about 1500 feet.  At times, the trail becomes the streambed for small seasonal creeks.  The trail also crosses Fourmile Creek 4 times, which can be difficult at high water.  At mile 4.4, you'll reach a trail sign directing traffic either to Fourmile Lake or Turkey Lake.  Proceed right and rapidly gain elevation by climbing a series of narrow switchbacks.   

After the switchbacks, the trail offers a reprieve as you skirt the edge of a subalpine meadow at the base of rugged, Unnamed Peak 12,490.  Shortly after, you'll break treeline and have a view of the Fourmile Creek/Turkey Creek pass 500 vertical feet above you.  The trail doesn't get much traffic, but the switchbacks are designed well.  If you look closely, you may see evidence of the old sheep driveway. 

Once you reach the 11,940-foot pass, you have views toward downtown Pagosa Springs to the southwest and the upper Turkey Creek watershed to your northeast.  Cherry Cairn (12,500) is the peak across from Unnamed Peak 12,490.  As you descend the pass, you'll notice a considerable amount of trail work has been done in the form of switchbacks.  You'll descend 800 vertical feet over the remaining 1.7 miles and pass through a beautiful alpine meadow from which the Turkey Creek emerges.  Once you get to the lake, there's good camping on the south shores as well as near the lake outlet.  

 
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