Lake Irwin - Amazing Camping at 10,000 ft

 Looking west across Lake Irwin

Looking west across Lake Irwin

Lake Irwin is a high alpine lake on the eastern slope of the Ruby Range in Gunnison County.  Hiking trails, waterfalls, fishing, camping, non-motorized watercraft, and large meadows of wildflowers are just a few of the reasons why Lake Irwin should be on your Colorado bucket list. 

Kebler Pass, home of one of the largest aspen groves in the United States, is less than 5 miles away and a top destination for those seeking the changing colors of fall.      

 A 2nd waterfall along the hiking trail below the spillway

A 2nd waterfall along the hiking trail below the spillway

The Lake Irwin Campground entrance can be found near the west end of the 65-acre lake.  During our stay, the campsites with a lake view were all occupied, so we set up camp near the edge a small pond at site #12.  The breathtaking view of the Grand Dike, Ruby Peak, & Mt Owen made us quickly forget about missing out on the view of the lake.

Lake Irwin Storm Clouds

Once camp was setup, we decided to check out the waterfalls & wildflowers.  Two waterfalls can be reached from an unmarked trail near the spillway.  Look for a parking area big enough for 3-4 cars on the west side of the creek that is formed by runoff from the spillway.  After following the hiking trail along the creek for about 5 minutes we reached the first waterfall.  We spent a few minutes enjoying the view and taking pictures, then continued down the trail, stopping to admire a few wildflowers along the way. 

Soon we arrived at a larger and more impressive second waterfall.  Following the trail, further downhill led to a large meadow of wildflowers.  There was a nice variety of yellows, blues, & purples along with an occasional red fairy trumpet mixed in.  After climbing back up the hill, we sat down by the lake to rest and to watch the stand-up paddle boards, kayaks, & canoes floating on the lake.

Back at camp, we cooked our dinner over the campfire and watched deer move down from higher elevations to the pond.  Eventually, the deer made their way past our camp and continued through the campground.  It looked like the beginning of a perfect evening. 

After dinner, we baked mini pies in the campfire and began to notice low clouds moving in as we sat down to eat the pies.  We could hear the wind howling across the Ruby Range while it was still calm at the campsite.  30 seconds later the wind would reach us.  The weather repeated this cycle for the next 15 minutes.  It would get calm, then we would hear the howling wind, followed by a strong gust of wind in camp again.  As native Kansans, who rush outside every time a tornado siren goes off instead of seeking shelter, we normally don't get scared of the weather until trees are being uprooted and BBQ grills are flying.  (True story for another day)  This eerie experience at Lake Irwin definitely ranks up with the tornado sightings in our list of most memorable weather events. 

Due to the lack of cell service, we couldn’t check the weather radar and hoped it would be a quick summer storm.  We headed for the tent as darkness arrived and rain began to fall.  Leaking tent seams, combined with 4 hours of thunder, lightning, wind and rain had us re-considering our decision to camp.  Thanks to an air mattress, only half of our sleeping bags were soaked.  I grabbed the spotlight a couple times during the storm to make sure the pond was still 6 feet away from the tent.  Luckily it was draining as quickly as the rain was coming down.  Finally, the rain stopped and we were able to sleep.  In the morning the sun came out, rewarding us with amazing views of the Ruby Range.   

As we were leaving the area, we learned that we had missed out on a third waterfall north of the campground.  Looks like we have another reason to go back and explore some more.

Getting there:
From Crested Butte, head west on Co Rd 12 for 6.3 miles.  Turn right on Co Rd 826 for 2.1 miles.

 View from outside our tent the morning after the storm - Lake Irwin Campsite #12

View from outside our tent the morning after the storm - Lake Irwin Campsite #12

Camping Facilities:

 Looking west from campsite #12 - Lake Irwin Campground

Looking west from campsite #12 - Lake Irwin Campground

  • Elevation 10,200 feet. 
  • GPS Info: 38°52'52"N, 107°6'25"W
  • Cell Service: AT&T-None / Verizon-None
  • 26 Reserve-able Camp Sites
  • Picnic Tables
  • Fire Rings
  • Firewood available for purchase from Camp Host
  • Modern Vault Toilets
  • Water - Hand pump by Site #14 and across from Site #12.  It was a popular spot at dinner time.
  • Trash Bins
  • The pothole filled roads near the campsites are bumpy & steep in places.  Use caution if you have an RV

Check out more Gunnison County Campgrounds