Trail- 6.5 miles in, 6.5 out, 13 miles total round trip.
My all time favorite hike in the area is the Crater Lake Trail. The trailhead is maybe 15 miles west of Jasper in the direction of Summitville. The sign "Crater Lake Trailhead" is visible before reaching Summitville.
The trailhead is almost always muddy if because it also doubles as a drainage for the hill. The initial climb starts at 10,800 and is not too steep. It winds up through large old pines for maybe quarter to half mile.
The end of the pines are at (tree line) maybe 11,200. At this point, you are hiking along the slope of a large hill loaded with many curious marmots. They can be seen slinking in and out of holes while the more adventurous ones may perch on a rock and observe your activity.
After crossing the Marmot hill, there's a rain-water pond which signals that you are nearing the Continental Divide. At the peak of the hill, you will see piles of rocks and a "San Juan Wilderness" marker.. Welcome to the top of the country! This is the divide where water splits, some flowing east, some west.
At this point, the hike becomes easy because it's all down hill to the lake. The trail follows and crosses a nice creek which overflows the trail at some points. Massive views abound in all directions.
Finally, as the trail winds down in to the canyon, there's a short climb to get to the lake. You will not see any hint of a lake until you are virtually on top of it. It's hidden in a glacial crater near the peak.
Once at the lake, trout can be see everywhere- swimming and feeding. There are occasionally fisherman and campers in the area at peak summer months. Otherwise you can usually count on a quiet and uninterrupted adventure on this pristine high-altitude lake. As of 2017, there are at least 4 campsites with fire pits so there's plenty of room to pitch a tent.
An important note would be that the hike out is more strenuous than the way in! Be sure to pack ample water and food to recharge your energy once reaching the lake. Also try to leave early as there are often afternoon thunderheads that bring deadly lightning to the high country above tree line. It would be great to split the hike by camping overnight then hiking out on fresh legs.
Trail near the continental divide, October 2017
Trail heading downhill towards the lake from the divide, October 2017