Grizzly Lake

Johnson Village, Colorado (Chaffee County)

Last Updated: 06/02/2019
4.8 /5 ( 6 reviews )
Nearby Trails
Status: Impassable
Typically Open: Year Round
Difficulty: 8-8
Length: 2.9 miles
Highest Elevation: 11191 feet
Duration: About 4 hours
Shape of Trail: Out & Back
Best Direction to Travel: N/A
Nearest Town: Johnson Village
Nearest Town w/ Services: Johnson Village
Official Road Name: 296
Management Agency: San Isabel National Forest
District: Salida Ranger District
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Highlight: Grizzly Lake
Grizzly Lake is a difficult rock crawling trail that takes you over one demanding challenge at the start to steal your attention, and then never gives that attention back till the trail run is over. This trail combines all aspects of rock crawling into less than 3 miles. With ledge climbs, water crossings, shelf roads, off camber leans, and tight squeezes between trees, the trail finally rewards you for your courage by providing epic Rocky Mountain views at its ending point. Bring your camera, bring your fishing rod, but most importantly, bring a well equipped vehicle as the trek to Grizzly Lake is certainly an adventurous one.



7 day forecast for Grizzly Lake

Route Information

Advanced Rating System

Recommended Vehicle:
Lightly Modified 4X4 (Small Lift and Larger Tires)
The first half mile is the hardest of the trail. You come to the gatekeeper wall first, and then you have a very steep, uphill bouldery climb along a narrow shelf. If you are equipped with a winch, a lightly modified vehicle can winch over the first obstacle and complete the remaining of the trail no problems. If you are not equipped with a winch, large tires and lockers will be needed to complete the first obstacle.

Technical Rating: 8-8

Rocky or undulated road surface. Rocks less than 84" tall and/or vertical ledges less than 72" tall and/or near vertical ledges or waterfalls less than 14' foot. Tire placement not good. Can be steep and off-camber.
Read more about our rating system


Grizzly Lake Trail earns it's high rating due to one obstacle at the beginning of the trail that does not have a bypass. Nicknamed "The Wall", this obstacle can prove to be a daunting challenge for even the most modified rigs as you attempt to climb the wall with wet tires after crossing the creek. Once above the wall, there are no other single obstacles to traverse, but the trail is extremely rocky/bouldery and also very narrow as you climb above the creek on a shelf road. Drivers should take special care on this stretch coming downhill as there is no room to pull over for oncoming traffic. The trail levels out as you drive just below the tree line weaving your way between trees and across rock fields that have been mangled by past winter avalanches and mountain slides. There are a few sections of deep standing water and some mud before you finally reach the lake at the top which is almost always windy. Bring a jacket and some bug spray if you plan to get out of your vehicle to check out the lake. We encourage you to do so.
Only winch to designated winch anchors at the first obstacle and do not winch to trees.


1. Trail Start Next to Large House (0.00 mi)
Just off CR 295, the trail starts next to a large house and a private drive.
2. The Guardian Obstacle (0.20 mi)
Not long after starting the trail, you come to the premier obstacle of the trail, The Guardian Wall. After crossing the creek, you must attempt to climb the vertical ledges of this wall with wet tires. Short wheelbase vehicles, with big tires perform best on this obstacle. There are no easy lines, but hugging the tree far left is one line that can be completed unassisted when traveling uphill. There is also a center line that proved to be impossible for any long wheelbase on less then 37s. From the bottom of the wall, the far right looks like the easiest line up, but it quickly becomes extremely off-camber once you have crested the top. Please limit your attempts and winch to one of the 2 winch anchors above the obstacle or take a strap. Do not attempt to winch to any of the nearby trees.
3. Shelf Road (0.40 mi)
After the guardian wall, the trail climbs a steep shelf road riddled with large, loose boulders. Careful tire placement here will get you through just fine, but do be aware the rocks move slightly with each passing vehicle. On the way down the trail, this section provides a really cool view of the town of St Elmo.
4. Dangerous Tippy Spot (0.96 mi)
This spot requires the drivers full attention as the trail narrows and leans towards the passenger side. Without careful tire placement, it is easy to lose the back-end off the side of the trail. Use caution here especially during wet conditions.
5. Cross Shale Rock Field (1.92 mi)
About 3/4's of the way through the trail you cross an interesting shale rock field. It is not uncommon to encounter the remnants of winter avalanches here at this spot.
6. Wide Parking Area (2.80 mi)
The trail ends just before the lake at a large area wide enough for many vehicles. Although the trail does continue to the right around the west side of the lake, we recommend you stop here as the trail abruptly ends at a hiking only trail with barely enough room to turn one vehicle around.

Directions to Trailhead

Trailhead Coordinates: 38.703870, -106.343520

Starting Point: Johnson Village

From Johnson Village, head south on Highway 285 for 6 miles. Just past the Chalk Creek Campground in Nathrop, turn right and head west on CR 162. After about 15 miles, you will come to a parking area on the left with a vault toilet. This is the ideal place to air down. Just after the parking area, turn left on CR 162. Less than a quarter mile down the road, look for a large house on the left with a private drive. The address is 9661. The trail starts here on the left, just north of the home.


Camp spots near the lake are limited in number, but there are many developed campgrounds down off CR 162 including Iron City Campground, Cascade Campground, and many others.
Camping: Grizzly Lake

Trail Reviews (8)

Status: Partially Open
Offroaded on:
We ran grizzly today as part of the Set Them Free event It is open until about a 1/4 mile from the lake where it is blocked by a very large avalanche debris field. My JKUR is equipped with a 2 1/2 inch lift and 33 inch tires we had minor skid plate damage mostly from the Gatekeeper. I think the 8/8 rating is a little extreme for this trail, the gatekeeper is the hardest part of the trail the rest of the trail is not very technical.

Author: Official Crew
Status: Partially Open
Offroaded on:
Trail was blocked by snow about .25 miles past the first creek crossing/obstacle. Will be a while until the trail is fully open.

Status: Open
Offroaded on:
This was the first time we made it up this trail, thanks to the winch points recently installed. Our group rode up in 2 side by sides and an ATV. The trail is as described, full of boulders that never seemed to end and equally as thrilling. Our ATV got stuck in the boulder field on the way up, but easily freed with help. The side by sides did really well. This trail is not for the inexperienced, or those afraid of heights. The view at the lake though was worth the ride.

Author: Official Crew
Status: Open
Offroaded on:
Ran the trail as part of the Set Them Free event again this year. We had a small fairly small group, but the carnage was big. The wall claimed a rear axle shaft, a front axle u-joint, and a front outer shaft. Only two vehicles in our group made it up the wall without winching; I was one of them and the other was also an LJ on 37s. For the first time I have ever been to the lake, it was absolutely gorgeous! It was sunny and warm with zero wind! I think this was just the calm before the storm though because on our way out, a massive rainstorm came through and drenched us the entire way back to the highway.

Author: Official Crew
Status: Open
Offroaded on:
Spent the first half of the day doing some work on the trail with the guys from CORE and the Forest Service. We installed 2 winch anchors at the wall obstacle and put in some fencing to prevent resource damage from those attempting to bypass the obstacle. After the work, we ran the trail to the end. It is fully open.

Author: Official Crew
Status: Open
Offroaded on:
This is one of my most favorite trails in all of Colorado. The gatekeeper keeps just enough people out to make it somewhat of a less used trail and if you are lucky, you will be the only group camping at the end - its a great spot to camp and explore by foot.

Author: Official Crew
Status: Open
Offroaded on:
Cleared the trail of trees and debris, trail is in good condition and open all the way to the lake.

Author: Official Crew
Status: Open
Offroaded on:
I tail-gunned this trip for the Set The Free Off Road event this year. The event is a 3 day fundraiser to stop human trafficking, with trail runs over 2 days. We hit up Grizzly on Saturday. We started the trail with 16 in our group. We quickly came to the wall obstacle where it was apparent we would be spending a good amount of time there. Although we gave it our all, we were unable to get any 4dr Jeeps over the wall unassisted. They were all forced to winch over the center line. I believe none of them had larger than 37'' tires. We also had to winch any vehicle that was not locked front and rear, regardless of the wheelbase. Smaller wheelbase vehicles that were locked front and rear like the LJ, a few 2dr JK's, and a TJ, made it up over the wall with some struggles, but ultimately unassisted. A Cherokee and full sized Bronco went up the far left line, also unassisted but with some struggles. The trail was bumpy and rough the remained of the way, but was totally clear of snow. It was extremely windy, but warm at the lake. After spending time at the top for lunch, we headed down. Coming down the wall is very tricky. It's easy to assume the now far right line against the tree would be easiest, however that line tips you right into the tree if it is not done perfectly. With some creative winching, we were able to keep one vehicle from doing some severe damage to his top and other parts of his vehicle. We found the easiest line for all vehicles was to come down the center line while scraping the belly and using gravity to help assist you down. Great day with a great group for a great cause.

Questions & Answers (1)

Q: Do many dirt bikes do this trail? Thanks Kelly
–Kelly Goreski (10/24/2018)
A: I have never seen a dirt bike above the guardian at waypoint 2. It takes a pretty hardcore rider to clear that obstacle.
–Ryan Boudreau (01/08/2019)
A: Kelly, sorry for such a late reply; obviously the trail is impassable now through June or so, but to answer your question--I've done this trail two times and have not seen a bike on it, only have seen ATVs. A bike can certainly do it, though, just be especially careful on the shelf road (Waypoint 3) because it's comprised of loose rock.
–Tracy Barker (01/08/2019)

Writer Information

Ryan Boudreau

Mapping Crew - Colorado

Hi, I'm Ryan! I am a Colorado native and I've been wheeling since I was 16 years old. I grew up with a relentless passion for all things Jeep and off road related, and that passion has never died out. I am a member of the Mile-Hi Jeep Club, Patrol 16 Sasquatch Jeepers and currently own an '06 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon Unlimited (LJ) nicknamed "Minion". I am a huge supporter of Stay the Trail and Tread Lightly, and have participated and even been in charge of many trail restoration projects. I have been a trail leader several times for events such as All-4-Fun, ColoradoFest, Set Them Free, 14er Fest, and other. I am also the creator of the Unlimited LJ Adventure. My rig is built for extreme offroading, but I love to get my tires dirty on any kind of trail whether it's rock crawling or just scenic high Alpine drives. I've wheeled all over the country including Colorado, Utah, Kansas, the Carolinas, AZ, and California. I love a great adventure, and love even more to share those adventures with others. If you see the "minion" out on the trail, make sure to stop and say hello.
For individual use only, not to be shared.