Missouri Lake & Fancy Lake Hike Guide

The Virtual Sherpa


Missouri Lake & Fancy Lake loop is arguably the most popular trail in the Holy Cross Wilderness. This stunning 13 mile loop travels by many high elevation lakes, up two mountain passes (Missouri Pass & Fancy Pass) and is a popular spot for camping. The Missouri Lake & Fancy Lake loop also provides an opportunity to visit the abandoned mining community of Holy Cross City. Overall, this is one of the most beautiful and underrated hikes in Colorado in my humble opinion.


Missouri Lake & Fancy Lake Quick Facts

Missouri Lake & Fancy Lake Trail Rating: ★★★★★ (5/5 stars)

Distance: 12.10 miles RT (Includes 3 Miles RT to Holy Cross City)

Elevation Start: 10,013 ft

Summit: 12,392 ft

Total Elevation Gain: 3,750 ft

Estimated Time to Complete: 6-7 Hours RT (1-2 Hours to Missouri Lake, 30 minutes to Missouri Pass, 1 Hour to Fancy Pass, 1-2 Hours to/from Lost City, 1-2 hours to parking lot)

Difficulty: Moderate What does this mean?

Class: Class 2 – What does this mean?

Season: July – October (Expect snow outside of this period)

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Directions to Missouri Lake & Fancy Lake

Trailhead: Fancy Pass

Getting Here: Missouri Lake & Fancy Lake are accessed via the Holy Cross Wilderness. Holy Cross Wilderness is most commonly accessed through the small town of Minturn. Take I-70 to exit 171 and drive about 13 miles until you reach Homestake Reservoir road. Follow this well maintained gravel road for 7.8 miles until you reach Missouri Creek Road on your right. Follow this for 2.2 miles until you reach the trailhead. Fancy Lake trailhead can be entered into your favorite navigation app.

Parking: Free parking at Missouri Lake & Fancy Lake is available at the trailhead. There is a small lot that can fit about 15-20 cars but there is also ample parking along the road. There are restrooms available in the parking area.


Dogs: This is a great hike to bring your dogs on (yes they are allowed). There are a million sources of water along the way so you probably don’t even need to pack extra for them. The terrain is not terrible on their paws either with the exception of the east side of Fancy pass which isn’t great. Overall though, I would recommend bringing your dog for this beautiful loop.

Camping: Car camping is available Homestake Reservoir road and backpack camping is available along the entire Missouri Lake & Fancy Lake loop. This is an absolutely stunning area to camp and is one of my favorite spots to do so.

Make it a Loop: This trail is a loop whoo! There is an option to add on a visit to the abandoned mine town of Holy Cross City which will add another 3 miles RT.  

Trail X Factors: Sheer Beauty

The Missouri Lake & Fancy Lake loop has a 5 star rating for a reason. This hike offers beautiful scenery on every single section of the trail. Stunning waterfalls, breathtaking landscapes, colorful wildflowers and of course the countless lakes. When hiking this loop, it it easy to get overloaded by the amount of things to look at. For me, this is a hike that I find myself wanting to do every year and it does not get old.

Hike Tip(s): I would argue that most people who hike Missouri Lake & Fancy Lake extend the trip into two days and why not? It is certainly hard to leave this place because it does feel like you are escaping earth Colorado for the 13 miles of the hike. I would recommend hiking the Missouri Lake & Fancy Lake loop in a clockwise fashion. In my opinion, the trek up to Fancy Pass is far more difficult than the trail leading up to Missouri Pass due to the loose gravel and rock along the gully.

Best Views: Um, the whole hike? But seriously, this trail is beautiful from start to finsih. If taking long exposure water shots is something you enjoy, you will be a kid in Toys ‘R Us (Do those still exist?). There are a million opportunities to setup your tripod, break out the filters and snap pictures of the streams and waterfalls fed by snow melt. I would also bring your favorite landscape lens because there are ample opportunities to take stunning panoramic photos. This is also a fantastic spot during wildflower season.

My Trip to Missouri Lake & Fancy Lake: July 2016

While planning my trip to Missouri Lake & Fancy Lake, I was fairly familiar with the hike because Jackie and I had planned to complete this loop a few Junes back. However, our trip was stopped short by the large amount of snow still hanging around at the top of the passes. This trip I was hoping for less snow but prepared for more just in case.


I arrived to the parking area around 8AM on a Saturday morning and there were several other cars already parked in the lot and along the road. I quickly rearranged my bag, housed a water, laced up my hiking boots and hit the trail. I decided to do the trek clockwise (starting at Missouri Lake) because this was the same route we had taken last time. (Note: I would recommend following this same direction)


I quickly flew up to the first waterfall of the day which is runoff from a small retention pond located about 3/4 mile into the hike. The pond is a great area to eat breakfast or pump water if you need to do either. I was anxious to keep going, so I kept moving past the pond without a break. The Missouri Lake & Fancy Lake trail essentially follows a body of water the entire hike. I knew this from my last trip out and thought “What a great opportunity to take some long exposure water shots.” At the first chance to take one of said shots, I pulled out my tripod, set up the camera and began digging for the correct filters. I clearly was out of my mind when I packed my bag because the filters were notably not in my pack. Neat! This was the second time in a month that I was lugging along a 4lb tripod that had almost no use to me. (Joke is really on me because a few days after this hike I realized that the filters were indeed in the bag, I had just missed them)


Pissed off and dissapointed, I repacked my bag and flew up to Missouri Lake. Missouri Lake was about 3 miles from the TH and absolutely stunning. I stopped at the lake and ate a gourmet breakfast some trail mix and an apple. After a few minutes, the ants in my pants kicked in again so I moved on towards the first pass of the day: Missouri Pass.

Note: When following the trail up to the pass, stay on the left [north/west] side of the lake. There will be other trails in the area and it might be easy to get lost. 

The trail up to Missouri Pass involved some switchbacks and was a bit steep, but it was fairly straight forward. Towards the top of the pass there was a patch of late summer snow but I easily navigated through this without breaking out any additional gear.


After conquering the first pass, I was thrilled about the time I was making as I headed down the other side. LOL at me again. When I reached a fork in the trail, I somehow forgot how to read and comprehend English. Instead of continuing straight towards Fancy Pass, I got it in my head that I needed to head left down another trail. This, as it turned out, was the wrong way. I ended up adding an extra 2+ miles to my loop. Positive: there were some stunning views in this valley I had incorrectly traveled.


The short detour was over and I did get back to the correct trail after about an hour of being “lost”. From the original intersection the trail increased its pitch significantly and was very steep on both sides of Fancy Pass. Once I summitted the pass, I nearly stole yo girl dog. (This random guy’s dog was jumping all over me and tried following me down the mountain…she was obviously not that man’s best friend.) The trail down into Fancy Pass was incredibly rocky…loose rock, similar to the Mt Evans gully. Snow was still there which made for a great time sliding down one section like a slide and scary in another where I had 2 feet of trail and a huge gully on the other side. In a previous hike review I mentioned my dislike for hiking poles, but in this case a pair of hiking poles or mountain ax would be very useful as an insurance policy. 


Towards the end of gully, the trail came to another fork in the road: one direction took you to Fancy Lake, the other to Holy Cross City. As I headed towards Holy Cross City it started to rain. I was being stubborn and refused to put on my rain coat for the first 15 minutes of droplets. I eventually caved and mother nature laughed in my face as the rain immediately stopped. Stubborn again, I was convinced the rain would start up once more so I kept my raincoat on. Mother Nature 2, Mickey 0. I was sweating because the sun overtook the rain and the temperature started to rise again. While this battle was going on, I was still working my way to the abandon city and I reached a fork in the road where I was not sure where to go. I took a gamble and went right (which was correct) and the old cabins appeared in front of me.


Holy Cross City was pretty cool, but on a future hike I was not sure if I would repeat the additional 3 miles of hiking to see it. Eventually, I returned to Fancy Lake were I proceeded to get lost again. I don’t want to blame the people setting up their tent DIRECTLY on the trail, but that certainly did not help me out. I did reconnect with the trail after a short detour and yelled at those idiots in my head for a solid 10 minutes.


The rest of the trail was fairly steep but very straightforward and after another hour or so I returned back to the car. At 4PM I was back at the trailhead and I was slightly regretting not expanding this hike into 2 days and camping up at one of the lakes.

The Missouri Lake Fancy Lake loop was absolutely gorgeous and one of my favorite hikes in Colorado. I will certainly be back to do it again, most likely camping somewhere along the way.


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