Trinidad Lake State Park – August 19th to 22nd, 2020

Trinidad Lake is much smaller than Lake Pueblo, but we enjoyed it just as much. While we only paddled in one small cove of Lake Pueblo, we pretty much had all of Trinidad Lake to ourselves. Variety is the spice of life.

From Pueblo, it was only an hour and a half to get to Trinidad Lake State Park. We drove over to the South Shore first, then back over to the north side to the Carpios Ridge Campground where we had our reservation. The campground sits up on a ridge overlooking the lake with some short trees that provides some partial shade. We walked over to the Visitors Center to ask about the regulations regarding our kayak. No inspection required if it has no motor, the same as Lake Pueblo. The ranger said we could put it in at the boat ramp or any where along the shoreline. She suggested the south shore or up at the Reilly Canyon road.

In the day use area next to the campground, there is an archeological site. We went over to check it out. It was just two circles of stones and they are not really sure what they were used for. The day use area did have some nice views of the lake.

In the morning, we drove over to the Reilly Canyon entrance to see if we wanted to put our kayak in there. The Reilly Canyon entrance is near the historic town of Cokedale, an old coal mining town. As we started down the Reilly Canyon road, there were old coke oven ruins on the opposite hillside. The road was a little rough getting back in there. The water level of the lake was so low, that at the end of the road, the access to the lake was still a swampy marsh. There was a lot of birds, such as geese and great blue herons among the reeds, but not a great place to launch a kayak.

We drove over to the south shore. It is also a dirt road, but we found a spot along the shore to set up. Left Buddy (LB) was not in the mood to kayak, so Right Buddy (RB) went by herself. It looked like sand where we put the kayak in, but RB’s feet sunk in the muck about half a foot. She managed to shake most of the muck off in the water before climbing into our SS Little Buddy (our Sea Eagle 370 - paid link) so she didn’t get the boat very dirty. LB stayed behind at our Red Tail Lodge at the shore and worked some. Since she got a blister the last time she kayaked, she wore her bike gloves to protect her hands. The gloves worked like a charm and her hands were not irritated at all.

At the beginning, the water was like glass. There was no wind and the kayak slid through the water with ease. There were not may boats on the lake, so RB headed to the middle and over to a little cove on the other side. A speed boat that was towing something like a wake boarder was heading towards her. She was waiting to see which way it would go, but it was going so slowly. The boat was going slow, but its bow was tilted up, creating a nice wave behind the boat.  She’s not sure if it is a special kind of boat or motor that allows it to do that. From what RB could tell, the boarder would get up using a tow rope and then drop the rope and just surf the wave behind the boat. As the boat passed her, it did not create much of a wake at all.

There was a fishing boat in the cove and several families of geese. The young had already developed their adult markings and coloring, but they were still smaller than an adult and apparently still hanging out with their folks. RB was enjoying watching the birds fly low over the water and over her. The birds were mainly geese and great blue herons. She was wishing she had her camera with her. She had the GoPro Session (paid link) with her, but she had forgotten to charge the battery, so she didn’t get much footage.

From the cove she continued further down the lake. After about half an hour from when she started, she decided she better turn around and head back to the van. The water was no longer glass. The wind had picked up considerably and now she was heading into the wind. It was quite a workout to get back. What only took her 30 minutes on the way out took her 45 minutes to get back, and that was a straight line back, not the meandering she had done on the way out. In the meantime, LB had found a better place for RB to pull into. Instead of the mucky sand, he had her beach the boat in a rocky area. No sinking into the muck this time. After eating lunch while the kayak dried, we headed back to the campground for the afternoon and evening.

Our plans for dinner were reubens. They required cooking on our single burner butane stove (paid link). However, a thunderstorm came through just around dinner time, so we retreated inside the van and waited. Just before 6 pm, it looked like there was a break in the clouds, so we hustled outside and quickly cooked our meal. As we finished eating, it started to sprinkle again. Perfect timing. The rain cooled the place down. We came back outside after dark to sit and enjoy the cool air, but we needed to put our jackets on. RB, who was still in shorts, pulled out a blanket to put over her legs to stay warm. Despite all the years we have lived in Colorado, it still amazes us how it can be so hot during the day and so cool at night with the dry air.

It was a cool morning the following day. We started our hike on the Reilly Canyon Trail a little bit before 10 am. The trail follows along the north side of the lake all the way to the Reilly Canyon park entrance. However, the views of the lake are rather limited. The trail goes up and down all of the little canyons feeding into the lake with quite a few switchbacks. We were glad we wearing our hiking boots and brought along our trekking poles. The trail crosses several dry stream beds. We’re not sure if those streams have water only in the spring and/or during or after a rain storm. There was a rain storm the night before and a couple of the stream beds looked like there were some wet sandy areas, but no water. Like we have been doing a lot lately, we had just enough water to make it through the hike. Our water filters were in our packs, but they don’t do any good if you can’t find a water source. We need to get in the habit of bringing along extra water.

At the beginning of the trail, we could hear wild turkeys gobbling, but we did not see any. Most of the wildlife we saw were lizards, butterflies, birds, and dragonflies. The trail was partially shaded by the piñon pine and Utah juniper trees with some scrub oak thrown in between. There were not a lot of wildflowers, but that just made us notice the few colorful ones even more, since they stood out. The terrain and flora changed just enough along the trail to keep it interesting. The trail ends at the trailhead parking lot along the Reilly Canyon Road, too close to the entrance to really see the lake.

On the way out to Reilly Canyon Road, we passed by quite a few benches, but we didn’t stop at any of them, saying we would stop at them on the way back, when we would probably need them more. On the way back, we looked for the benches and stopped to sit on each one. However, it seemed like there were fewer benches on the way back then on the way out. We found only four benches on the way back and a few more spots that seemed like there should be benches, such as at the top of an incline with a view out over the lake. It’s amazing how your expectations shape your attitude. Had we not been expecting to see a lot of benches along the trail, we would not have been disappointed about how few there were. It’s a lesson we keep relearning. Expect the worse, hope for the best, and you’ll be happy with the reality that lies somewhere in between.

The trail was nice, but there was no highlight along the trail. We do appreciate being able to take a challenging hike straight from the campground without having to drive to a trailhead. It took us almost five hours to finish the hike. This was hike #46 in our 52 Hike Challenge. It was nine miles with a 1200 foot elevation gain. Even after our cold Cokes, a bag of tortilla chips and salsa, and our showers, we still felt pretty tired so we took the rest of the day off from working.

The showers were decent. They were 25 cents per minute and a half with a minimum of two quarters. The temperature was adjustable and the water pressure was decent. We’re not sure why showers require a minimum, but two quarters is better than four like at many of the other state parks we’ve been to. If their goal is to try to encourage people to conserve water, then we would think it would be better to have no minimum. That way people could do a military style shower where you get wet, then, while the water is off, lather up, then turn the water back on to rinse off.

Dinner was brats and kraut with applesauce. We spent the evening relaxing and watching a few YouTube videos. We chatted a little while with one of the park rangers who came walking through the campground. He told us about a new state park that was opening soon nearby, Fishers Peak State Park. It sounds like it will have a lot of hiking trails and wildlife.

The following day was a travel and resupply day. Before we left Trinidad Lake, we did our laundry at the campground. We headed into Trinidad and had a picnic lunch in Kit Carson Park, a nice little neighborhood park. Then it was off to the Safeway in Trinidad to pick up groceries. We were in no hurry to get to our next destination, John Martin Reservoir, after we learned that the weather forecast for the coming week there was in the 100’s every day.

While we were in Trinidad, we walked up and down Main Street to check out the nice architecture of the old buildings lining the street. The Trinidad History Museum is on one of the blocks that includes the Baca House and the Bloom Mansion. There is also a quirky antique store, but it looked like it was closed. It was not in the 100’s, but probably in the 90’s, so we headed to the only ice cream we could find in Trinidad, Little Rox’s Ice Cream Shop (like we needed an excuse to get ice cream). It was not on Main Street, but a nice little shop along Colorado 12, just a few blocks from Safeway, west of I-25.

Trinidad and Trinidad Lake are on a smaller scale than Pueblo and Lake Pueblo, but that made the experience much more intimate. A lake to paddle on, hiking trails to get close to nature, and a small town with lots of charm made a wonderful combination. What out-of-the-way places do you like to escape to?

Check out our related video: Trinidad Lake State Park

(RB)