After hiking to Chinn’s Lake several times in the summer, the next adventure needed to be in winter. However, visiting Chinn’s Lake in the winter is not that easy.
1. You need a GPS or mapping devices (my cell phone worked pretty good).
2. You have to go when the avalanche danger is low or non-existent, due to two concerning slopes along the trail
3. You need to know parking is a bigger problem in the winter, than in the summer
To get to the trail, drive I-70 to exit 238/Fall River Road. Turn right on Fall River Road and reset your odometer. Drive 6.5 miles to the turnoff to Rainbow Road/RD 274. The turnoff is on a big curve, right next to a nice home.
Rainbow Road/RD 274 is a dirt road. In winter, you’ll likely find it snow covered. From here, it’s about 3.4 miles to Chinn’s Lake. Now the question is – how far is the road plowed? Be aware, the county doesn’t plow this road, the neighbors living here do it. When we visited in Jan. 2016, we found the road plowed about 1.1 miles in. However, it was plowed in a single lane, with no spots for parking. We followed the plowed path to a gate. It turns out that gate was someone’s driveway, and we had left the main road.
I suggest parking in a pull off on Fall River Road and snowshoeing the 3.4 miles to Chinn’s Lake. You can try driving up RD 274/Rainbow Road and seeing 1) how far you can drive and 2) if you can find parking. Just be aware, you can’t block anyone’s driveway and you’ll want to closely watch your GPS or map program to make sure you stay on RD 274/Rainbow Road. About a mile up, we spotted an area where someone had tried to drive in the deep snow on Rainbow Road and you could see where they had ended up in deep ruts and eventually gave up.
So, let’s talk about the snowshoe. If you start at the beginning of Rainbow Road, you’ll be following a (likely) plowed road for about a mile. The road has a steady elevation gain as it winds through the forest. If you come on a windy day, it won’t be too bad because you’re in the forest. As you walk by cabins and homes along the road, you may see driveways filled with snow and a chain across them. Some people use snowmobiles to access their homes in winter.
About a mile up, the plowed road will likely turn left with a sign warning: Do not block driveway. A resident in this area said he pulls out 1-2 people a day, on average. That includes weekdays. A tow truck up here can cost $250+. That’s why it’s better to snowshoe the road.
Check your map or GPS here and do not turn on the driveway. Stay on Rainbow Road. The road passes more homes and at 1.65 makes a big S turn in the road. The turn is not important, but as you pass the turn start looking on your left. About 1.8 miles from Fall River Road is an old mine and a road. At this spot, you’re crossing the Continental Divide Trail. A sign a short distance up that road says: 3 miles to Bill Moore Lake, 5 miles to Breckinridge Peak (their spelling, not mine), 6 miles to Mount Flora and 8 miles to Berthoud Pass.
Continue up the road another 0.6 miles, about 2.4 miles from Fall River Road, and you’ll come to a road split with a sign. Turn right for Fall River Reservoir, turn left for Chinn’s & Sherwin Lakes. This is a good spot for a snack break because the next mile is quite steep. From the trail split, it’s about 1 mile and about 625 feet in elevation gain to Chinn’s Lake.
This next mile is interesting because the road is not very wide and it’s hard to imagine Jeeps driving up here in summer. As you snowshoe here, enjoy the trees, snow-covered rocks and other scenery. You also need to take a good look at that slope to your left — It’s quite steep and can be an avalanche danger.
After hiking up the steep road about one mile, you’ll make a big sweeping turn left, then right and head into an open valley and the Chinn’s Lake. Chinn’s Lake is a dammed lake with an abandoned cabin. It looks like the old two-room cabin was flooded when the lake was dammed. In summer, the cabin is flooded. In winter, it almost looks the cabin is on the banks of the lake. Most people do not continue on to Sherwin and Slater Lakes because the avalanche danger increases.
After a break at the lake, return the way you came. Be aware, the lake is often windy, even when the rest of the trek is not.
Details: The snowshoe is 2.4-3.4 miles each way, depending on where you park. From the one mile mark on the road, it’s about 1100 gain. Add more if you start on Fall River Road.
Directions: From I-70, take exit 238/Fall River Road. Turn right on Fall River Road and reset your odometer. Drive 6.5 miles to the turnoff to Rainbow Road/RD 274 at a big curve in the road.
In summer, check out nearby Loch Lomond and Bill Moore Lake. Get more 400+ Colorado snowshoeing trails and Colorado hiking trails here. Don’t miss any of my hiking trip reports. Click the “subscribe” button to be notified when I publish a new article.