Overland’s Best Day Hikes: Kelly Lake Hike from the North Canadian Trailhead near Walden, Colorado

If you’re looking for a great day hike in the Colorado State Forest State Park near Walden, Colorado, read on to learn more about the Kelly Lake hike from the North Canadian trailhead.


Name of Hike: Kelly Lake Hike from the North Canadian Trailhead

Location of Hike: Colorado State Forest State Park

Location of Trailhead: North Canadian Trailhead near Walden, Colorado

Difficulty Level (easy, moderate, hard, challenging): Hard

Roundtrip Miles: 16.5

Elevation Gain: 2654 ft


What It’s Like:

The trek to Kelly Lake begins at the North Canadian trailhead, at the dusty end of County Road 41 in a little town called Walden.  The first few miles of the trail stretch across an old logging road that winds through expansive groves, across farmland, and over rushing streams.  There are incredible views at every turn – views so tempting that water breaks for our group soon turned into full-on “nature appreciation moments” that we would have never pulled ourselves away from had we not needed to get to our campsite before dark.  The next section of the trail leads you through a beautiful green thicket with so much tree cover it’s hard to tell what time of day it is.  

We made it a habit to stop for lunch on the remains of a huge rock slide – the perfect scene for lying out in the sun and digging in your pack for a peanut butter bagel – there’s truly nothing better.  The next few miles are characterized by wildflowers scattered across lush green grass trails and big, open skies as far as the eye can see.  The final stretch up to Kelly Lake, while also beautiful, is no less than a vertical battle that would put even the lungs of an Olympic swimmer to the test.  I’ve never heard the words “Are we there yet?” more in my life, but it is this anticipation and yearning for the summit that makes it that much better.  I can only describe the moment I first broke through those trees and got a glimpse of the much-awaited Kelly Lake as heavenly. I think we were all starting to doubt it truly existed.  The feeling of summiting is euphoric, and everyone responds to it in their own way.  For me and many others, all of the energy that had previously been focused on breathing and putting one foot in front of the other quickly turned to deciding whether stringing up the hammocks we had brought with us or taking a dip in the crystal-clear lake was of greater priority.  

After a night under the stars and pancakes for dinner, one begins the descent back to the trailhead. Except the descent begins by climbing a hundred vertical feet up the sides of the Kelly Lake basin to get back up onto the Hidden Valley Trail–the challenge continues!  Hikers are immediately rewarded, however, with exceptional views and a great first snack break location.  We were even able to “sled” on our sleeping pads at this spot since there was so much snow–even in July!  The remainder of the descent is pretty casual: plenty of switchbacks, wildlife, interactions with other friendly hikers, and lots of trail games.  We even walked straight into a trail running competition and met some incredibly accomplished (and speedy) athletes!  

Why You Love It:

Kelly Lake is absolutely gorgeous.  And it has everything a nature enthusiast could want—a huge, sparkling lake to take a dip in after a grueling hike, fish to watch, killer views, impeccable campsites—just infinite serenity.  There are few times in my life I’ve had the privilege of seeing something as beautiful as the mountain views Kelly Lake provides at sunset.  I will never forget the feeling of sitting atop those rocky heights as my group discussed everything in our lives that had led us to this point and how small the odds were that we had all gotten to experience together.  Some campers felt comfortable enough in that moment to share things they never had before – reflections, dreams, feelings – it was a wonderful experience.  And the amount of pride I felt looking back at their sun-soaked faces is just indescribable, even today.  

The trek to Kelly Lake comes at just the right time in the Rocky Mountain Expedition itinerary. After a week of bonding, training hikes, and preparations of all kinds (everything from blister prevention to snack bag assembly) our group was ready.  Not only ready to take on the physical challenge of hiking 16.5 miles with packs the size of our smallest camper, but ready, mentally, to push themselves beyond the bounds of what they previously knew themselves to be capable of—and to help one another along the way.  There were few things that made me prouder during my Overland leader experience than observing a group of students taking it upon themselves to motivate, inspire, and assist each other.  Backcountry is such a great experience because the group expresses a collective desire to help with everything—from campsite selection to cooking.

As leaders, Kelly Lake demanded my co-leader and I rely on every ounce of knowledge bestowed upon us at Overland’s leader training.  Not a moment passed without a call for a water safety, bear awareness, or navigation expertise—it’s a good thing we’re all of those things and more! It was amazing to feel like – yes, I am all of those things, and together, we are the people who are going to make sure these kids get the experience they came here for!

Up on that summit, I started a video so I could remind myself months later that this view was real and I hadn’t just dreamt it. I heard my co-leader talking to one of our students who had struggled with the ascent.  

“So, do you think you would put this up there as one of the coolest things you’ve ever done in your life?”

“Absolutely,” he said.  “The coolest”.

I still listen to that audio from time to time and it never fails to make me smile—the legacy of Kelly Lake!

Why It’s A Good Hike:

The Kelly Lake Trail has this really exciting terrain that goes up and down, up and down, for miles and miles.  Just when you think you’ve reached the top of a hill or the final switchback, all it takes is a quick scan of the area to realize that you’ve only just started your elevation gain.  If there ever was a challenge to be imposed upon an Overland leader, Kelly Lake took care of it.  These included, but were not limited to storms, heat, and mosquitoes, and the more mundane tasks of the day: snacks, bear spray, and lost tent pieces. Kelly Lake teaches the art of perseverance—the ability to move beyond everything that is holding you back, to force yourself to experience something amazing.  

Having an experience like this one is important for everyone. As a high school student, it’s so important to leave the boundaries of your hometown and get out there and experience something new. I heard over and over again from the students in my group that the person they were in January, or a year ago, or five years ago would never have believed they could have accomplished something like this. Being faced with the challenges that came with our backcountry section was important as leaders, too. With each wrench that was thrown into our plans, we upheld transparency with our group and communicated to them that we too felt the impacts of being challenged. Having that shared mindset allowed our group as a whole to move through the 16.5 miles together and turn it into an experience that, ultimately, was overwhelmingly positive.  

Cut to the end of our backcountry section: we collapsed to the ground at the trailhead and breathed some sighs of relief. Actually, we laughed, we cried, we gagged at the stench of our hiking socks.  And above all, we reveled in that unique, warm feeling you get from knowing YOU DID IT!


Hometown: South Weymouth, Massachusetts
College, Major, Year of Graduation: Colby College, Computer Science, 2023
Trips led: Rocky Mountain Expedition 2023, Iceland Expedition 2024

“I have spent the past four years exploring, hiking, and skiing around Maine, where I have committed myself to learning new things and saying “YES” to new adventures!

Originally from Weymouth, Massachusetts, I graduated from Colby College in the spring of 2023 as a Computer Science and Science, Technology, & Society double major and a Philosophy minor. I was involved in several areas of research on campus, including discovering what eye movement patterns can tell us about our emotions, exploring solutions to healthcare access barriers in rural Maine, and writing chapters of philosophy books.  I studied abroad in Copenhagen in the spring of my junior year, where I learned how to ride a bike like a local, studied Danish, and explored 11 other cities around the world!

Outside of academics, I spent my time at Colby traveling to tournaments with the ultimate frisbee team, practicing and teaching new skills as the president of the figure skating club, introducing first-year students to the great outdoors as an Outdoor Orientation Trip leader, and working with the Colby Campus Events office as a scheduling assistant and student supervisor. 

My favorite part about exploring new places is experiencing them with people who are just as excited to be there as I am.  I can’t wait to join the Overland team again this summer and do exactly that!”


“We focused on providing our students with the independence and responsibility they needed to grow closer as a group and to grow as individuals. Tamsin’s greatest strengths were in organizational areas. She was also a phenomenal leader in establishing positive relationships with every camper, and then using those relationships to manage behavior and motivate.” – Dylan Kotlowitz


Colorado Parks & Wildlife: Colorado State Forest State Park

AllTrails: Kelly Lake Trail

Hiking Project: Kelly Lake Trail

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    Tom Costley

    When Tom Costley founded Overland in 1984, he sought to create experiences for young people that were fun, where new friendships could grow, where natural beauty was embraced, where there were real and varied challenges, and where Overland’s students would achieve something of importance to them. Overland’s focus on small groups, carefully crafted trips, and superlative leadership has made it a leader in the summer camp world. Overland’s commitment to excellence in everything it does has led to its success: over the past four decades, Overland has served 40,000 students and 5,000 trip leaders. Tom writes about the outdoors and travel from Williamstown, Massachusetts.

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