The hike up Williams Creek to Williams Lakes starts at the trailhead just north of the Williams Creek Reservoir. This trail is in the Weminuche Wilderness and follows the valley of Williams Creek from about 8400' up to the lakes which are situated just below the Continental Divide at 11,700', a distance of about 9 miles. The path is well traveled and has 3 stream crossings where it's a good idea to take off your boots.
The trailhead is reached by driving west on US Highway 160 out of Pagosa Springs and taking Piedra Road (600) north past the airport. This turns to gravel and eventually meets with (or turns into?) Nf 631. Further along at a fork in the road you keep to the right and follow Nf 640 to the end loop and parking area.
The route is well marked and follows Williams Creek on the west side of the valley through mostly forest and some meadow. You cross over to the east side of the creek for a bit and then back: the water is below the knees by July when the snow melt is mostly finished, and I took my boots off at both crossings. We were part of a Boy Scout troop outing, so after herding the Scouts across the stream twice and readjusting packs several times we made about 5 miles the first day. We camped in a meadow at about 10,000'. The trees were incredibly tall at this point in the valley, probably around 100', give or take a few. The next day we had another couple stream crossings, but the second one had enough rocks to scramble across without disrobing. The trail splits near the 11,000' level and we went to the right (east) and found a nice camp site at about 11,200' just after we recrossed a much diminished Williams Creek. The topo map labels this as the "Williams Fork Lake Trail." The mountains still tower above you at over 12,000' and the trees are still quite tall. Almost every one of them seems to have been struck by lightning at some point in their lives. On the third day we hiked up to Williams Lakes and tried our hand at trout fishing: I was skeptical that there would be fish at this high altitude, but the lake is quite deep and full of huge Rainbow and Cutthroat Trout. They were gorging on a hatch of white moths and not at all interested in my flies. My son and his friend each caught a trout on spinners. A sudden storm chased us back down to our camp, so I never hiked up to the divide like I had intended. There was wind, hail, rain, lightning and thunder and we huddled under our cooking fly for quite a while. The last day we hiked back to the trailhead under sunny skies, arriving in mid-afternoon.
Williams Creek Trail Map
You need a good tent and a warm sleeping bag, rain gear, food for three or four days, a small camp stove, and some way to treat or filter your drinking water. Water shoes for stream crossings are nice: the water is quite cold. You could do this hike in a long day, but you wouldn't be able to enjoy it very much. The scenery is great, so bring a camera or camcorder. You can get hiker's insurance at the sporting goods counter at Walmart so the State of Colorado won't charge you a fortune if they have to rescue you. You can buy a fishing license online, also from the State of Colorado. A good trail map and a compass help: the GPS will often lose signal in the deeper canyon areas. Sun screen is good in the afternoon if it doesn't rain.
High Altitude Trout
"It's not safe out here. It's wondrous, with treasures to satiate desires both subtle and gross. But it's not for the timid."