For a short alternative to the Timber Lake approach, try the Ruby Jewel Lake Trail and the southwest slopes of Clark Peak. This route begins within the Colorado State Forest, part of the Colorado State Parks system. The State Forest is 71,000 acres stretching along the west side of the Medicine Bow Mountains and into the north end of the Never Summer Mountains.
8 miles round trip from 2WD trailhead
Visitors can reach the Colorado State Forest by taking Highway 14 over Cameron Pass, a slow, 75-mile drive from Fort Collins. This is your chance to see the many state park facilities along the Cache la Poudre River. Check in at the Moose Visitor Center at Gould, or inside the park entrance 2 miles north of Gould. There is a KOA Campground at the turnoff to the state park. Whether you pay at the Moose Visitor Center or inside the park entrance, the fee is $6 per day.
Follow the good road along the north side of North Michigan Reservoir. Veer left at the Y just beyond the reservoir. Continue north for a mile to a second junction. The unnumbered road on your right has a sign for Jewel Lake. Take this road east for another 1.5 miles to the 2WD parking area.
A 4WD road continues another 1.5 miles from this point. The first quarter mile and last quarter mile of this road are not bad, but the mile in between is very rocky and rough. If I were doing it again I would park at the end of the 2WD road and not risk my vehicle just to save a half hour of walking. There are few places to park or turn around along the 4WD road. But if you are so inclined, drive on up to the ample 4WD parking area at about 10,500' elevation. Until late summer, the road could also be very muddy, with a substantial water crossing.
Canadian River Crossing Southwest slopes Route alternatives
Ruby Jewel Lake from above
From the 2WD parking area at 9600', hike the road to its end, at 10,500'. The obvious Jewel Lake Trailhead begins where the road ends. Along the road, disregard signage for the Ruby Jewel "yurt", which is not your destination.
Hike the trail east and north for 1.7 miles to Jewel Lake, a small, undistinguished tarn at 11,270'. The trail ends here. Parts of the trail are swampy or at least muddy during the wet season. There is a great overnight backpacking campsite about halfway up along the trail.
From the lake you have two options, as shown the attached topo map. Option one:
Climb north to the saddle at 12,300', and then follow Clark Peak's west ridge to the summit. Option two:
Climb directly up Clark Peak's southwest slope to the summit, gaining all 1700 vertical feet in a short and direct ascent to the summit. Either way, you will have to blaze your own trail across steep tundra, so tread lightly.
After summiting, return to Jewel Lake via the saddle for a pleasant descent.
Standard day-hiking gear if climbing in summer or fall.