"Surprise Peak" (Peak 11,585)

"Surprise Peak" (Peak 11,585)

Page Type Page Type: Mountain/Rock
Location Lat/Lon: 39.96840°N / 107.1989°W
Additional Information County: Garfield
Activities Activities: Hiking, Mountaineering, Scrambling
Seasons Season: Summer, Fall
Additional Information Elevation: 11585 ft / 3531 m
Sign the Climber's Log


"Surprise Peak" (or "Surprise Lake Peak") is an unofficial name for Peak 11585 in the Flat Tops. It is named for its close proximity to Surprise Lake, which was probably named due to the fact that the lake is hard to see unless you are right near it.

Though part of its northwest ridge is rather conspicuous from Trappers Lake, "Surprise Peak" is rather unknown. The peak lies tucked away from the popular destinations in the Flat Tops and getting there really isn't on the way to anywhere else, except for Surprise Lake, which in itself is probably one of the least visited of the named lakes in the Flat Tops.

The peak still is a worthy destination and Surprise Lake makes a nice destination as well. We had the whole lake to ourselves on Labor Day weekend.

The peak is easy to climb from the east, but is much steeper from all other directions.

The Flat Tops are more of a huge elevated plateau rather than a typical mountain range, but the plateau has been eroded into many individual peaks and summits, and most of them are flat-topped, or dome-like as is this one. The mountain area composing the Flat Tops contains over 110 lakes full of fish, and also has some of the most extensive areas above timberline in Colorado.

Flat Tops: 11,000+ Foot Peaks with 300+ feet of Prominence

Northwest RidgeThe jagged northwest ridge of Surprise Peak.

Surprise PeakSurprise Peak from the northeast.

Getting There

Trappers Lake Trailhead

This is the most logical trailhead to use if you want to climb just Surprise Lake Peak.

There are four main ways to reach the trailhead. I have only driven to two of them. The trailhead is near Trappers Lake.

There is a road from the west and Meeker, one from the east and Yampa or Phippsburg, one from the northeast and Oak Creek, one from the north and Hayden, and one from the northeast and Pagoda (village) and Hamilton. I know only the roads from Hamilton and Pagoda, but very few Coloradans will be coming from that direction (Craig), so it seems rather pointless to describe the drive in detail. Most people will be driving in from the Meeker or Yampa areas. After Pagoda or not far past Buford, all roads are gravel and in good condition in summer.

From Meeker:

From just north of Meeker and along Highway 13, turn east on County Road 8. Follow County Road 8 to Buford. Follow the road another 17 miles and turn right (south) on FS Road 205 to the Trappers Lake Lodge. There are several roads here, but they are well marked. From the Trappers Lake Lodge, turn left on FR 815 and follow it a short distance to the Outlet Trailhead. Park there.

From Yampa or Oak Creek:

I haven’t come in this way, so directions will be brief. Use a map. Briefly put you can reach country road 8 (see above) from either CR 25 from Oak Creek or CR 21 from Yampa. From there, you follow the road all the way over Ripple Creek Pass and down to FR 205. Turn left and follow the directions above.

From Hayden:

I haven’t come in this way, so directions will be brief. Use a map. Briefly put you take CR 53 south to CR 29. Turn left (east) and follow CR 29 to CR 55. Turn right (south) and follow the road to the junction with CR 8. Take CR 8 over Ripple Creek Pass and follow the route above.

From Hamilton:

Unless you live in Craig, few Coloradans will use this route and thus the directions won’t be detailed. From Hamilton (13 miles south of Craig and along Highway 13), drive east on Highway 317 to Pagoda. Highway 13 turns into county road 29. Turn right on CR 55 and follow the remaining directions from the route from Hayden.

Trappers LakeTrappers Lake as seen from near the trailhead.

Stillwater Reservoir Trailhead

This is an alternate trailhead that could be used if you wanted to combine Surprise Lake Peak with some other peaks such as Island Lakes Peak North or Derby Peak.

The trailhead is at the Stillwater Reservoir. From Yampa, look for the sign on the west side of Highway 131 that points the way to "National Forest Access". Turn west on to County Road 7. Follow County Road 7 for seven miles, to where the road becomes FR 900. Stay on the main road for nine miles and drive to the parking area at Stillwater Reservoir. The road is good for all vehicles in day conditions. A 4wd may be needed early or late season.

This is the un-named peak...Stillwater Reservoir.

Routes Overview

East Ridge

The most logical route to use when climbing Surprise Peak is the East Ridge from Trappers Lake. The ridge can be reached from two routes from Trappers Lake, of roughly equal distance and combining both routes makes a nice loop.

From Trappers Lake, you can follow the Little Trappers Lake Trail past Little Trappers Lake and to the top of the plateau. At the top of the plateau, an old post marks and old and long abandoned trail that heads south through the rolling hills to Surprise Lake. You may lose the trail in places, but walking cross-country is not difficult. Once you are on the East Ridge of Surprise Peak, which is just to the north of Surprise Lake, you can follow it to the top. There are no major difficulties.

From Trappers Lake, an alternate route follows the Trappers Lake Trail past Parvin Lake to the Plateau and then east to another trail junction. From there you can head north along the Chinese Wall Trail (which is little used in this section) before heading cross country to Surprise Lake and Surprise Lake Peak. There is an old trail in places, but you may or may not find it in places.

As mentioned, you can combine these two routes into a 15 mile loop hike. You could do this in one long day, but there are many other things to see in the area, plus Surprise Lake makes a really nice campsite so it seems a shame not to spend at least two days in the area.

DescendingDescending the east ridge of Surprise Lake Peak.

Other Routes

You can also reach this area from the Stillwater Reservoir Trailhead. From Stillwater Reservoir, a fairly popular trail, the Bear River Trail intersects the ridge near the Chinese Wall Trail. With a map and compass you can head to Surprise Peak from there.

Surprise PeakSurprise Peak from Surprise Lake.

Red Tape

Basic Rules

• Entering or being in the area with more than 15 people per group, and a maximum combination of 25 people and pack or saddle animals in any one group is prohibited.

• There is no permit system in place in the Flat Tops Wilderness but we do ask that visitors sign in on provided trailhead registration forms.

• Camping within one hundred feet of any lake, stream or trail, or any “No Camping” or “Wilderness Restoration Site” sign or within ¼ mile of Trappers, Hooper, Keener or Smith Lakes is prohibited.

• Building, maintaining, attending or using a campfire within one hundred feet of any lake, stream, or trail or within ¼ miles of Trappers, Hooper, Keener or Smith Lakes is prohibited.

• Storing equipment or personal property or supplies for longer than 10 days is prohibited.

• Hitching, tethering or hobbling any pack or saddle animal within one hundred feet of any lake, stream or trail is prohibited.

• Possessing any pack or saddle animal within ¼ mile of Trappers Lake except for watering or through travel is prohibited.

• Possessing a dog or other animal that is harassing wildlife or people or damaging property is prohibited. There is no leash law in the Flat Tops, however dogs must be kept under verbal control at all times.

• Possessing or using a wagon, cart or other vehicle including a wheelbarrow or game cart is prohibited.

• Shortcutting a switchback in a trail is prohibited.

Stream CrossingPlease tread lightly in this beautiful area.

When to Climb

This peak could be climbed year-round, but I'm not sure if the road is open all the way to the trailhead in winter and spring.

The Flat Tops receive much snow, so despite the lower altitude than the 14'ers, the peaks remain buried in snow until mid-July. Snowshoes are recommended in June. The Flat Tops have many mosquitoes in July, and sometimes into early August. From September and into December is hunting season, so wear blaze orange and use extreme caution. On the plus side, hunter traffic usually keeps the Trappers Lake and Ripple Creek Pass roads open until around Thanksgiving weekend. Late November might be the best time to make a “winter conditions” ascent because after the road closed, this would be about a three to four day trip.

Across the PlateauHiking across the plateau towards Surprise Peak which is the summit to the far right. September 4 2016.


There are many campgrounds in the area and at Trappers Lake. On summer and holiday weekends, they are crowded. In the backcountry there are campsites around all the lakes below the plateau rim.

Surprise Lake is the most secluded lake to camp at in the area and is the best campsite to use when climbing this peak.

CampsiteSecluded campsite at Surprise Lake.

Mountain Conditions

Contact the Yampa Ranger District for up-to-date road, trail, and wildfire conditions:

PO Box 7
300 Roselawn St.
Yampa, Colorado 80483


Weather and climate data for Marvine Ranch at 7800 feet elevation is below. *National Weather Service Data 1972-1998. Expect much wetter conditions at higher elevations. The area around the peak will average around 10-15 degrees colder in the daytime than Marvine Ranch; nighttime temperatures won't have as big of a difference.