The Tobacco Lake Trail is one route that visitors can follow to climb Conejos Peak, the highest peak on the Conejos Peak Ranger District, at 12,172 feet elevation. The trail also provides access into the northern portion of the districts alpine region, a spectacular area of rolling tundra dotted with alpine lakes, many offering good fishing opportunities.
As the hiker traverses the upper edge of the subalpine forest on the Tobacco Lake Trail, numerous features of the harsh timberline environment can be found. Near the trailhead, one passes a stand of bristlecone pine on an exposed slope high above the subalpine forest. This species has so well adapted to the extreme conditions at timberline that it now grows only in the harshest locales, where no other trees can survive.
The first lake that is reached is Tobacco Lake, named for its resemblance to a Tobacco pouch. As the hiker comes up the trail the lake is suddenly in front of him, presenting a very close and beautiful view. Fishing is good here.
At tree line the spruce and fir of the subalpine forest take on a strange, ghostly appearance as they struggle to survive the harsh tundra winds. Perpetual snow banks may be found at these elevations, often at the head of a stream or on the ridge surrounding an alpine lake. Glacier Lake was named for the snow bank encircling it, from which large blocks of snow break off and float like icebergs.
Despite the harsh conditions of tundra, it is full of life. In midsummer, the tundra is covered with mats of tiny, colorful alpine flowers. Large herds of elk roam the tundra during the summer. Coyotes, marmots, pika, and ptarmigan can also be seen.
The trail remains above 11,000 feet elevation for its entire route and snow can make access and hiking difficult in late spring and early fall. When hiking at these elevations, visitor should always be aware that the weather can change unexpectedly. The Tobacco Lake Trail offers a high altitude access to the high plateau country of South San Juans.
The South San Juan Wilderness is entered about one mile from the trailhead. Beyond this point motorized equipment is prohibited.
Several other trails in the Conejos Plateau Area can be reached from the Tobacco Lake Trail.
Directions from Saddle Creek Road #105: Drive west on Saddle Creek Road #105 from its junction with the Platoro Road #250, approximately one mile south of the Lake Fork Campground. At approximately 5 miles, take the left fork of the road and continue for three miles until the road forks again. If road conditions are poor, park here and walk one mile up the left fork to the trailhead.
Directions: Follow Saddle Creek Road as described above. Park at the switch back two miles above the first fork in the road.
June through September .