Some mountain beaches attract swimmers, picnickers and those looking for quiet places to paddle. Others attract experienced hikers willing to work for the view. Before the snow starts to fall, explore the scenic trails of these ten alpine hikes on Colorado lakes:
Difficult, 5.4 miles round trip
Located nearly 12,000 feet above sea level, Cathedral Lake is one of Colorado’s most beautiful alpine lakes. If you have a high clearance vehicle, you can take the 1 mile dirt road to the trailhead. otherwise, park in the Castle Creek Road car park. The ascent is steep but gradual, and the views along the way are as breathtaking as the lake itself. In the quiet hours of the morning, colorful cutthroat trout are often seen swimming in the crystal clear water.
St. Mary’s Glacier
Moderate, 2.4 miles round trip
Known for backcountry skiing and horseback riding, St. Mary’s Glacier is one of Colorado’s best winter hikes. but the views from this alpine lake are incredible in all seasons. Given its short length and distance from Denver, the trail is very popular among locals and tourists alike. Remember to leave no trace, and if you see others jumping off the cliff, don’t: the water levels are lower than in the past. Don’t forget $5 cash for parking and of course bring your camera too!
Herman Gulch Trail
Moderate, 7.2 miles round trip
On Herman Gulch Trail, you can experience a short segment of the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail, a 3,100-mile route that connects the borders of Canada and Mexico. Whether you are a hiker or day tripper, the scenery here is something to behold, especially in the fall. Not only is Lake Herman one of the best places to view the leaves, but it’s also where you can find some of the best views near Denver year-round.
Cascade Creek Trail
Difficult, 16 miles round trip
Regardless of your skill level, Cascade Creek Trail to Mirror Lake and Crater Lake is best experienced as a two-day trip. It’s one of Colorado’s premier hiking routes, and in the summer it’s known for its abundant wildlife, wildflowers, and waterfalls. With a backcountry permit, you can camp overnight and wake up to the reflection of Lone Eagle Peak on the Alpine Lakes.
Moderate, 3.6 miles round trip
Emerald Lake is renowned as one of the most popular hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park, and from this same starting point you will find Lake Haiyaha. Here you will discover fewer people and impressive landscapes. To hike up to this alpine lake, expect to pay $30 for a day pass and be sure to book your timed entry in advance.
Difficult, 8.7 miles round trip
Although permits and timed entries aren’t involved, Blue Lakes does require a different type of preparation. Not only do you need to be in good physical shape for this strenuous hike, but depending on the conditions, you’ll also need bug spray, hiking poles, and a high-clearance vehicle. Once on the trail, you’ll be rewarded with incredible views of three glacial lakes, each glowing in vibrant aquamarine color.
Hanging Lake Trail
Moderate, 3.1 miles round trip
Hanging Lake is one of the best winter hikes to alpine lakes, but regardless of the summer crowds, it’s a must-see Colorado attraction. Although short, the trail is steep. You will traverse rough, rocky terrain and cross several wooden bridges over Dead Horse Creek. Just before reaching your destination, the trail opens up to a scenic view of Glenwood Canyon, followed by the scenic Alpine Lake and cascading waterfalls.
Ice Lake Basin
Difficult, 8.3 miles round trip
Marvel at some of the brightest, bluest lakes in the state on this challenging hike near Silverton. From start to finish, Ice Lakes Basin offers breathtaking scenery, including wildflower meadows and countless waterfalls. At the second intersection, consider turning left towards Island Lake. This adds 2km to your trip, but most hikers will agree that you don’t want to miss this quick detour.
Moderate, 3.5 miles round trip
The Maroon Bells are renowned as the most photographed spot in Colorado, but no image can capture the full beauty of this iconic Aspen destination. Many reserve a day-use permit and simply take in the views from Maroon Lake, a few yards from the car park. But the moderate, family friendly hike to Crater Lake is worth it. At dawn and dusk, hikers often see deer, moose, groundhogs and even porcupines in this scenic area of the Maroon-Snowmass Wilderness.
Crystal Lake Trail
Difficult, 8.4 miles round trip
The alpine lakes on this list are not easily accessible, but Lower Crystal Lake is perhaps the only exception. That is, if you are used to off-roading in a 4×4 vehicle. Alternatively, you can hike to Lower and Upper Crystal Lakes, enjoy creek crossings, mountain views, and plenty of scattered campsites. After a day outdoors, stop for a pint at Breckenridge Brewery, one of the best breweries near the hiking trails.