Ice out signals the official start of summer in the mountains as cobalt and emerald lakes return to their liquid state. Colorado’s high alpine lakes are nothing short of breathtaking. From Silverton to Vail, many of these pristine bodies of water can be found above timberline, harbor healthy populations of trout, and offer dazzling displays of wildflowers and towering rock formations. Lace-up your trail stompers and climb into the clouds with these ethereal high alpine lake hikes.
An alpine lake is really just a high-altitude lake. They can be crystal clear, unlike some of the lakes at lower altitudes, because the cold water decreases the speed at which algae and moss can grow in the water. They are so plentiful in Colorado, virtually any mountain hike you take will find one along the way.
1. Dream Lake, Rocky Mountain National Park
Dream Lake is an iconic high mountain lake located near Estes Park. Access the Bear Lake Trailhead inside Rocky Mountain National Park and enjoy this easy out-and-back hike to one of the state’s most popular lakes. As an added bonus, you’ll pass Nymph Lake on your way up. Continue on to Emerald Lake, another .7 miles, and check off three lakes in one afternoon.
Distance: 2.2 miles (round trip)
Elevation Gain: 430 feet
2. Cathedral Lake, Aspen
Climb to over 11,000 feet along Cathedral Lake Trailhead south of Aspen and you’ll be rewarded with one of the area’s most beautiful pieces of scenery, Cathedral Lake. This moderate to strenuous hike winds through aspen stands along Pine Creek before opening up above treeline.
Distance: 5.6 miles (round trip)
Elevation Gain: 1,986 feet
Elevation: 11,866 feet
3. Ice Lake, Silverton
Located in the San Juan Mountains just west of Silverton, Ice Lake is perfect for day hikers looking for a moderate out-and-back excursion. Ice Lake Trail, located across from South Mineral Campground, twists through waterfalls and meadows in route to a picturesque tarn in Ice Lake Basin.
Distance: 7.6 miles (round trip)
Elevation Gain: 2789 feet
4. Booth Lake, Vail
For hikers looking to test their metal with some serious elevation gain, Booth Lake offers a challenge that’s well worth the extra effort. Access to Booth Lake is gained via Booth Lake Trailhead on I-70 in Vail. Take a much-needed break at Booth Falls and snap a pic, before journeying on through an open meadow, thick stands of spruce and a final push to the lake’s eastern grassy shoreline.
Distance: 8.7 miles (round trip)
Elevation Gain: 3478 feet
5. Blue Lake, Telluride
This Telluride hike has it all, including a stop at Bridal Veil Falls, abandoned mining cabins, wildflowers, and of course, a gorgeous alpine lake above treeline. Finding the trailhead is an adventure in itself, accessed by a 4-wheel-drive road that leads up Telluride’s box canyon and eventually, Blue Lakes Trail.
Distance: 5.25 miles (round trip)
Elevation Gain: Approx. 2000 feet
6. Mirror Lake, near Denver
Mirror Lake is in Indian Peaks Wilderness near Denver. You’ll work to get there as it’s a difficult, but rewarding day hike or a moderate overnight hike. Permits are required for backpacking in Memorial Day through Labor Day. Moose may not be too afraid of you to charge. Just saying.
7. Crystal Lake, Breckenridge
Crystal Lake is in the White River National Forest near Breckenridge. It’s a moderate to easy hike, depending on the route you take and it’s 4-8 miles.