Summer is for mountain adventures, lake days, and soaking up the sun. So why not combine it altogether with a hike to an alpine lake. North America is dotted with beautiful alpine lakes. And while many of them require a hike, trust us when we say that the hike is worth it. Below you’ll find our list of some of the most beautiful alpine lakes around North America you can hike to.
10 alpine lakes in North America to hike to
Gem Lake, Washington
Gem Lake, located in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness at the base of Wright Mountain near Alpental, is a striking blue pool about two miles beyond the Rock Creek Trail junction (#1013). Many visitors hike the Snow Lake Trail, one of the most popular trails in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness. However, those willing to put in a few extra miles are treated with smaller crowds and the beautiful, clear waters of Gem Lake. Bring plenty of water and snacks, as the hike is 10 miles all total with more than 2,000 feet of elevation gain.
Hidden Lake, Montana
We can’t talk great alpine lakes and not mention Glacier National Park, which is filled with incredible lakes. Glacier National Park is full of great hikes for all ability levels, but Hidden Lake is one of the shorter lake hikes at just 3 miles long. Hidden Lake, located near Logan Pass, is headlined by its glassy waters reflecting the surrounding alpine scenery. You’ll actually start at the Logan Pass Visitor Center, and follow the boardwalk path before it meanders through mountainous terrain. Since Hidden Lake is one of the more popular hikes at Glacier National Park, we recommend doing it as early as possible if you want to beat the crowds. For a more hands-on hike, do an educational, guided hike of Hidden Lake with the Glacier Institute.
Dream Lake, Colorado
The national park theme continues with Dream Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park. Dream Lake is one of the more family-friendly hikes on this list at just 2 miles with 400 feet of elevation gain. Located southwest of Estes Park, the hike begins at the Bear Lake Trailhead, and involves a steady climb through aspen groves and past another lake, Nymph Lake, before continuing to Dream Lake. You can turn back at Dream Lake, or continue to Lake Haiyaha or Emerald Lake. Note that during the summer this is an extremely popular hike, so we recommend arriving as early as possible.
Sawtooth Lake, Idaho
Visit Idaho calls it the “must-do summer hike.” While Sawtooth Lake is a 10-mile out-and-back trail, located near Stanley, Idaho, it doesn’t have quite the steepness and difficulty as some of the other longer hikes here. However, it still includes 1,700-feet of elevation gain. Plan on the hike taking several hours. Bring your dog, and camera, for this hike but remember the leash for Fido. Note that you may see snow near the top in June and July.
Crystal Lake, California
Crystal Lake is a 3.2-mile out-and-back trail near Mammoth Lakes, California. While it’s just three miles, it comes with some challenge because of its elevation and some of the trail’s steepness. All told you’ll gain more than 800 feet in elevation over the course of the hike to the beautiful water of Crystal Lake. Give yourself a couple hours to finish this hike. Dogs are welcome.
Considering the name, you’ll find so many great lakes around the Mammoth Lakes region. Mammoth Lakes makes for a great long weekend trip during the summer for a number of reasons, and not the least of which is because of its access to Mammoth Mountain. You can learn more about the region’s great hikes in our article here.
Maybird Gulch, Utah
The rugged Maybird Gulch hike to the Maybird Lakes is part of the Lone Peak Wilderness in Little Cottonwood Canyon, which is home of Snowbird and Alta ski resorts. Maybird Gulch offers wonderful views, wildflowers, and a group of small lakes surrounded by high peaks. The Pfeifferhorn (11,329 feet) is high above, and a row of “eleveners” is to the north. The route to Maybird Lakes starts at the White Pine Trailhead and hooks up with White Pine Creek after a mile. Continue into Red Pine Canyon and onto Maybird Gulch. While Maybird Gulch isn’t as popular as some of the other nearby lake hikes, it’s no less beautiful.
Lonesome Lake, New Hampshire
While you may not think of alpine lakes when you think of New England, it’s home to some great mountain lakes. Lonesome Lake, considered a glacial lake, is a favorite among those who guide and hike the Appalachian Trail. It is located in Franconia State Park at 2,730 feet in elevation and offers terrific views of Franconia Ridge. It’s short, just a 3.1-mile loop trail, but you gain 1,000 feet of elevation with numerous switchbacks. The trailhead starts at Lafayette Place Campground, a few minutes from the town of Franconia.
Lonesome Lake is particularly a beautiful hike in early fall when the leaves are changing colors. Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC) offers a full-service, off-the-grid hut, bunk rooms and hot meals for both day hikers and overnight guests.
Lakes of the Clouds, New Hampshire
Lakes of the Clouds aren’t so much lakes as glacial tarns that are essentially small ponds. It sits at an elevation of just over 5,000 feet, between Mount Washington and Mount Madison, and have been formed from the Ammonoosuc River. Hikers can stay at another one of Appalachian Mountain Club’s huts (pictured below), which provides incredible views of the mountains, sunrise, and sunset. Lakes of the Clouds is a strenuous hike, and it can take some planning, especially if you intend to stay at Appalachian Mountain Club’s hut. Check out AMC’s website for more information.
Lake Agnes, Banff
Many people know about the famous Moraine Lake. However, there are some other great hikes in and around Banff to beautiful alpine lakes, like Lake Agnes. Located high above Lake Louise, Lake Agnes is another great lake hike, beginning from the southwest end of the Lake Louise lot. Among the most unique things about it is the Lake Agnes Teahouse, where the trail ends. Tea has been served here as a refuge for hikers since 1905. Take your camera; there are so many great photo opportunities throughout the hike. The Lake Agnes hike is 4.6 miles, and is considered moderately challenging, but can be completed in just a half day.
Rainbow Lake, Whistler
British Columbia’s wide and groomed Rainbow Lake Trail is conveniently located near Whistler. The trail immediately begins climbing through dense forest alongside 21 Mile Creek, and it continues to climb. The 9.7-mile out-and-back trail climbs nearly 3,000 feet, and is considered a challenging hike. But the reward is beautiful views throughout the hike. Rainbow Lake is crystal clear, however swimming and just about anything else is not permitted in this watershed. All of those things are permitted over the ridge at Hanging Lake.