Colorado Lakes Are
Great Hiking Destinations

Are you looking for Colorado lakes to hike to? If so, you're in the right place. I'll tell you where to find them as well as directions on how to reach each trailhead.

I'll also tell you how long each trail is, as well as what you might expect to see on your way to each lake.

Some of these lakes require a fee in order to be seen, but others can be seen for free. I'll be telling you about both kinds here but for the ones that do require a fee, I'll tell you what the amount is so you can decide ahead of time, what you'd like to do.

Mills Lake, Rocky Mountain National Park

So, are you ready for a hike? If you are, then I'll start you off at Rocky Mountain National Park. There are a lot of beautiful lakes up there and they're well worth hiking to. Bring a picnic! The trails that you'll see here range in difficulty from easy to moderate, so you'll probably be able to see as many of these mountain lakes as you want...assuming you have the time.

O.K., if you're ready, then go on over to my Rocky Mountain trails page. Don't forget to bring your camera, and a picnic would be great too.

Would you like to see a Colorado lake that looks as though it came out of a fairy tale? If so, then you should do the hike to Hanging Lake. It is a beautiful blue-green, clear lake with a waterfall that tumbles into it. Although the trail to the lake is a little steep, it's definitely worth your time.

And if you're going to do the hike to Hanging Lake, (above), you should also go to the Maroon Bells to see Maroon Lake, then do the beautiful hike up to Crater Lake, which is just below the mountain peaks known as the Maroon Bells. The Maroon Bells can sometimes be seen reflected in Maroon Lake, usually when there is no wind. If you want to drive to the Maroon Bells, you'll have to go early in the morning; otherwise you can take the bus. See the above linked page for more info.

How would you like to see a lake and the glacier that it spills from? Now that’s something you don’t see every day! If you’d like to go see it, then please visit my page on St. Mary's Glacier.

The following hike is located near Pagosa Springs, and is one of many more Colorado lakes that I hope to add to this page. Enjoy. :-)

Opal Lake, near Pagosa Springs, Colorado

Opal Lake
One-way distance: 1.2 miles
Difficulty level: moderate
Approximate one-way hiking time: 45 minutes;
Dog friendly: yes
Entrance fee: no
Restroom facilities: no
Elevation: 8,600 feet at the lake

Directions to Opal Lake trailhead: in Pagosa Springs, travel east on Hwy. 160 for a short distance outside of town, and turn right, (south), onto Hwy. 84. From there, go about 8 miles and turn left onto Blanco Basin Road. (Blanco Basin Rd. is also County Rd. 326.) Next, go about 10 more miles and turn right across the Blanco River bridge. From here, just follow the signs for the Opal Lake trail until you reach the trailhead on the right side of the road.

You’ll see the small, dirt parking area, and it only holds maybe six or seven cars. So the sooner you can get there, the better. And actually, whether you’re hiking to Colorado lakes, waterfalls, or anyplace else in Colorado, it’s usually better to do it in the morning so you avoid the afternoon thunderstorms that often roll in.

Anyway, the hike to Opal Lake starts out through a thick pine forest and continues through it for at least half of the hike. After that, you leave the pine forest and enter an aspen forest. Before long, the trail starts to open up but there are still lots of aspen trees all around you. As you see, this would make a great fall color hike.

The next thing you’ll come to is a somewhat tricky stream crossing. You can either walk through the shallower parts of it, like we did. Or if you have good balance, you can walk along a fairly large tree trunk that had branches sticking out of it. The lake is just a short distance beyond this point and there are lots more aspen trees all around it.

Duck Lake, Colorado

Duck Lake
One-way distance: 3.5 miles
Difficulty level: moderate to moderately difficult;
Approximate one-way hiking time: 2 and one half hours;
Dog friendly: yes
Entrance fee: no
Restroom facilities: no
Elevation: 10,040 feet at the lake;

Directions to Duck Lake trailhead: from Alamosa, follow Hwy. 285, (Hwy. 17), south to Antonito. In Antonito, drive through town and continue to follow Hwy. 17 south. Eventually, you will see the turn-off sign on your right for Platoro. Keep following Hwy. 17 south, but the sign for Platoro is your clue that you are almost to your turn-off for the Duck Lake trail. The turn-off for the Duck Lake trail, (and the Elk Creek Campground), is just beyond the sign for Platoro, and is also on your right. So be watching for the sign that says: Duck Lake trail/Elk Creek Campground, and turn right into it. Drive past, (not into), the Elk Creek Campground which is on your right, and continue to the split in the road. At the split, go left onto the narrower high clearance road. You will see a small sign showing number 128, and you want to go that way to the end of the road at the trailhead. You’ll know you’re there when you see the gate at the trailhead, and there is also very little space to park there…just do the best you can.

More information related to the directions in case you’re interested: it’s about 52 miles from the Alamosa city limits sign to the turn-off for the Duck Lake trail. From the turn-off, it’s then about 1.2 miles on a road that soon turns to dirt, until you reach the split in the road. At this split, there is also a sign that says “All vehicles/ATV must stay on existing roads, no off-road uses allowed.” Shortly after taking the left turn at the split, there is a sign saying “parking” where you can park in case you don’t have a high clearance vehicle. This parking area is small, and it’s then a fairly short walk up the dirt road to the trailhead. (It was about a 3 to 4 minute drive for us, going very slowly.)

One other piece of information you might find useful before you do the hike to this Colorado lake, is that although there is no restroom at this trailhead, there is one a short distance away. At the split in the road where you go left to the trailhead on the narrower road, instead continue straight on the main dirt road. It’s a short drive and you’ll soon see the outhouse plus another trailhead, and the road circles around and goes back the way you came.

O.K., now that I finally have all that information out of the way, I can tell you about the hike to Duck Lake which is one of the most remote Colorado lakes on this website. At the trailhead, there is no sign saying Duck Lake trail, (at this writing anyway), but after passing through the gate, you’ll see the trail register, and it says Duck Lake trail.

From there, the trail to this Colorado lake starts at a fairly easy climb but don’t be fooled. Though manageable, the trail soon gets quite a bit steeper and harder. Luckily, the whole hike isn’t this way, and the worst part is at the beginning when you have the most energy. After that, the trail gets easier and travels up and down through the forest at a gentler pace.

Much of the trail to this Colorado lake passes through pine and aspen forests, and it’s an excellent trail for fall color. We saw a few cows in various places along the trail, so make sure to close the gate securely at the beginning of the hike. The cows reminded me of my hiking days in Switzerland, but they didn’t have bells around their necks…maybe some day. :-)

You’ll cross several small creeks along the trail to this Colorado lake, and there are several more steeper sections but they are shorter than the one you climbed at the beginning of the hike. After one such steeper section, you’ll come to a pond on your left. To the right of the trail at this point is a nice flat rock which is good for sitting and resting. It was a good spot for a drink of water too. :-)

Duck Lake trail waterfall, Colorado

From there, you’ll pass by several more small ponds and one small lake which is on your right just beyond the South San Juan Wilderness sign. Keep going until you reach the next pond on your right. At this pond, you’ll be able to see a waterfall if you’re standing in the right place in a high area above the pond. It’s across from the pond and up in the trees, but unfortunately it’s not very accessible. There’s no maintained trail and you’d have to bushwhack your way to it.

From that pond, it’s a very short distance up the trail to this Colorado lake known as Duck Lake. We didn’t see any ducks there, and we didn’t see any beavers there either even though we did see a beaver lodge. Anyway, you’ll know you’re there because it’s the end of the trail. So, have yourself a snack, or lunch, and head back down the mountain :-).

Columbine Lake, Colorado

Columbine Lake
One-way distance: 2.8 miles
Difficulty level: moderate to moderately difficult;
Approximate one-way hiking time: 2 and one half hours;
Dog friendly: yes, but must be leashed;
Entrance fee: $5.00 per day
Restroom facilities: yes
Elevation: 11,060 feet at the lake

Directions to Columbine Lake trailhead: from the Denver area, follow I-70 west to exit 232, (the Winter Park exit); then follow US 40 west up to Winter Park. From Winter Park, continue on US 40 to Fraser. Continue for several miles beyond Fraser, then turn right onto County Road 83. Follow that for just 0.2 miles, then turn left onto County Road 84 which is Meadow Creek Rd. Follow CR 84 for about ten miles to the Meadow Creek Reservoir. Follow the road around the reservoir and on to the Junco Lake trailhead which is also the trailhead for Columbine Lake.

This Colorado lake hike can be done as a day hike from the Denver area if you want to, but it does make for a long day, so start early; or if you want to make things a little easier on yourself, stay a night in Winter Park. Also, the parking area isn’t that big; we arrived there around late morning and got the last spot, so the earlier you can get there, the better.

Anyway, the trail starts out rocky and pretty much stays that way for at least half of the hike. You’ll be hiking through a pine forest and then you start getting into more open areas where you can see some of the scenery around you. At one point towards the beginning of this Colorado lake hike, you’ll come to the remains of an old log cabin on the right side of the trail.

Shortly after that, you’ll come to a sign saying “Indian Peaks Wilderness”. From here, you continue on through open areas with views of the surrounding scenery. Before long, you’ll start reaching the boggy areas, of which there are many. If you have a hiking stick, bring it because it will help you balance on the many old and narrow logs that have been placed through the boggy/muddy areas.

Some of these boggy areas are such that it can be hard to follow the trail to this Colorado lake. There are “social” trails, so try to follow the one that looks like the main trail. In some cases, you can see where the main trail starts up again on the other side. We did this hike in late July so I’m thinking that if you go in August or September, it might be a little dryer.

Also, the trail to this Colorado lake is popular, so it’s usually not long before you see someone on the trail; and then you’ll know you’re on the right path. At one point, you’ll come to a sign that shows Caribou Pass to the left, and Columbine Lake to the right. Of course, you want to go to the right.

Columbine Lake trail waterfall, Colorado

You’ll climb up through a forest and past a creek, then you’ll come to more open areas again. Soon you’ll be near the creek again, and along this portion of it are a couple of smaller but nice waterfalls. The bigger one has a side trail that leads you down to it for a closer view.

The trail to this Colorado lake follows the creek upwards for a short while, and then you’ll reach some large slabs of rock that you have to climb up as best you can. Shortly after you reach the top of these slabs of rock, you’ll cross the creek on some logs. From here, you’re almost there and it’s only a short distance to the lake.

Of the many Colorado lakes we’ve hiked to, I think this was one of the prettiest. But I do hope they make some improvements on the trail, because considering the fee, we didn’t think the trail itself was a good one. Other than that, bring the bug spray because there were lots of mosquitoes around the lake. I guess they enjoyed it too!

Lost Lake trail, Vail, Colorado.

Lost Lake
One-way distance: 3.5 miles
Difficulty level: easy to moderate
Approximate one-way hiking time: 1 hour and 50 minutes
Dog friendly: yes
Entrance fee: no
Restroom facilities: no
Elevation: 10,200 feet at the lake

Directions to Lost Lake trailhead: from Hwy. I-70 west near Vail, take the Vail exit #176. Then take the North Frontage road west. After about one mile, turn right onto Red Sandstone Road. Go for about 2.5 miles to a fork with a dirt road on your left. Turn left there onto Red Sandstone Road #700. Then follow Red Sandstone Road #700 for about 6.6 miles to the trailhead which will be on your right. You’ll see the sign saying: “Lost Lake trailhead”, and to let you know, regular cars can make it here.

The trail to this Colorado lake starts out through a pine forest and pretty much stays in the woods all the way to the lake. And in the first half or so of the trail, you also pass through some aspen forests, making it good for fall color hiking. Although much of this trail is in the forest, there are a few open areas along the way where you can see the mountains all around you.

Parts of this trail are quite rocky, and in some places, trees have fallen down across it, so you have to go over or around them. The trail tends to alternate between going uphill and downhill, and sometimes it’s even flat. Some of the uphill and downhill sections are fairly steep, but not long, so they’re not too bad.

Towards the end of the hike, the trail starts heading downhill, and shortly after that, you’ll arrive at Lost Lake. Enjoy your time there, and then return the way you came. 

Surprise Lake, Colorado

Surprise Lake
One-way distance: 2.6 miles
Difficulty level: moderate to difficult;
Approximate one-way hiking time: 2 hours;
Dog friendly: yes, but must be leashed;
Entrance fee: $5.00
Restroom facilities: no
Elevation: 10,085 feet at the lake

Directions to Surprise Lake trailhead: from the Denver area, follow I-70 west to exit 205 at Silverthorne. Take exit 205 and follow Hwy. 9 north. After about 16 miles, turn left onto Heeney Road 30. (Shortly before this road, you’ll see the sign for Heeney and Green Mountain Reservoir.) Continue on Heeney Rd. 30 for about 5.3 miles, then make a sharp left turn onto Cataract Creek Rd. Follow this dirt road to the Surprise Lake trailhead on your left.

O.K., one little useful note here before I tell you about the hike; although there is no restroom at this trailhead, there’s an outhouse a short distance away. Just keep following Cataract Creek Rd. to the end of the road and park in the parking area on the side of the road. The outhouse is just beyond the end of the road, heading towards Lower Cataract Lake.

Now that’s out of the way, I can tell you about another of the many Colorado lakes you can hike to. So, the hike to Surprise Lake starts out by crossing the bridge over Cataract Creek. Then you’ll start going steadily up, and along the way, you’ll see lots of aspen trees along the bottom half of this trail.

Soon the trail will start getting steep, and it pretty much stays that way most of the way up except for a few spots where the trail to this Colorado lake is more level. After the aspen forest, you’ll be hiking through a pine forest, and along the way, you’ll have to cross about four different creeks without bridges. Hiking sticks make the crossings a little easier.

Towards the end of the hike, you’ll reach an intersection with the Gore Range trail. Turn right onto the Gore Range trail and follow it for a short distance to Surprise Lake, which will be on your left. Of the many hikes to Colorado lakes on this site, this is one of the steepest, so make sure you bring plenty of water.

Also, in case you were wondering, the haze in the above picture of Surprise Lake was due to smoke from a very large fire that was burning in California on that day. It's amazing that it could drift that far, but it did!

I'll be adding more Colorado lake hikes from time to time, so check back every once in a while. In the meantime, enjoy the sparkling mountain lakes that you see here. 

Return from Colorado Lakes to Colorado Hiking Vacations home page.

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