If you're looking for a hike less then two hours from the urban sprawl of Denver that's unfathomably gorgeous, yet incredibly easy to access, you've come to the right place. Each of these treks comes fully-loaded with manageable trails, flawless views of snowcapped peaks, and of course, mountain lake waters so tremendously blue they bring to mind Gatorade's most unnatural Blue#1 food dyes.
Additionally, there's something to be said for hikes that end at the edge of a mountain lake. There's a level of satisfaction that comes with reaching such a well-defined terminus, and all too often—in Colorado, at least—there exists all the ingredients necessary for a sensory feast—the gentle lapping of waves, the awe-inspiring backdrop of 13,000-foot peaks, and the bone-chilling promise of a polar plunge in frigid waters.
Here are four Rocky Mountain lakes to add to your Colorado bucket list:
1. Blue Lake
Nestled between three peaks at 11,355 feet, Blue Lake is a 5.1-mile round-trip trail full of alpine views, rugged boulders, wildflower clusters, and marshy ponds. This is one of the most popular Indian Peaks Wilderness destinations located in the Brainard Lake Recreation Area just 13-miles north of Nederland. There's a reason everyone is trying to visit Blue Lake—the sapphire waters next to an exposed Rocky Mountain backdrop are ceaselessly enticing to every visitor. Bring your dog, lunch, camera, and extra layers for this adventure-filled hike. The winds can pick up at the top of Blue Lake, so a windbreaker is always a good call too. If you're feeling up for a challenge, Blue Lake has a cliff-jumping spot at the far end of the lake near the waterfall. Come early to beat the crowds and bring $10 for the park entrance fee. And stay on the lookout for moose and elk in the late summer/early fall seasons.
2. Emerald and Dream Lake
This is an easy hike jam-packed with stellar views of Rocky Mountain National Park. At every turn, there seems to be another lake, pond, waterfall, or cliff-face that is bound to make jaws drop. For this reason, the hike can be very crowded, but the masses pan out once you reach Emerald Lake. Both Emerald and Dream Lake have clear blue-green waters to swim in, gnarled pines to sit against, and bountiful fields of wildflowers to “ooh” and “ahh” at. Along the hike, there are several rock features worth scrambling up for views of Hallett and Longs Peak . Most hikers consider Emerald Lake the final destination, while others continue onward into the backcountry. RMNP charges $20 per car at the park entrance (this pass lasts one week). Once you've entered the park, head to Bear Lake Trailhead parking area and follow the Emerald Lake Trail to the left.
3. St. Mary's Glacier and Lake
When it comes to driving convenience from Denver (only 40 miles west in Idaho Springs) and easy trail accessibility, St. Mary's is the perfect option. Not only is it well-suited for families, four-legged friends, or hikers in a time crunch, the hike also includes a diverse array of sites and activities. Want to cliff jump? Hike to the top of a glacier? Ski down the glacier-packed snow? Or fish? St. Mary's has all of this, and more! The trail is only 1.5-miles round-trip, but there's also the option of hiking to the top of the mountain to view the lake from above. Depending on the time of year you visit, the river running beneath the glacier is a great place to fill up your water bottle and crawl underneath the glacier's icy exterior. St. Mary's encompasses scenic views in every direction as well as assorted hangout spots amongst the large boulders and sandy shoreline. There is a large parking lot next to the trailhead for $5.
4. Lost Lake
Hallelujah! You can actually swim in this water! Well, technically you can, and should, swim in all of these lakes. But at only 9,786 feet in elevation, Lost Lake will have the warmest water compared to the other lakes previously listed. If you visit on a hot day, air drying on a rock slab is a reasonable option. This is another rewarding lake hike in the Indian Peaks Wilderness just west of Nederland. The 3.2-mile round-trip trail is a pleasant uphill trek to the shores of Lost Lake. There are also plenty of campsites right next to the water. With mountain views, turbulent rivers, and aspen groves galore, Lost Lake is another quintessential Colorado hike that anyone can enjoy. Plus, parking is free along the dirt road in designated areas.