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The Rockies' 15 Best Alpine Lakes

09.12.17

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The Rockies' 15 Best Alpine Lakes

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  • Island Lake with its namesake rock island in the middle.- The Rockies' 15 Best Alpine Lakes
  • Aerial view of Clear Lake.- The Rockies' 15 Best Alpine Lakes
  • A group of hikers arrives at Ptarmigan Lake.- The Rockies' 15 Best Alpine Lakes
  • The Maroon Bells and Maroon Lake from the trail.- The Rockies' 15 Best Alpine Lakes
  • Missouri Lakes Basin and Savage Peak.- The Rockies' 15 Best Alpine Lakes
  • Saint Mary’s Lake.- The Rockies' 15 Best Alpine Lakes
  • View of the lake from the trail.- The Rockies' 15 Best Alpine Lakes
  • Gladys Lake.- The Rockies' 15 Best Alpine Lakes
  • Mount Moran from String Lake.- The Rockies' 15 Best Alpine Lakes
  • Turquoise water between Blue Lake and Upper Blue Lake.- The Rockies' 15 Best Alpine Lakes
  • Wildflowers cover the ground along streams in the Blue Lake area.- The Rockies' 15 Best Alpine Lakes
  • Upper end of Sylvan Lake.- The Rockies' 15 Best Alpine Lakes
  • Nolan Lake.- The Rockies' 15 Best Alpine Lakes
  • Aerial view of the lake and Vermillion Mountain.- The Rockies' 15 Best Alpine Lakes
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The Rocky Mountains are home to some of the most rugged and beautiful terrain on the face of the earth. And, yes, we might be a bit biased. This mighty geological marvel stretches over 3,000 miles, effectively dominating the skyline of northern New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, Idaho, Montana, and beyond. 

After just one afternoon cruising through the Rockies, it becomes quite evident that they're aptly named. The crumbling, arid mountains—especially on Colorado's Front Range—simply feel old. After all, geologists postulate that the tectonic activity that gave rise to these mountains occurred 55 to 80 million years ago. Juxtapose that with the common conviction that some of the peaks within North Cascade National Park were born just 1.6 million years ago, and you'll start to really understand the difference. 

If there's any way we prefer to stop and take in the gravity and serenity of this expansive playground, it's lakeside in the high alpine. There are seemingly endless places to do this—even the most determined explorer could effectively occupy a lifetime searching for every last alpine lake from New Mexico to southern British Columbia. Below, we've assembled a solid starter list. Though by no means exhaustive, it covers everything from drive-up lakeside camping to backpacking trips through some of the most remote terrain in the lower 48.

As always, it's imperative that each and every last traveler adhere to the principles of Leave No Trace. Alpine ecosystems are extremely delicate, and yes, even seemingly harmless discarded biodegradable apple cores can, over time, disrupt the diets of wildlife and cause irreparable damage. Do your part!

San Juan Range, CO

Sawatch Range, CO

Central Front Range, CO

  • Saint Mary's Lake: 2.6 miles | 1,000-foot elevation gain | extremely popular (for good reason)

Northern Front Range, CO

  • Long Lake + Lake Isabelle: 9 miles | 2,032-foot elevation gain | one-hour drive from Boulder
  • Brainard Lake: large recreation area | very popular | short season because of snowpack
  • Chasm Lake: 11 miles | 2,398-foot elevation gain | great swimming holes

Central Wasatch Mountains, UT

Unita Mountains, UT

  • Ruth Lake: 1.6 miles | 263-foot elevation gain | great wildflowers
  • Gladys Lake: 26 miles | 2,900-foot elevation gain | wonderfully remote

Teton Range, WY

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