An essential summer experience? Hiking to an alpine lake. These five are in their prime.
There are few more sublime pleasures than arriving at an alpine lake after a long day on the trail. A water’s-edge picnic, skipping stones and feeling the cool breeze off the water are all feathers in a hiker’s cap. With a myriad of mountain ranges crisscrossing the American West, thousands of alpine lakes have been carved into the untamed wilderness over several millennia. Here are five of the most Insta-worthy lake trails. The prime time to hike them? Right now, when the temps are still comfortable—even at 11,000 feet—and before the snow hits again.
Where: North Cascades National Park, Washington
Distance: 3.7 miles
Mount Rainier National Park, home to Washington’s tallest peak, receives 1.9 million visitors per year, and Olympic National Park, famous for its foreboding rainforest, attracts 2.8 million. But the Evergreen State’s third national park hosts one of the region’s most scenic alpine lakes—minus the crowds: Deep within North Cascades National Park, which sees just 29,000 visitors per year, is the Diablo Lake Trail. (Hiked it? Add details here.) On the trail, you’ll gain roughly 1,000 feet over the course of 3.7 miles, pass cascading waterfalls and take in clear views of a variety of peaks.
Your first glimpse of glacially-fed Diablo Lake comes about 1.5 miles in. There, a short side trip under the transmission lines leads to a vista overlooking its blue-green waters above its north shore. As you continue, you’ll spy Pyramid, Snowfield, Davis and Colonial Peaks rising above the treeline. You’re getting close to the turnaround point once you’ve started the switchbacks 600 feet down to a suspension bridge near Ross Lake. Enjoy the views of Ross Lake Dam before turning around.
Where: Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado
Distance: 8.3 miles
You’ll have to work to enjoy the beauty of Sky Pond in Rocky Mountain National Park. But if you’re not put off by the ascent—hikers gain 2,000 feet over four miles—or the rock scramble near the hike’s end, you’ll be rewarded with a lake that’s surrounded on three sides by sheer rock walls.
The first four miles start easily, snaking through thick pine forests and passing the 30-foot-tall Alberta Falls before reaching Timberline Falls (also roughly 30 feet tall). To continue to Sky Pond,…