Steamboat Springs, CO

Five mountain lake hikes to enjoy near Steamboat Springs

Morgan Tilton
Gilpin Lake is a 18.4-acre mountain lake in the Mount Zirkel Wilderness.(Photo by Noah Wetzel.)

A remarkable number of glistening high-altitude lakes decorate the Rocky Mountains that surround Steamboat Springs, in addition to the creeks, rivers, and natural hot springs, three hours northwest of the Mile High City.

Here are five picturesque day hikes to discover this northern region's clear, reflective bodies of water this summer, plus tips for safely traveling through the mountains.

Gilpin Lake

Hiking this loop offers up incredible views of wildflowers and bonus views of Gold Creek Lake on the way to 18.4-acre Gilpin Lake in the Mount Zirkel Wilderness.

Trailhead: Slavonia TH (40.78309, -106.72295)

Distance: 10-mile loop

Elevation gain: 2,360 feet

Lake altitude: 10,765 feet

Difficulty: Intermediate/Difficult

When to go: Due to snow, the trail doesn't become accessible until July. Start early in the morning and enjoy a midday picnic at the water's edge.
Mica Lake has Rainbow and Cutthroat Trout for anglers (with a valid Colorado fishing license).(Photo by Gabriel Rogers.)

Mica Lake

Also located in the Mount Zirkel Wilderness, 5.5-acre Mica Lake is an excellent choice for backpacking and exploring nearby peaks. The route starts on Gilpin Trail #1161 for 1.3 miles, then head north on Mica Basin Trail #1162.

Trailhead: Slavonia TH (40.78309, -106.72295)

Distance: 8.4-mile out-and-back

Elevation gain: 1,920 feet

Lake altitude: 10,428 feet

Difficulty: Difficult

When to go: The best time to experience this trail is June through September. The out-and-back features a steep ascent and descent, so start early and budget time for sightseeing.
Pearl Lake is a 167 acre body of water with views of Farwell Mountain.(Photo by Steamboat Springs Chamber.)

Pearl Lake

This 167-acre lake sits at Pearl Lake State Park with views of Farwell Mountain to the Northeast and is a 27-mile drive north of Steamboat Springs. Pearl lake is an excellent choice for standup paddleboarding, picnicking, camping, serenity (no motors permitted), and share access with a range of recreational abilities. Entrance requires a $9 daily pass or $80 annual pass. There are multiple optional hikes, including a route around the lake's edge and another on Pearl Lake Trail, which ascends southeast of the lake.

Trailhead: Optional Pearl Lake Trail #1176 starts to the east of Lester Creek Dam on the south end of Pearl Lake State Park (40.77832, -106.88675)

Distance: Optional 6.6-mile round-trip hike on Pearl Lake Trail

Elevation gain: Optional 735 feet of gain

Lake altitude: 8,081 feet

Difficulty: Easy (optional hike is intermediate)

When to go: Year-round, two yurts are available for rent ($90 per night). The 36 campsites are available for up to 14-day stays ($16-$24 per night) from late May to mid-October. All of the overnight options are reservable.
Stagecoach Reservoir is 23 miles south of Steamboat Springs.(Photo by Larry Pierce.)

Stagecoach Reservoir

Drive 23 miles south of Steamboat Springs to this oasis or stop here on your way north from Denver: 820-acre Stagecoach Reservoir at Stagecoach State Park. An angler's paradise, this body of water is home to record-sized Northern pike in addition to Rainbow and Brown trout.

Trailhead: Optional hike along the south side of Stagecoach Reservoir via Elk Run Trail, which starts at Oak Shallows parking area (40.26884, -106.87631). The trail is an 8-foot-wide gravel surface.

Distance: 10.4 miles out-and-back

Elevation gain: 197 feet

Lake altitude: 7,205 feet

Difficulty: Easy

When to go: This lake can be visited year-round, including overnight stays at the McKindley Campground 92 waterside reservable campsites ($18-$36 per night). Day-trippers should plan to go earlier in the day to avoid crowds.
The iconic Fetcher Barn sits on the edge of Steamboat Lake in Routt County.(Photo by Larry Pierce.)

Steamboat Lake

The most sizable beach on our list is that of Steamboat Lake, a 1,101-acre glistening body of water at the base of Hahn's Peak. Located 27 miles north of Steamboat Springs, the lake sits in Steamboat Lake State Park and is a haven for pontoons and paddlers. Don't own a boat? Pontoon rentals are available at the full-service marina in addition to canoe or SUP rentals.

Trailhead: Optional hike along Willow Creek Trail, which starts on the north side of the parking area to the east of Dutch Hill Campground (40.80619, -106.97292)

Distance: 8-mile out-and-back

Elevation gain: 400 feet

Lake altitude: 8,100 feet

Difficulty: Easy/Intermediate

When to go: The lake is open May through November, depending on ice coverage. Cabin rentals are available year-round, plus 188 campsites can be reserved from Memorial Day Weekend in May through Labor Day Weekend in September.
Steamboat Lake holds rainbow, cutthroat, and brown trout as well as Tasmanian and bel-aire hybrids.(Photo by Steamboat Springs Chamber.)

Hiking tips for managing risk in the mountains

Altitude Sickness. When you reach elevations of 8,000 to 12,000 feet above sea level, you're technically at high altitude, which is when symptoms of altitude sickness can appear, according to the Cleveland Clinic. The earliest signs of mild altitude sickness include dizziness, fatigue, loss of energy, shortness of breath, loss of appetite, and sleep problems. Be sure to understand the symptoms, your risk based on your health history, and how to respond, such as retreating to a lower altitude.

Dehydration. Rehydrate with plenty of water (and electrolytes). One of the earliest signs of dehydration is a headache. To avoid dehydration, active people should drink at least 16 to 20 ounces of fluids one to two hours before an outdoor activity, reports the Cleveland Clinic. During exercise, consume six to 12 ounces of fluid every 10 to 15 minutes. After the activity, drink at least another 16 to 24 ounces.

Waterborne Disease. Always filter or sterilize water in Colorado lakes or streams to prevent contracting waterborne illnesses like Giardia.

Wildfire Safety. Before you go, check the local wildfire restrictions to keep yourself, your loved ones, and the forest safe.

Know Your Route. Be sure to download a track on your phone, turn your phone on airplane mode to save battery, and carry an external battery to recharge your device. For better safety, carry a physical map of the route and write down the directions in advance, including cardinal directions.

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Adventure journalist Morgan Tilton covers the outdoors with a focus on travel, industry news and human endurance. Featured in more than 70 publications, she’s a recipient of more than a dozen North American Travel Journalists Association awards.

Crested Butte, CO

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