Landlocked. What an eerie word to someone who comes from a coastal state (with the exception of hurricane season). Even Minnesotans, from “The Land of 10,000 Lakes,” may find it hard adjusting to the lack of large bodies of water in Colorado. It can be hard to find a place to take a dip outdoors near Colorado Springs, almost as hard as it is finding someone who is willing to wake up at 6:00 a.m. on a Saturday to go for a hike. Palmer Lake, Paradise Cove, Monument Lake, Stratton Open Space, and Red Rocks Open Space are all local options to explore if you are looking for a body of water—especially if you are on a time crunch and need to get back to campus. But if you are willing to drive two hours for that dip in a mouth-watering, ice-cold alpine lake, keep reading.
Photos by Anna Grigsby
Though a moderately trafficked trail, Lake Ptarmigan is a solid option. Named after a bird in the grouse family, this lake sits at the base of Jones Mountain and is a six-mile, round-trip trek. If you are feeling inspired, you can hike the trail to a saddle between Jones Mountain and the opposite ridge. This offers views of the mountains to the north and a better look at Ptarmigan Lake.
Another moderately trafficked hike is Square Top Lakes. The trailhead is located at the top of Guanella Pass. If you boulder or climb, this is a good half-day hike that would allow you to climb in the afternoon. The trail is 4.6 miles round trip and leads to not one, but two alpine lakes. The Square Top Mountain summit is about one mile farther along the ridge and worth it if you have the time. The alpine tundra is spectacular when the wildflowers are in full bloom. One thing to note with this hike is that you should arrive relatively early, because the trail is directly across the road from the trailhead for the popular Mt. Bierstadt, making parking crowded. Other lakes in the Guanella Pass area are Murray Lake and Silver Dollar Lake.
If you are just looking for a place to crack open a cold one, sit in a lawn chair, fish, or explore an abandoned mine, Montgomery Reservoir is along a section of the Wheeler Trail and a very chill locale. It offers options: you can continue to hike the Wheeler Trail if you want to send it, or you can relax at the reservoir and hike around. One thing to note with this area is that if you are interested in rocks, the metamorphic variety surround the lake and the mouth of the stream feeding into the lake.
Lastly, Roosevelt National Forest offers many options for alpine lakes—if you are willing to drive. About a two and a half hour drive from Colorado Springs, Rogers Pass is a solid option for those who want to start below treeline, hike along a stream, and then end up in a basin where Heart Lake sits. If you hike a little bit beyond Heart Lake to the west, there is a lake in the small basin above that you will most likely have all to yourself. This area is perfect for solitude if you get an early start, and it is a nine-mile trek round trip. From the same trailhead, you can also reach Crater Lakes, a more heavily trafficked hike. Other lakes in the nearby area are Forest Lakes and Corona Lake.
The Front Range near Colorado Springs is beautiful, but sometimes it is nice to explore the North a bit for a change of scenery. And why not take a dip in an alpine lake while you’re at it?