We drove 1,762 miles, hiked 15,594 vertical feet (sometimes in the dark!), and spent 14 days on the road seeking out Colorado’s most magnificent alpine lakes. Here are seven stunners that will leave you breathless—and not just because of the altitude.
Flat Tops Wilderness Area
- Nearby city: Meeker
- Ranger district: Blanco, 970-878-4039
- Trail length: You can park a quarter-mile from the lake and then walk up a short hill to reach the path that encircles the large lake.
- Elevation gain: Negligible; lake sits at 9,627 feet
- Skill level: Easy
- Along the way: Little Trappers Lake
- Camping: Trapline Campground has 12 first-come, first-served sites ($18 per night) near the lake.
- Lodging: Trappers Lake Lodge & Resort nestles into the wilderness just steps from the lake and offers small, spartan cabins as well as a restaurant. www.trapperslake.com
- Getting there: From Denver, take I-70 west to Rifle. Take Highway 13 to Meeker. Take C.R. 8 out of Meeker. Follow C.R. 8 for 39 miles; then take a right onto the unpaved Trappers Lake Road 205. Drive 11 miles to the lake.
In the summer of 2002, the Big Fish and Lost Lakes fires cooked more than 22,000 acres of land in and around the Flat Tops Wilderness Area. Even today, nine years later, the devastation is still evident: Forests of charred trees and bushes stretch to the horizon in every direction.
It’s a surreal yet hauntingly beautiful landscape—especially the life that has sprung from the destruction: new saplings, native grasses, and fireweed, a bright red wildflower that grows happily in burn areas. And we’re not the only ones here to appreciate it. We’re sharing the road with SUVs hauling canoes, kayaks, float tubes, pop-up campers, and horse trailers. Everyone, it seems, is on his or her way to enjoy the state’s second-largest wilderness area, known for its trout streams, soaring yet planed-level mountains, and one of Colorado’s largest naturally occurring lakes.
We pull into Trappers Lake Lodge & Resort, check into our tiny one-room cabin with a potbelly stove, and make haste for the lake. It’s a 10-minute walk to the parking lot and another 15-minute hike to the lake’s edge. The blown-open vistas we encounter envelope the vast lake, the ghostly remnants of burnt pines, and vertigo-inducing cliffs, including the jaw-dropping 1,650-foot Chinese Wall to the northeast. The trail that wraps around the lake pitches and rolls but doesn’t ever really stress the lungs. If you’re game to stretch your legs, the undemanding trail to Little Trappers Lake is a must.
For another easy, don’t-miss activity, grab a flashlight (you’ll want one if you’re staying at Trappers Lake Lodge anyway) and make your way to the lake just before dusk. Pull up a patch of grass along the bank, and watch as a million stars appear and the moon sparkles on the lake’s surface. You’ll want to keep your ears open as well—the eerie howls of coyotes can sometimes be heard after sunset.