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Length: 4.5 miles roundtrip
Why We Love It: It’s a straightforward hike with a steady incline and incredible mountain views.
When to Go: April through mid October; the trail becomes icy in the winter
Pre-hike Buzz: Stop by the Frothy Cup in Idaho Springs for giant muffins and freshly brewed coffee.
Distance from Denver: 46 miles
Dogs: Must be leashed
As the aspens start to turn gold, there are still some places where summer refuses to let go. One of them is Loch Lomond in Arapaho National Forest. Meaning lake in Scottish, this hike is often overlooked by hikers seeking out the popular neighboring trail, St. Mary’s Glacier. Although it’s worth seeing, St. Mary’s is almost always crowded, with the parking lot full before 9 a.m. Meanwhile, Loch Lomond remains nearly vacant with only a handful of cars parked at its trailhead on weekends.
The hike starts on a road shared with AWD vehicles. If your car can handle it, the road—which doubles as the trail—goes all the way up to Loch Lomond, making it easier to bring fishing gear and SUP boards to the lake. If you’re off-roading it, be wary of the explorers who aren’t.
For the first mile, the easy-to-follow trail is a steady incline with occasional views of mountain tops. About a mile and a quarter in, the trail opens up to sweeping views of pines and the transitioning aspen trees. Looking down, a stream—most likely flowing from Loch Lomond—trickles down the mountain. If it’s still warm enough, you may spot wild raspberries growing alongside the road. This part of the trail—and the remaining portion—is quite exposed so wear sun protection.
About a mile and a half in, the trail becomes nestled within the trees. Because of the shade, you might start to see tents scattered throughout the forest. Dispersed camping is permitted on Loch Lomond Trail and the water from the lake is potable when treated with proper equipment.
High-altitude wetlands can be seen on the trail’s remaining quarter-mile. A few wildflowers still hang on during the last warmer days of summer. As you approach the end of the road, Loch Lomond appears. A couple of foot trails diverge from the main road and extend throughout the lake’s surrounding bush.
The trail that runs parallel to the alpine lake will bring you up to a viewing point that allows you to see most of it. If you’re up for a bit more exploring, keep following the trail up the side of the lake to get closer to a small waterfall that’s responsible for the lake’s crystal clear water. Bring a snack because you’ll want to sit here forever.
Feeling brave? The freezing cold water feels refreshing after the hike. (I jumped in twice!)
Directions: Head west on I-70 and take the Fall River Road exit. Head North on Fall River Road and drive past several large switch backs. Turn left onto Alice Road then right onto Loch Lomond Road. Turn right onto Steuart Road (.3 miles). The trail head will be on your left.