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4 Must-See Alpine Lakes of the Western U.S. - Explore

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4 Must-See Alpine Lakes of the Western U.S.

Ingalls LakeAbove the tree line, alpine lakes accompany breathtaking views of barren moonscapes, majestic mountains, and vast wilderness below. Rugged peaks and saddles frame these gentle bodies of water making us appreciate the natural features even more, a symbiosis that feeds into the sublime. Often, these lakes are located far from the bustling trails of America's busiest parks. They lie just a few miles further, or a few thousand feet higher that most hikers are willing to go. This makes them retreats from the retreats, special places that allow for solitude and quiet reflection.

Lake Ignalls & Colchuck Lake / Cascade Mountains (Washington)  

Colchuck Lake

From the east, Ignalls Peak resembles a human figure sitting cross-legged with its back to Seattle. Treeless tan colored rocks coat the hills, akin to skin. The figure appears to wrap its arms around Lake Ignalls, as if it were hugging a giant bowl of azure plucked from a Pacific atoll and placed 6,500 feet above sea level. Facing west, it offers a spectacular view of Mt. Stuart, a 9,415 foot peak separated from Ignalls by a steep valley (see first photo in this post). Nearby Colchuck Lake (above) offers a stunning view of Aasgard Pass, which looks and sounds like a topographical feature straight from the Lord of The Rings.  

--Both photos via Flickr / laurelfan

Lake Katherine / Sangre De Cristo Mountains (New Mexico)  

Sitting below just below Baldy Peak, Lake Katherine boasts an impressive 11,700 feet above sea level. Yet Katherine is one of the most accessible lakes on this list. Trail heads near Pecos and Santa Fe Ski Basin and Cowles lie just a few minutes drive from the city of Santa Fe, making Lake Katherine viable as a day hike during the warmer summer months. (Between October and June, you might need snowshoes).    

Boulder Lake / Bitterroot Mountains (Montana)  

Boulder Lake

A spiral of mountain ridges surrounds Boulder Lake, which sits at the end of a box canyon near Boulder Peak. It's a quiet refuge from the busy shores of nearby Lake Como, an artificial reservoir and campground about one hour south of Missoula. Photo via Flickr / USFS Northern Region

 Lake Solitude / Teton Range (Wyoming) 

Lake Solitude
Filled with glacial ice-melt and supporting frozen snow well into the summer, Lake Solitude is a chilly retreat from civilization. Grand Teton Peak looms in the background.

--Photo via Flickr / littlemissy

Do you know a beautiful destination that's not on our list? Share your favorite alpine lakes in the comments section!


Cedar Attanasio Sierra MagazineCedar Attanasio is an editorial intern at Sierra. He has blogged for The National Geographic Daily NewsPeter Greenberg Worldwide, and others. A graduate of Middlebury College and a 2012 K. Davis Language Fellow, Cedar is a perpetual student of Brazilian Portuguese, Spanish, and all things Latin America. You can follow him on twitter @cedarattanasio.


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