Colorado’s mountainous terrain is peppered with crystal clear alpine lakes, nestled in jagged, rocky bowls at the base of soaring peaks. These serene bodies of water are well worth the hike in but can become even more special when experienced from a new perspective – like a five-pound inflatable boat. Enter, the packraft.
This light-weight tool lets me get in and splash around in some of the most serene bodies of water in the Rockies. Witnessing the mountains from a new perspective, unattainable by foot, and feeling small in the middle of an icy blue expanse is something I haven’t yet been able to get enough of.
If you’re looking to spice up your hikes and experience the mountains from a whole new angle, check out these alpine lake packrafts just a stone’s throw from Denver, Boulder, and Longmont.
Chasm Lake, Longs Peak
Situated at the base of Longs Peak on its north side lies the emerald-colored waters of Chasm Lake. The walk up is not for the faint of heart and leads hikers along a 4.2 mile stretch of steep, forested trails and rocky alpine terrain, from 9,405 to 11,803 ft. The last stretch is a scramble up to the lake, but you’ll soon forget the tightness in your chest from the thin air when you reach the shore.
Panoramic views of the Diamond, a gigantic granite wall that soars 2,456 ft above Chasm Lake greets deserving floaters. Put your packraft in and paddle the perimeter of the lake for up-close views of Chasm’s glaciers and rock walls. The water is so clear that paddlers can easily see into the lake’s depths. As the sun creeps across the sky, Longs Peak often attracts mid-day storm clouds so be prepared. If you don’t mind a dark hike in, sunrise runs this legendary wall through a range of glorious pinks and oranges that paddlers can witness from the comfort of your lightweight packraft.
Blue Lake, Brainard Lake Recreation Area
The Indian Peaks offer rugged and beautiful terrain, year-round, but, in my humble opinion, nothing beats this range in late summertime. Winding trails carry hikers across ever-changing terrain, through lush meadows speckled with wildflowers, over trickling creeks, and up rocky hills. The most difficult part of this 5.1 mile round-trip hike is the steep half-mile trek up to the lake.
Put in anywhere along the gently sloping shore and paddle directly across to the waterfalls along the far side of the lake. Floating Blue Lake gives packrafters the chance to see unique features up close. From the shore, Blue Lake’s glaciers seem almost miniscule but upon reaching them via packraft, you really get a feel for their magnitude. Experience Roosevelt National Forest like never before with this easily-accessed alpine lake packraft.
Lake Dorothy, Fourth of July Trailhead
Beginning at Fourth of July trailhead, this path gets the heart pumping with a series of switch-backs almost immediately. It opens up and leads hikers past the historic Fourth of July Mine, then into a tundra. It’s a slow, steady climb up to Lake Dorothy, but hikers are rewarded along the way with sweeping views of valleys and notorious peaks.
After a moderate 3.5 mile climb, you’ll reach the highest named lake in the Indian Peaks Wilderness, Lake Dorothy. There’s no finer lady than this sparkling beauty. Packrafters really score on this hike. From it’s almost purple waters, contained in a deep cirque, take in the beauty of Arapaho Pass, Mount Neva, and the Continental Divide. Gulp down the fresh mountain air whipping across the open tundra as you tool around the lake.
Lake Isabelle, Brainard Lakes Recreation Area
Probably the easiest hike on this list, Lake Isabelle is a quick and easy out-and-back with a huge payoff. This 4.2 mile round-trip hike only gains 435 ft. of elevation. This well-marked trail leads hikers past Long Lake and up towards Isabelle Glacier.
Upon arriving at the lake, take in those views! Next, inflate and paddle around this expansive body of water. Lake Isabelle is surrounded by varied terrain since it’s positioned right at the tree line. Its numerous glaciers make the outer edge of the water make the lake appear greenish-blue. Take in the lake’s infinity edge from across the other side of the lake.