17+ Epic Lake Day Hikes (You’ve Probably Never Heard Of)

Virginia Lake near the Hoover Wilderness, California

Virginia Lake near the Hoover Wilderness, California

Or, more accurately, Epic Lake Day Hikes in the Western US You Haven’t Heard Of But Should Visit ASAP

 

I may be a view junkie, but lakes have never held a special appeal to me.  Well – they did when I was very young, and throwing pebbles into any stream or lake was an indefinite pastime.  Even yet, I like a good lake, but only when there’s another terrific view, besides – mountains or cliffs or meadows or rock formations, or better yet, all four.

Mountains or cliffs or meadows or something... Lower Green River Lake from the Lakeside Trail in the Wind Rivers of Wyoming

Mountains or cliffs or meadows or something… Lower Green River Lake from the Lakeside Trail in the Wind Rivers of Wyoming

 



 

Thankfully, there are quite a number of lakes with just such

views-beyond-the-lake in the western US.  And also thankfully, because there are so many, there are quite a number that aren’t filled with smartphone-toting, gawking tourists (besides you and me – but we don’t do that, right? Lol)

Mt. Shasta over Lake Siskiyou, California

Mt. Shasta over Lake Siskiyou, California

So here are 16+ lakes, with great views, that probably won’t be overrun, even in prime season, in no particular order.

 

17 Epic Lake Hikes (You’ve Probably Never Heard Of)

Views over the Little Lakes Basin from the Mono Pass Trail, Inyo National Forest, California

Views over the Little Lakes Basin from the Mono Pass Trail

Little Lakes Basin, Inyo National Forest, California.  Lakes.  Mountains.  Spectacular scenery.  The Little Lakes Basin gives it all.  It’s been blogged about as “the most beautiful place I’ve ever been” more times than I can count, and it absolutely deserves it.  Maybe when it’s not covered in snow it’s more popular, but when I hiked it one day in July, I saw only a few other groups all day.  Up to 7.7 miles out & back

Lake Agnes, State Forest State Park, Colorado

Lake Agnes

Lake Agnes, State Forest State Park, Colorado. Colorado certainly has its fair share of alpine lakes, and Lake Agnes, while you’ll probably see people there in the prime season, isn’t as crowded as others of the same caliber.  The almost green lake sits nestled below 12,940ft. Mt. Richthofen and a number of other cliffs and scree slopes. 1.6+ miles out & back

Mt. Hood over Mirror Lake, Mount Hood National Forest, Oregon

Mt. Hood over Mirror Lake

Mirror Lake, Mt. Hood National Forest, Oregon.  I’m not sure why this one isn’t overrun, and maybe it is during summer weekends.  But the view of Mt. Hood over and reflected in the surface of the quiet lake is quite beautiful. 3.1 miles out & back.

Early morning on the Highline Trail at the foot of Lower Green River Lake, Wind Rivers, Wyoming

Early morning on the Highline Trail at the foot of Lower Green River Lake

Highline Trail / Lakeside Trail Loop, Wind Rivers, Wyoming.  This is one of the most popular day hikes in the Wind Rivers, but you wouldn’t know it from hiking it – “crowds” doesn’t describe the Winds in general.  But the views across Lower Green River Lake to Squaretop are outright epic.  And there’s always the option of hiking up past the bridge to Upper Green River Lake for more views.  Or walk up Clear Canyon to the junction for Slide Lake, turn right, and continue up to the rocky, cliffy lake 6 miles from the trailhead.  But the Highline / Lakeside Loop is only a 6.5 mile loop.

Linkins Lake, Hunter-Fryingpan Wilderness, Colorado

Linkins Lake

Linkins Lake, Hunter-Fryingpan Wilderness, Colorado.  The lake itself is so-so – pretty much an alpine lake surrounded by a bit of scree and green hills.  But the hike up is quite spectacular, with views toward Dead Man’s Pass and back toward Independence Pass.  And you’ll probably have the entire lake to yourself. 1.4 miles out & back

Ruby Lake from above en route to Mono Pass, Inyo National Forest, California

Ruby Lake from above

Ruby Lake & Summit Lake, Inyo National Forest, California.  High in the Sierras, these two lakes are ringed by spectacular peaks.  Add to that the fact that you get views over the Little Lakes Basin en route, and this is one epic hike! 4.8-8.5 miles out & back

Lake Powell from Hole in the Rock at sunset, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, Utah

Lake Powell from Hole in the Rock at sunset

Hole in the Rock, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, Utah.  There are many places to see Lake Powell, but one of my favorites – especially at sunset – is Hole in the Rock at the end of the Hole in the Rock Road, which begins near the town of Escalante.  You can also scramble down to the lake via the well-defined if extremely steep social trail, about 0.6 mile out & back.

Wildflowers at Big Sandy Lake in the Wind Rivers of Wyoming

Wildflowers at Big Sandy Lake

Big Sandy Lake, Wind Rivers, Wyoming.  It’s five miles to the lake, but the trails is fairly flat, which makes it an ideal day hike, which may be why it’s the most crowded area of the Wind Rivers (there will be a few dozen people along the length of the shoreline on a summer weekend).  Still, the views are pretty good across the lake to where rocky peaks rise into the sky.  If you’re really feeling adventurous, add another 3-4 miles to the hike by hiking up to Clear Lake and the spectacular Deep Lake, losing the (Winds-style) crowds as you go. 11.5 miles out & back

Hidden Lake from the pass / saddle, North Cascades National Park, Washington

Hidden Lake from the pass / saddle

Hidden Lake, North Cascades National Park, Washington.  It’s one of Washington’s spectacular places of mountains upon mountains, and a large alpine lake to boot.  There’s no trail to the lake, itself, but from the saddle, it’s a 0.8 mile scramble to the lakeshore.  About 10.2 miles out & back

The headwaters of the Mississippi River in Itasca State Park, Minnesota

The headwaters of the Mississippi River

Mississippi Headwaters, Itasca State Park, Minnesota.  Well – there actually isn’t much of a view here, except for the reeds around the lake.  And while idyllic, it’s not exactly “stunning”.  But seeing the official headwaters of the mighty Mississippi is pretty cool, even if you do have to share it with a few dozen other recreationalists (mostly families with children swimming in the river).  0.3 mile loop

Duck Lake from Duck Pass, Inyo National Forest, California

Duck Lake from Duck Pass

Duck Pass Trail, Inyo National Forest, California.  If one member of your group likes lakes, and another likes mountain valleys, and another likes mountain peaks, you may have found your perfect hike: the trail passes at least three lakes while strolling up a valley between the mountains, then climbs to a pass with spectacular views of the High Sierras and 222 acre Duck Lake, not to mention back down on the lakes you just passed.  You can also continue beyond the pass to scramble down to Duck Lake.  About 7.2 miles out & back

Cathedral Lake from above on the trail to Electric Pass, White River National Forest, Colorado

Cathedral Lake from above

Cathedral Lake, White River National Forest, Colorado.  I actually prefer the view from Electric Pass, which you’ll come to if you make a wrong turn before or at Cathedral Lake and hike about twice as far as necessary to reach the lake.  But Cathedral Lake is none too shabby, deeply green and set below talus cliffs.  Oh – and you’ll probably see more than a few fishermen here, or other dayhikers.  About 6 miles out & back

Sundance Pinnacle over North Lake in the Wind Rivers of Wyoming

Sundance Pinnacle over North Lake

North Lake, Wind Rivers, Wyoming.  Actually, you’ll have to walk right past Big Sandy Lake (above) to get to North Lake.  But the views en route to North Lake are stunning, and the views across the lake itself of Sundance Pinnacle make it well worth the longer-than-I-really-want-to-dayhike status. 14.6 miles out & back

Reflections in Blue Lake, along the Virginia Lakes Trail

Reflections in Blue Lake, along the Virginia Lakes Trail

Virginia Lakes, Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest, California.  Situated just outside of Yosemite National Park, it’s amazing that these idyllic lakes – and nearby spectacular mountains – aren’t better known.  You’ll find people and the parking area, and likely a number of people fishing in the lakes, themselves – but it’s highly unlikely you’ll find crowds.  About 5 miles out & back, though it depends on how far you go

Doubtful Lake from the top of Sahale Arm (not the trail junction!), North Cascades National Park, Washington

Doubtful Lake from the top of Sahale Arm (not the trail junction!)

Doubtful Lake, North Cascades National Park, Washington.  En route, you’ll see spiky spires, snow-capped peaks, lush valleys, waterfalls, and even a glacier or two.  That’s before you reach the top of the ridge (“arm”).  Then, from the trail junction, atop Sahale Arm, it’s a half mile jaunt down to Doubtful Lake.  The views on the trail up to the junction – and views down to the lake – are worth the hike, but down at the lake the mountain walls rise high above the lake.  About 11 miles out & back

Crater Lake along the Sand Creek Trail in the Flat Tops Wilderness of Colorado

Crater Lake along the Sand Creek Trail

Sand Creek Trail, Flat Tops, Colorado.  The best thing about this trail is that it has quite a number of lakes along it, and you likely won’t meet too many people.  The bad thing is that only Crater Lake has cliffs, and the others are mostly ponds.  Oh well.  It’s a nice way to spend a morning, or to go fishing. 4 miles out & back

Looking down on the lakes below the Medicine Bow Range, Wyoming

Looking down on the lakes below the Medicine Bow Range

Medicine Bow Peak Loop, Medicine Bow National Forest, Wyoming.  Excluding the Little Lakes Basin, this may be my all-time most spectacular lakes.  Hike over the Snowy Mountain Range – with views down on the lakes – and then wander back along the lakeshores with spectacular views of the sheer cliffs above.  About a 7 mile loop

 

Bonus!

Fishing in Deep Lake, Wind Rivers of Wyoming

Fishing in Deep Lake – PC Mia & Steve Mestdagh, CC BY-SA 2.0.

Deep Lake, Wind Rivers, Wyoming.  This place looks spectacular – craggy peaks, cliffs, and the lake.  Actually, it’s not hard to catch Clear Lake and Big Sandy Lake along the trail, so it’s a good day for lakes!  About 15 miles out & back or as a lollipop loop

Twenty Lakes Basin, Inyo National Forest, California

Twenty Lakes Basin. PC Jeff Moser, CC BY-ND 2.0

20 Lakes Basin, near Yosemite National Park, California.  I so wanted to hike this last summer!  But the road was snowed in, so that was that.  Still, the pictures are beautiful, and someday, I hope to go back – when it’s a little less snowy – to see the multiple lakes, cliffs, and mountains.  4.9-9.1 miles (single or double loop)

Slide Lake in the Wind Rivers of Wyoming

Slide Lake. PC macybean1, All Rights Reserved

Slide Lake, Wind Rivers, Wyoming.  I’ve only been up as far as Slide Creek Falls, but the lake sounds intriguing, with a rocky mountain beyond the lake.  About 12 miles out & back.


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