We all love a good crisp-aired fall hike – but once the weather changes some of our favorite hikes are no longer accessible. The tail-end of warm weather is the time to bag those peaks that have been on your summer bucket list. Not only will you be able to make the most of the last long, sunny days, but August and September are the perfect months to hit those high-alpine trails. Hikes that boast an Insta-worthy elevation, complete with 360-degree views and pristine alpine lakes are finally clear of snow, but they won’t be for long.
We’ve got you covered for your end-of-summer adventure with an epic hike for everyone. Whether you want to stay local or remote, keep it shorter or more strenuous, you’ll be sure to find your perfect last hoorah. Hit these stunning summits and alpine lakes before snow and ice ruin the fun.
COVID-19 note: make sure to check with county rules and regulations as well as with the National Parks before you go, as some areas may be closed or have new restrictions.
1. Sky Pond
Location: Rocky Mountain National Park, Glacier Gorge Trailhead
Distance: 9 miles
Elevation: 10,900 feet
Why we love it: Sky Pond is at the end of a trail full of other stopping points. Starting at Bear Lake, you’ll come across the 30 foot Alberta falls. Lucky for you, lots of people turn around here. Soon, you’ll be climbing up switchbacks before you come across your first subalpine lake, Loche Lake. Then, you’re at the hardest but most epic part of the hike – climbing hand over hand alongside Timberline Falls. You’re scramble is rewarded by Lake of Glass and finally, Sky Pond.
2. Mount Elbert
Location: Twin Lakes, Colorado
Distance: 9.9 miles on the Southeast Ridge trail
Elevation: 14,433 feet
Difficulty: Hard in distance, moderate in technicality
Why we love it: The rush of standing on the highest peak in Colorado is reason enough to bag this famous 14er. Despite it’s towering status, Mount Elbert is a popular hike because it’s much more accessible than you’d think. Yes, its a long hike and there’s the altitude factor, but the actual trail is comparatively easy technical-wise. There’s no boulder scrambling, no stairs to hike over and no sharp, sudden inclines. The trail continues the entire way, your biggest feat is simply the distance and a fairly gradual incline. With views of Twin Lakes and the surrounding Sawatch range peaks, being the highest person in Colorado for a moment is well worth it. Just be sure to leave early as thunderstorms accumulate in the afternoons and you are, after all, the highest point.
3. Snow Lake
Location: State Forest State Park, American Lakes Trail
Distance: 7.9 miles
Elevation: 11,380 feet
Why we love it: This alpine lake is the epitome of a hidden gem (we were never good at keeping secrets). Nestled in lesser-known State Forest State Park, this area bumps right up against Rocky Mountain National Park, giving you the same breathtaking views without the crowds. Hike through forest and meadows until you reach American Lake 6.8 miles in, then understand its name while looking over it from the Snow Lake viewpoint. The last half mile up to Snow Lake is a scramble, placing you in a bowl with jagged mountains jetting up all around you, Snow Lakefront and center. Plus, this area also has backcountry camp spots everywhere with no additional permit required other than the one for your car. It’s a backpacking dream come true.
4. Square Top Lakes
Location: Arapahoe National Forest, near Georgetown, Colorado
Distance: 4.1 miles
Elevation: 12,272 feet
Why we love it: If you’re looking for the views and geography of alpine hiking without the distance, Square Top Lakes is your move. Just across the road from the Mount Bierstadt trailhead, this trail winds through alpine tundra towards oddly geometric shaped lakes.
5. Bear Peak
Location: Boulder Open Space, Boulder, Colorado
Distance: 7.7 miles
Elevation: 8,459 feet
Why we love it: Head up on a Saturday to this fairly local peak. Starting on the walking trails in the Boulder Open Space network, the well-maintained trail climbs up and up through meadows of wildflowers, getting a bit more difficult towards the top. Despite the somewhat low elevation, the 360-degree views at the top are unmatched with Rocky Mountain National Park to the north, the foothills to the south, Boulder and Denver to the east and the Indian Peaks to the west.
6. Brainard Lake
Location: Brained Lake Recreation Area, near Nederland, Colorado
Distance: 6.1 miles
Elevation: ~10,000 feet
Why we love it: This trail is the most “walk in the park” type trail on this list. With hardly any elevation gain, Brainard Lake is perfect for a weekend group outing. Pack a picnic and go winding through the forest. The lake itself has a spectacular backdrop of the Indian Peaks. Note that the road to this rec area closes in November, giving you all the more reason to hit the trail now!
7. Mount Bierstadt
Location: Mount Evans Wilderness, near Georgetown, Colorado
Distance: 6.9 miles
Elevation: 14,065 feet
Why we love it: Hailed as a perfect “beginner” 14er with a shorter distance and minimal technical climbing, Mount Bierstadt is a quick-ish drive from Denver with the trailhead just off Guanella Pass. If you haven’t gotten around to a 14er this summer, see what it’s all about with this beaut.
8. Chasm Lake
Location: Rocky Mountain National Park, Long’s Peak Trailhead
Distance: 7.7 miles
Elevation: 11,927 feet
Why we love it: If you’ve always had your eye on Long’s Peak, but either aren’t ready to make the full climb or weren’t able to snag the permit, make Chasm Lake part of your weekend plans. You’ll get a taste of Long’s while following the East Long’s Peak Trail, then features of alpine hiking – wall skirts and scrambling – take you to the deep bowl Chasm Lake settles into.
9. Mounts Democrat, Cameron, Lincoln and Bross Trail
Location: Pike National Forest, near Alma, Colorado
Distance: 7.6 miles
Elevation: 14, 295 feet (Mount Lincoln)
Why we love it: Here it is–the big one. You’re going to summit four 14ers in one day. Sounds pretty badass right? Well don’t let the peak number scare you, notice the entire loop is less than eight miles. While the sheer magnitude put this hike at the top of our bucket list, the views of the Mosquito Range and alpine lakes from these peaks keep you feeling on top of the world. The feeling of climbing up and down through the clouds all day is the most epic cap off to summer you could ask for.