Home>Off The Beaten Path>Tour of Lakes and Hiking Trails in Colorado
Off The Beaten Path Photography Travel

Tour of Lakes and Hiking Trails in Colorado

For my birthday week, I tend to go on a little trip – discovering new places. This year, I created a little trip I just may turn into an annual vacation. As I was thinking about a last minute trip a week or so before my birthday, I searched for reservations at various campsites and found one spot at Grand Lake available for two consecutive days…. So I made the reservation and winged it the rest of the trip. 

I took a 7-day camping trip and called it, “The Tour of Lakes and Hiking Trails” for my own little excursion. With my dog, Abbi, in tow – we traveled to three lakes, found a few spectacular trails and some waterfalls. I discovered such amazing places, it was too good not to share.

I’ve been in Colorado for nearly two years and love exploring new trails. Like many nature lovers, I’m attracted to serene settings with water, trails, and beautiful backdrops with mountains and sunsets.

Here was my experience…

Entering Twin Lakes in Colorado. Photo by Amber Pember.

3 Nights at Twin Lakes:

Our second stop was at Twin Lakes, Colorado. Since the reserved camping spots were taken mainly for the full season at most of the locations, I decided to test out the FF – First Come, First Serve sites. I had assumed they would be full as this was a busy Holiday weekend. To my surprise, I arrived on Sunday at Noon and found the best spot available. It had a great view overlooking the lakes and was surrounded by mountains, just like what I was hoping for.

The first day, Abbi and I walked down the hill to the lake – it looked so close!  Haha. It ended up we were quite exhausted and only reached a pond left by receding waters and met a couple groups with SUP’s lounging by the water.  That little hike down to the water ended up being an 8-mile trek – great for my Fitbit analytics. We found several large animal tracks and droppings. Most likely moose and elk – I didn’t stick around analyzing it. 

The next day, we logged in the All Trails app and found a nice “Easy” 4-mile trail on the other side of the water. Later, we learned that was 4+ miles in and 4+ miles out as it was another great and 8-mile day again. The name of the trail, Interlaken Trailhead. As a newcomer, I wasn’t familiar with the name, Interlaken – there is a lot of history here going back to the mining days of the late 1800’s. This was a great trail, beautiful water and mountain views. It’s a well traveled trail, and there were a few friendly hikers passing by keeping social distance per recommendations during the COVID-19 safety guidelines. Most of the trail was shaded with large trees and it followed the waterline. Unbelievable mountain views with a gentle breeze. 

As we hiked at a good pace, I kept wondering when we should turn around and head back. As the trail narrowed, I was curious what was around the corner. Suddenly, it opened up and I was shocked to see an old house with a wrap around porch. There were a few groups of people and friendly dogs sitting on or around the porch. It was an old building, evidently restored. The people around said the door was open to visitors. Evidently, I stumbled on an old 1890’s once posh resort, called, The Interlaken Hotel and Resort, now closed. I’m fascinated with history and toured around the house and grounds. There were the remains of the old hotel, stables, a unique, hexagon pavilion-like outhouse, formerly called a Privy. A few Historical signs were in place to tell the story of the old resort to share the story of the old mining days and gave us a glimpse into the lives of successful families on their vacations in the peak of the mining industry. 

Upon my return, I thought, if there was any day I would want to repeat it would be this day… stumbling upon a great camping site with an amazing view and then finding an old resort known to be the best in it’s day at the end of a gorgeous trail.

Toward the end of the trail, Abbi and I took a splash in the cold water, it was the closest I’ve been to a “Polar Plunge” yet…

Interlaken Trailhead in Twin Lakes, Colorado. Photo by Amber Pember

Interlaken Trail:

  • 9,283′ Elevation
  • 4.6 mil (each direction) This is a good 9 mile day, come prepared with water and snacks for you and your pup
  • Out and back trail
  • Easy to walk/hike with a few little hills with jutting roots and a few rocks
  • Nicely shaded 
  • Waterfront w/ mountain views
  • Boat landing nearby
  • Dogs allowed on-leash

Overlooking Turquoise Lake in Leadville, Colorado. Photo by Amber Pember.

2 Nights at Turquoise Lake:

Our second destination was Turquoise Lake. I was torn between leaving the last place and going to a new place. When I visited and reserved the spot the day before, it was very windy and cold. Everyone has hooded windbreakers on and fully dressed. I reserved my place a day earlier than I needed just in case it would be booked by morning…. and good thing I did. 

I’ve heard a bit about this lake and wanted to get out and explore this area while it was still mid-summer. Like Twin Lakes only 25 miles away, this area is in a higher elevation, so it’s a bit cooler. 

This is peak camping season, nearly all the reserved spots were taken throughout the area. I was lucky enough to find one of three vacant tent-only camping spots on the beachfront way in the back off Highway 9, a few miles from downtown Leadville. 

When I arrived the next morning with my tent and gear, I noticed “Full – No Vacancy” signs and it looked like I reserved the best spot just in time. It was a gorgeous day, nothing like the previous chilly day. This time, people were sunbathing on the beach and kayaks and canoes were in the water. No parkas/windbreakers. I heard the temp reached a low 24 degrees that night! Way too cold for me. Our first night was chilly, around 34-36 degrees for a low and was like that both nights. 

Abbi growled out the tent and evidently a bigger animal was lurking just outside. I didn’t want to get out of my cozy sleeping bag to really see  what was out there. This area has a great trail following along the beachfront, We went on a couple 8-mile walks here. Simple out and back trail, easy walking, lots of people there camping in the summertime.

At the end of the fourth day, remember, we were dry camping, we needed another splash in the lake and I needed to wash my hair as it started to smell of campfire smoke and sweat from our hikes – yuck.  I put a suit on and waded into water and dipped my head into the water with some shampoo… truly  a camping out experience – it reminded me a little of what the Survivor type of shows in Alaska I had recently watched on Netflix’s Win the Wilderness and Amazon Prime’s Alone – Season 6 may have experienced… except we had food and shelter. LOL.

Bathing in cold water was eye opening to say the least. I shrieked as the cold water hit my skin and was in and out in two minutes – covered in purple splotches as my body adjusted to the shock. Thankfully, the 72 degree day up there felt like mid to upper 90’s in lower elevation, so I warmed up quickly.

Creek flowing into Turquoise Lake in Leadville, Colorado. Photo by Amber Pember.

While visiting the Leadville area, be sure to take a little road trip around Turquoise Lake. County roads 9, 9C, and 4 will take you high up to get a great view of the lake overlooking the beach and the small mountain town of Leadville, Colorado. Bring a lunch and a camera to stop and enjoy the scenery. There is a creek flowing rapidly with melting snow from the peaks of the mountains and a park with picnic tables to stop for a break where you can watch people fly fishing. Up top, there are a few outlooks and to capture the expansive views.

I thought to myself, this should definitely be an annual trip, just be more prepared for the cold nights and maybe a standup shower tent would be closer to a “Glamping” experience.

The scenery was surreal in both places. At every turn, I was amazed how this place could exist – we were right there. Just a couple hours from the hustle and bustle of work and the daily grind, yet a world away. I could picture the history of these places and how it mostly looked untouched with the exception of a few powerlines streaming up through the mountains and the developed camping sites.

Definitely a place to experience at least once in your lifetime.

Turquoise Lake Trail:

  • 9,958′ Elevation
  • 11 miles all together available
  • Out and back trail
  • Waterfront trail with surround mountain views
  • This is infront of several camping areas, so camping bathrooms and people are scattered throughout along with a boat landing along the trail
  • Dogs allowed on-leash

Full moon over Grand Lake, Colorado. Photo by Amber Pember.

2 Nights in Grand Lake:

After five nights of camping in gorgeous places, we headed to Grand Lake, and until now was my favorite place ever. It has beautiful water, sailboats, marinas, cabins, waterfront luxury homes, camping sites, and a beautiful “Old West” style downtown with boardwalks in front of the stores. Many people seem to move there to get-away, some people decide to live there full-time, and several vacationers come through during both summer and winter months. 

The town is well-prepared for tourists, with a great market full of everything you will need while camping, along with great coffee shops, and restaurants open and ready for tourists and residents alike. Many people come here to enjoy water activities and were all geared up for an adventure on the water. 

Grand Lakes is a popular place for family camping trips with camping spots on the water.  This place was much warmer compared to Twin Lakes and Turquoise Lake. When I pulled in around midafternoon on July 3rd, I first got my dog out of the car and set her up with her food and water and left her to explore as far as her long leash around the picnic table would let her reach. Then, I pulled out the tent and with a couple recent practice sessions, I was able to set up in record time. It was easy to prop up and extend the poles, and drive the stakes in. As soon as I put the last stakes and tied the waterproof top on, dark clouds came up over the mountain tops in the back and wind swept across the lake without warning. Tents collapsed and people were in a fury, scrambling to save their tents and get to safety. Some big tents over picnic tables blew like tumbleweed – crashing into other campsites and rolling over vehicles. Thankfully, nobody was injured. There are many more people here, so don’t plan on a quiet retreat. I was there for the 4th of July, my birthday weekend, and there are to be expected some louder groups. 

For hiking, I searched for local trails and realized the entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park actually begins just outside of downtown. We found a couple trails blocks away from my favorite coffee shop, we went exploring. We found a waterfall and stream rushing towards town as we followed a dirt road leading to some trails. Since RMNP doesn’t allow dogs, we just saw the trailheads and will plan that for another time with a group. There are warnings of large animals, like mountain lions and moose sightings, and signs alerted us to be prepared and travel in groups when in these remote areas.  I actually left with a decent tan as Abbi and pitched a little sun tent in front of the water and fully relaxed. Fall comes early there, so for a warm summer vacation, I would plan well ahead of time to reserve your place and plan for warmer gear late summer. A trip to Grand Lake last Fall was magnificent, yet the temperatures got down into the 20’s at night – so bring warm gear for cooler nights. Another successful trip and I’m already excited for the next one.

Cascade Falls in Grand Lake:

  • 8,804′ Elevation
  • 7.4 miles
  • Out and Back Trail
  • No dogs allowed
  • Waterfalls along the trail
  • Horses are allowed on the trail
  • Best time: June-August
  • Moose sightings may be typical there

Be sure to find more fun trails and traveling tips at OUTRIGGER OUTSIDE. If you would like to learn more about buying a place in the mountains, reach out to our Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices – Elevated Living team.