Grab a Jeep. Find a lake. Vacation in Colorado like a local.

Choosing Southwest Colorado as a vacation destination? Smart move. This area of the country is unlike anything you’ve ever seen before, making it a best-kept secret among locals and folks who have ties to the region. However, vacationing in Colorado is a little different than other popular destinations—mainly because the best spots require a rugged, off-road vehicle to access them.

Whether you’re just looking to sight-see for the day, or you want to set up a basecamp with your friends and family for a few nights, alpine lakes make for some of the most memorable experiences in the San Juan Mountains.

And thankfully, Southwest Colorado has quite a few of them for you to explore.

So, gather your camp gear, grab a Jeep, rent a few stand-up paddleboards, and venture up to any one of these beautiful alpine lakes for a true Colorado vacation experience.

Trout Lake

Trout Lake is perhaps the most easily accessible lake of the bunch listed here. Sitting just 21 minutes south of Mountain Village off of Highway 145, Trout Lake is surrounded by beautiful mountain peaks such as San Miguel Peak (13,752 ft.), Beattie Peak (13,342 ft.), Grizzly Peak (13,738 ft.), and Rolling Mountain (13,693 ft.). Trout Lake features numerous trails leading into the mountains, provides ample opportunity for fishing and even allows boats on the water (traveling at wakeless speeds). While you cannot camp or park at the lake overnight, the Priest Lake Campgrounds nearby are a fun alternative.

Historically, Trout Lake was a common stop for the Rio Grande Southern Railroad (RGS) in the late 1800’s, which used water from the lake to fill its boiler. In fact, the water tank they used to fill the boiler can still be found resting near the lake.

Trout Lake, Telluride Colorado

Alta Lakes

While other alpine lake areas typically feature one big body of water, Alta Lakes is made up of three different bodies of water. And with each lake being a little different than the last, a quick trip through the area helps you understand exactly why this area is so popular for campers and outdoor enthusiasts. There are numerous dispersed camping areas around each of the lakes and stand-up paddleboards are popular among folks looking to relax out on the water.

If you’ve ever hiked up to the intermediate/advanced terrain resting atop Prospect Lift (12) and peered over the other side of Palmyra Peak, you may have noticed a small wooden cabin resting near a lake. This quaint little cabin is the Alta Lakes Observatory. Now a local icon, it was built in 1975 and has been a popular vacation rental for decades.

Alta Lakes, Telluride Colorado

Clear Lake

Although Clear Lake is the hardest location to reach of the three listed here, it is widely regarded as one of the more rewarding alpine lake destinations. Not only is the off-road driving somewhat more challenging than on other trails, the views and features (such as the waterfall you will pass) make for a truly unforgettable experience.

As Clear Lake comes into view along your drive, you’ll quickly discover what all the fuss was about: a beautiful turquoise-blue lake sitting neatly in a bowl, surrounded by mountain peaks. It doesn’t get much better than this.

What makes a vacation truly memorable? Experiences that leave you feeling happy, thrilled and satisfied, months after you’ve left. That’s what we offer here at Colorado 145.

Clear Lake, Silverton Colorado

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