Summer has officially begun, and if you haven't already, it's time to make adventure plans! As summer continues and temperatures remain high, alpine lakes often provide amazing views, dazzling displays of wildflowers, and towering rock formations. Plus, of course, a chance to cool off from the summer heat in the crip mountain water!
One of the top destinations for alpine lakes in the US is the Pacific Northwest. So, we compiled a list of some of the most beautiful alpine lakes you can visit in the PNW this summer, as well as safety precautions to take along the way.
Crater Lake is the deepest lake in the United States, and it is one of the cleanest and clearest lakes in the world, since all of the water originates from snow or rain. Crater Lake National Park is one of the snowiest regions in the country, receiving an average of 43 feet of snow per year. Before heading out, double-check which routes and services are open, as even in the summer, unexpected snowstorms can cause delays. Hike the volcanic-result islands, cycle with a view, and spend the night at the campground before it closes for the winter season. If you want to explore Crater Lake, head over to our Crater Lake Glamping Retreat.
In the summer, a trail laden with thimbleberries, huckleberries, and blueberries leads to this stunning location. There's a reason why this day hike is so popular. Take a detour to Bridal Veil Falls on your way up to cool yourself with the waterfall's spray before ascending to the breathtaking view of Lake Serene. You may take in the scenery of the Cascade mountains, go fishing, or have a (very chilly) swim. The climb to Lake Serene has everything a hiker might want. There are waterfalls, views of high peaks, and lovely mossy woodlands to be found here. There's also a 2,000-foot increase and many steps, all of which lead to a lovely mountain lake.
Settled in the middle of lush forest, this glacier-fed lake is a perfect day trip. If you want to take advantage of the several hiking trails and stay for a stunning sunset, snag a campsite. Reaching this lake takes only a short walk, so you’ll have plenty of time to enjoy lakeside activities upon arrival. On a sunny day, go for a swim in the clear turquoise waters. Kayaks and other water activity rentals are available all along the shore, so there’s an adventure for everyone. If you’ve had enough of the beach and want to get back into the forest, take an easy hike to Marymere Falls.
With its stunning mountain peaks, crystal clear water, and boundless adventure, Wallowa Lake is one of Oregon's Seven Wonders. "The Crown Jewel," "The Sapphire amid a Sea of Astounding Landscapes," and the "WOW of the Wallowas" are just a few of the names given to the lake. The Wallowa Mountains, located in northeast Oregon, are one of Oregon's most unique and adventure-filled places due to its magnificent landscape and remote position. This lake is a heaven on earth for adventurers because of its broad range of available activities, from kayaking to week-long hiking trips.
Colchuck Lake is one of Washington's most iconic alpine lakes. The lake itself is a stunning turquoise blue, surrounded by smoothed granite boulders, woodland, high craggy hills, and glaciers. The climb to the lake is difficult, at 8.5 miles round trip and 2,300 feet of elevation gain, but the payoff when you reach the lake is simply stunning. To avoid traffic on the trail, start early in the morning. The trail's magnificent vegetation leads to a breathtaking view of the Dragontail and Colchuck Peaks rising above the gleaming glacier-fed water. Take in the breathtaking scenery and even a swim before coming back down!
Located over 6,000 feet above sea level on the California-Nevada border atop the beautiful Sierra Nevada mountain range, this natural treasure provides the ideal high-country experience, with excellent outdoor recreation and breathtaking vistas.
Lake Tahoe has long been a popular vacation destination, attracting over 2.7 million visitors each year. The high granite cliff sides, towering mountaintops, and crystal-clear waters lure visitors to Lake Tahoe, earning itself the reputation of being one of the most beautiful bodies of water in the United States.
Lake Cushman is well known as a rugged and scenic alpine getaway. The lake's flat water and neighboring peaks provide many backcountry chances, and being only a couple hours from downtown Seattle and Portland, it is close to the city without sacrificing the wilderness experience. Although this lake has a lot to offer on its own, its closeness to some of the best hiking in the Pacific Northwest like Olympic National Park and Mount Ellinor makes it an ideal addition to a long weekend spent outdoors. Kayaking, stand-up paddleboarding, and cliff jumping are popular activities at Lake Cushman. The view of the night sky above the lake at the end of a busy day makes reserving a campsite well worth it.
Diablo Lake is one of many breathtaking destinations along Washington's North Cascades Highway, one of America's most scenic drives. The lake is captivating, to say the least. The lake's striking turquoise tint in summer is caused by suspended small rock particles refracting sunlight. These rock particles, known as glacial flour, enter the lake when ice erodes rock from the surrounding mountains and pours into the water via glacial streams. The hue is most bright on sunny days in July, August, and September, when glaciers melt seasonally. Want to explore North Cascades? Here is the link to our North Cascades trip.
Joffre Lakes is one of British Columbia's most beautiful hikes, and it's relatively easy to get there when compared to other alpine lakes in the area. Joffre Lakes are well-known for their clear blue water, caused by glacial silt or rock flour, which was ground up as the glacier formed millions of years ago. It is the sunshine reflecting on the lake's surface that gives these lakes their Gatorade-blue color! Because of the sunny days and melting glaciers, these lakes are likely to be at their brightest and bluest in the summer.
Joffre Lakes Provincial Park, which was established to conserve the lakes and surrounding scenery, contains the Joffre Lakes route. This means that provincial park laws apply to the trail, so it’s important to plan ahead.
Emerald Lake is one of the nicest sites to visit in British Columbia's Yoho National Park. It is well-known for its characteristic green tint and reflections of the nearby President Range peaks. On a summer day, visiting the lake is one of the most beautiful natural landscapes in the Canadian Rockies, a mountain region that is not short of breathtaking vistas. The lake is surprisingly easy to get to because it's only a few kilometers off the Trans-Canadian highway, used by millions every day.
There are important precautions to keep in mind when attempting a cold water immersion.
Alpine lakes’ temperatures are on the colder side at the beginning of the summer, ranging between 50-60 degrees Fahrenheit. Although these temperatures will continue to rise to 65-75 degrees as the days get hotter, keep in mind that symptoms of cold water immersion can occur at water temperatures as warm as 77 degrees.
When people initially submerge themselves in such cold water, their bodies go into "cold shock," and they begin gasping for air, putting strain on the heart (if you have a weak heart, try a head dunk!). The blood vessels on the outside of your body tighten in an attempt to retain heat, and this constriction pushes your blood demand more to your inner organs in an attempt to keep them warm.
For most healthy people, the initial shock lasts around 30 seconds, and discomfort goes away after about 23 minutes. People with a family history of stroke, aneurysm, blood pressure issues, hypertension should exercise extreme caution and should be evaluated by a doctor before diving into near-freezing water.
If you are feeling up to the challenge, here are a few things to keep in mind when swimming in alpine lakes:
1. Have someone with you, especially if you're a beginner cold water swimmer. Even experienced pool swimmers may develop cardiac difficulties or cramping because of the chilly water. If you're not a confident swimmer, start in warmer, shallow water. Pay attention to your body's cues (shivering, tingling, etc.) and get out before you become too chilly.
2. Our bodies acclimate best to cold water if we wade in slowly. A sudden plunge into cold water can be unsettling, leaving you gasping and potentially unsafe. Enter slowly, and once you're up to your shoulders, dunk a few times, and your body will be more adequately adjusted. When you finish swimming, swiftly exit the lake, wrap yourself in a towel, and change into dry clothing as soon as possible.
3. There are no warm showers near an alpine lake. Our core temperatures are sluggish to change, so you may find yourself cold after exiting a mountain lake. Change into dry, warm clothes, with additional layers and dark clothing. Some people enjoy drinking warm beverages, but it's important to note that while it may feel nice and soothing, it does little to warm your core.
4. Only swim in your clothing if you have dry clothes to change into. Don’t risk having to hike down in dripping wet clothes or under garments! Even on a warm day, this could impact your body’s ability to recover lost heat.
If you’re looking for alpine lake activities for this summer, check out our Crater Lake Glamping Retreat.
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