Imagine pristine water, fewer crowds and breathtaking mountain views when you arrive at your destination. And then there’s the water, which you might even have all to yourself.
Your equipment: an inflatable paddleboard, portable pump, paddle and other hiking essentials, like good boots, snacks and water, all stuffed into a backpack. Sure, hiking can be strenuous, and adding the weight of an inflatable paddleboard might seem overwhelming. But rest assured, the experience is worth the few extra pounds.
(Note: If you’re a newbie, learn how to paddleboard before you shlep equipment up to a mountain lake only to discover you haven’t a clue about what to do. Balance and core strength are key.)
Bobby Kuepper, who works in eCommerce sales for Hala gear, suggests using a touring paddleboard for hiking because it’s lighter than other styles. But owning a paddleboard isn’t necessary to enjoy a day paddling along the Front Range or in the Rockies. Options to rent are widely available at places such as Confluence Kayaks in Denver and Alpine Sports in Breckenridge.
Here are the nearby hikes we recommend for toting a paddleboard and floating atop a high-altitude lake.
Lower Sawmill Reservoir and Snowflake Loop
This family-friendly hike in Breckenridge boasts views of ski lifts and, of course, there’s a scenic 10-acre reservoir at the top. Rated easy on AllTrails, the Sawmill Reservoir hike is a 1.5-mile loop with 246 feet of elevation gain, making it the perfect hike for bringing your pup along, too. To get there, begin at Snowflake Trailhead off of 4 O’Clock Road, Breckenridge.
St. Mary’s Glacier
Located near Idaho Springs, St. Mary’s Glacier is known for its alpine lake and, you guessed it, glacier. Although the entire hike is 2.4 miles long, you will arrive at the lake in half a mile. The trail gains 1,030 feet of elevation as you make your way past the lake and to the glacier. Expect snow-capped views above the lake even during the summer months. St. Mary’s Glacier is a moderate-rated, out-and-back trail. To get there, take Exit 238 off of Interstate 70 and follow Fall River Road until you get to the parking lot. There will be a $5 fee upon arrival.
Snowshoe Hare Trail
This moderate, 3-mile loop in Golden Gate Canyon State Park is a great distance for taking a paddleboard and viewing wildflowers, with a 910-foot elevation gain. Once you begin the hike, follow the signs to Dude’s Fishing Hole, a quiet and calm body of water surrounded by evergreens. Recent hikers say to take the clockwise-route for the best views. Dogs must remain on a leash if you bring yours along. Entry into the park costs $10 per car. Park hours are from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. 92 Crawford Gulch Road, Golden, 303-582-3707; cpw.state.co.us
Lower Crystal Lake
A slightly more challenging hike, Lower Crystal Lake in the White River National Forest is a 4.6-mile out-and-back trail with 1,604 feet of elevation gain. According to AllTrails, it is rated moderate. Lower Crystal Lake is tucked in between mountain walls and sits at about 12,000 feet above sea level. Expect a chilly paddleboard experience due to the elevation. This is one of the more popular hikes in the area and therefore it’s best to get there early to find parking. Take State Highway 9 from Breckenridge and turn right onto Spruce Creek Road. The trailhead for Lower Crystal Lake is roughly 1.2 miles from the turn on the right-hand side of the road.
Crater Lakes Trail via South Boulder Creek
Crater Lakes Trail via South Boulder Creek is a 6.8-mile, out-and-back trail that is rated hard on AllTrails. What’s at the top? A rewarding alpine lake, after 1,873 feet of elevation gain. The main Crater Lakes sit at about 10,600 feet of elevation and boast views of pine and snow. Along the rocky parts of the trail, cairns guide the way for additional assitance. To get there, head north of Central City from Golden on U.S. Highway 6 until it becomes 119. Turn left on Gilpin County Road 16 and drive to the end, where you’ll find the East Portal Trailhead. Note: This trail does include some rock scrambling, so be careful.
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