Great Lakes: Best For Day Hikes + Mountain Bikes

The best places to bike, hike, paddle and boat this summer.

By Devon O'Neil Photography by Zach Mahone June 1, 2016 Published in the Summer/Fall 2016 issue of Vail-Beaver Creek Magazine

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Beaver Lake is one of the most popular hiking destinations from Beaver Creek.

Image: Zach Mahone

Beaver Lake

Due to trail conditions and grade, as well as wilderness laws, it’s rare to be able to reach a lake by bike. And while you can’t ride all 3.3 miles to Beaver Lake (the final half-mile of trail is off-limits to cyclists and too hard to pedal anyway), you can ride almost all the way there, which is what I did last summer.

Starting from the trailhead just above Beaver Creek Village at 8,300 feet, the route meanders uphill on a wide, smooth path before narrowing and growing more rugged near the wilderness boundary, where I ditched my bike and hiked. Along the way you pass through Red Tail Camp, where the World Cup ski races finish each December, and a wealth of picnic spots. Once at the lake at 9,746 feet, take a seat on the sandy beach and soak in the sun as 10-inch rainbow trout eye you suspiciously from beneath the surface.

Lost Lake

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The views at Lost Lake, off of Red Sandstone Road west of Vail, may not be as grand as the vistas at other lakes. But the payoff here isn’t looking beyond; it’s gazing within, feeling removed from the world and at peace among the lilypads and dragonflies that live here at 10,158 feet.

Although you can drive up Red Sandstone to the Lost Lake trailhead, then either hike or pedal the loose, rocky trail 3.7 miles to the lake, a friend and I opted to ride our bikes up the road and access the lake via USFS Road No. 786, which connects to a trail that climbs through a lush forest to the alpine pool. We sat under a tree and ate sandwiches in silence, listening to the sounds you hear when none of them are made by people, other than yourself.

Whitney Lake

In some ways the thought of driving for an hour to do a five-mile hike sounds counterintuitive. But Whitney Lake, another serene destination accessed from Homestake Road off of Highway 24 between Minturn and Leadville, has a way of making the drive seem like a fair trade.

The trail isn’t without its challenges—you gain 1,856 feet to the lake, which sits at a hair under 11,000 feet in elevation. It also winds through a dense forest of aspens and conifers before opening up to views of 13,271-foot Whitney Peak above the lake. If you ever have a morning to kill and are looking for a fresh oasis to explore, this is the hike to consider. Bikes not allowed.

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