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Fly-Fishing in the Indian Peaks Wilderness Alpine Lakes

Feb 2nd, 2024

When it comes to fishing, Colorado certainly doesn't disappoint. 

With rivers, streams and lakes galore, it’s no wonder that fishermen from all over the world come to the Rocky Mountains to sample some of the mountain’s fishy delights. Fly-fishing here is memorable no matter where you go, and depending on the season, visitors will get the added bonus of wildflowers, snow-capped peaks and wildlife galore. You really can’t go wrong!

Fishing in the state’s stunning alpine lakes is a must do for anyone with a rod and reel, and there’s no better place to get some serious elevation than the Indian Peaks Wilderness Area (IPWA). 

10 high-altitude lakes to fish in the Indian Peaks WA

This high-altitude alpine wilderness is one of the largest of its kind in the United States, and therefore is ripe with astounding alpine fishing spots that will knock your socks off. In fact, there are a whopping 33 alpine lakes averaging around 10,550 feet in elevation that are filled with thriving trout populations, so take your pick! Whether it’s a relaxed day trip or an intense week-long remote backpacking stint you’re after, you’re sure to find it here!

In addition to the cutthroat stocked by Colorado Parks & Wildlife,the waters here in the IPWA are home to Colorado River cutthroat, brown trout, eastern brook trout, rainbow trout and splake, so there’s a lot to choose from. Being a high-altitude area, though, fly-fishers may not get a chance to hook any of these fish until the ice starts to melt from the water’s surface — usually around early June. And since many of the higher lakes are further away and much more remote, there’s an inherent risk of falling through soft snow or breaking through hidden ice. So, just be careful, yeah?

Anyways, here are some great lakes to start with in the IPWA, as well as how much of a hike it takes to get there. 

Mitchell Lake

Elevation: 10,729 feet

Hiking distance: 1.8 miles, out & back

Elevation gain: 223 feet

This easy hike is ideal for a quick day trip or a beginner multi-night hike. Scenic Mitchell Lake is less than a mile from the parking lot (which is inaccessible during the winter, by the way) and has some beautiful news from the shoreline. Fish here as long as you want, or head further up the trails to Blue Lake and Little Blue Lake for a more wild and secluded fishing experience. 

Blue Lake

Elevation: 11,319 feet

Hiking distance: 6.2 miles, out & back

Elevation gain: 994 feet

Head past Mitchell Lake and pass by a string of small ponds to get to Blue Lake, a pristine alpine treasure tucked away among scree-covered peaks. There’s little shade up here, so if you’re planning on spending a while up in this neck of the woods, be sure to bring adequate equipment. 

The stream and ponds heading back down to Mitchell Lake are also great spots to fish in their own right, too, so don’t write them off just yet!

Rainbow Lakes

Elevation: 10,207 feet

Hiking distance: 2.6 miles, out & back

Elevation gain: 341 feet

Don’t let the short distance fool you: this picturesque trail passes a handful of ponds and streams and leads to a cluster of three small cascading lakes, all just over a mile from the parking lot! This is a day-trip fisherman’s dream, though it can easily turn into a multi-night camping or backpacking stint to get the most out of these stunning lakes.

The best time to visit these lakes is late spring and early summer, when the snow has melted enough to fill the lakes but is no longer too treacherous to drive a vehicle to the remote trailhead. 

Be warned that the road up here is bumpy and requires at least four-wheel drive or all-wheel drive to get up here, if you want to be able to get back down safely!

Long Lake

Elevation: 10,532 feet

Hiking distance: 1.8 miles, out & back

Elevation gain: 88 feet

Practically a stone’s throw from the trailhead and picnic area, you’ll reach the nearest end of this long, narrow lake a mere 0.3 miles from where you start, though the gentle trail continues along the shore for another half a mile or so. Set up shop anywhere along the lake’s edge and you’re sure to be rewarded with some great views and scenic fishing in no time at all.

Devil’s Thumb Lake

Elevation: 11,155 feet 

Hiking distance: 12.1 miles, out & back

Elevation gain: 2,467 feet 

This fly fishing spot is no joke. Passing by waterfalls, over streams, up scree-covered slopes and a handful of smaller lakes, the trail to Devil’s Thumb Lake is the final boss to conquer for alpine lake fishing in the IPWA. The reward? An absolutely stunning journey and a fly-fishing haven that will become a landmark in your alpine fishing repertoire.

For an extra day or two of fishing in that region, make a trip up the creekside Woodland Lake Trail to Woodland Lake and Skyscraper Reservoir, two small lakes nestled in an offshoot glacial valley sitting pretty at 11,254 feet.

King Lake, Bob & Betty Lakes

Elevation: 11,582 feet

Hiking distance: 3.7 miles, out & back

Elevation gain: 1,125 feet 

This section of the IPWA has a handful of great alpine lakes to fish in, and this basin of closely-clustered lakes is a popular spot for high-altitude fishing junkies to frequent.  

This short-but-challenging trail quickly drops down into the basin right by King Lake, where steep slopes surround this peaceful alpine fishing spot. Further along the trail is the South Fork Boulder Creek and its sources: Betty Lake and Bob Lake. Both of these lakes are up a short but steep boulder-covered slope, but they make for great fly-fishing spots with a view like you’ve never seen before. 

Caribou Lake

Elevation: 11,155 feet

Hiking distance: 8.8 miles, out & back

Elevation gain: 2,601 feet

Head to this stunning lake via the Arapaho Pass Trail from Buckingham Campground, where you'll head up a slow incline up a ridge then drop down into the glacial basin where the lake is located. 

Fishing at the lake itself is a wonder, what with the stunning peaks surrounding the remote lake. Continue following the Arapaho Pass Trail along the Arapaho Creek, and you’ll find even more spots to make camp and fish your heart out even more. 

Lake Dorothy

Elevation: 12,074 feet 

Hiking distance: 7.1 miles, out & back

Elevation gain: 1,942 feet

This large alpine lake is just over the ridge from Caribou Lake — just take a left where you’d have turned right to Caribou from the Arapaho Pass Trail and you’ll find yourself at a high-altitude fly-fishing haven with scenery unlike anything else. It’s also the highest lake in the IPWA, sitting just below the Continental divide! 

If you live in or near our luxury Denver apartments and are looking for some quality, tried-and-true high-altitude fly fishing, then be sure to head to these lakes for a trip unlike any other. 

Have fun!

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Featured photo by Vidar Nordli-Mathisen on Unsplash

Author of Article

Colleen Ford is a South African who now lives on Oahu in Hawai'i. She loves to travel, camp, spearfish and hike. She's also part of a super cool canoe club and is pretty decent at it. Colleen enjoys Star Wars and also not being cold ever.

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