You can drive to this Alpine Lake in Colorado: Clear Lake
When I first read about this lake, I was really surprised. Really? Can you drive up to this alpine lake without any hiking? I asked myself again and again. Yes, this is true. This amazing alpine lake is accessible by only four-wheel-drive vehicles. The trailhead or the drive path starts at the same area where Ice Lake and Island Lake trailhead is located, near the South Mineral Campground. We reached the trailhead very late at the night. I had seen numerous videos of this drive. Still did not think it would be a good idea to drive the road to Clear Lake at night. So, we did car camping on the side of the road. About parking on the road, please be careful about not harming any kind of vegetation or do not park in the meadows. We parked at the side of the road and made sure that we were not harming any kind of vegetation. Surprisingly, there were not so many vehicles nearby. But I was pretty sure by morning, this place was going to be full because of the popularity of Ice Lake and Island Lake.
Early morning, we started our drive on the Clear Creek Road, one of the highest mountain roads in Colorado. Please make sure that your vehicle is 4WD. Otherwise, you won’t be able to make it to the top. We had seen some people parked their 2WD vehicles and did the total 9-mile (out and back) hike with an elevation gain of 2600 ft. Some people drive as far as they can, or their vehicle allows and start their hike from there. This is not a technical drive, but there are some sketchy parts. Also, this is not for faint hearts or people who have height phobia. You need a high-clearance vehicle. In my opinion, it’s better to take the four-wheel drive. At least this will give you peace of mind. The starting point of the drive path to Clear Lake or the Clear Lake Road is located on NF-585 road, which is just over 0.5 miles east of the South Mineral Campground.
The first 0.5-mile of the road is Aspen grove mostly in the shaded region. I went there in summer, and all the time I was thinking about the fall beauty of this road especially in late September or early October. The next two miles are zigzagging through the Spruce and Fir forest. Along the road, you will be able to see some signs of abandoned mines which is bearing proof of some old mining activity. Once you cross the tree line, the main fun part begins. The ascend to the lake is steep, uphill, and rocky to begin with. This dirt road is bumpy with embedded rocks. Drive very carefully and very patiently here. In some places, the road is narrow, and there are several tight switchbacks. It’s a challenging drive, it will test your stamina, strength, and patience in every twist and turn, but you won’t regret your decision or why you are driving this road. The view by the side of the road makes it even.
The outlet of the Clear Creek drops over the almost vertical rocks and forms a beautiful waterfall. Don’t forget to stop here and bask in the beauty of the waterfalls. As far I remember, there is a small parking spot near the waterfall or at least the place where you can get a beautiful view of the waterfalls. I saw some people camping there. Once you are at the top, the road becomes flat, and the tight basin opens to reveal a turquoise green alpine lake at an elevation of 11,984 ft. As we went during the summer month, the lake view with the alpine wildflowers was mind-blowing. Many people were camping and enjoying the view. Some took their kayak, small boats on the back and top of their vehicles. People were fly fishing and catching different kinds of trout. I could not resist myself and took out my inflatable kayak. I did kayak for hours and got lost in the gorgeous view in front of me. Overall, it was a good drive, and we had a very good time. Just a reminder: please don’t park on the vegetation and take care of the environment you are visiting.
At a glance/fact
- Activity: Driving, Camping, Fishing, Hiking, Kayaking
- Drive distance: around 4.5 miles one way
- Difficulty: moderate
- Location: Clear Lake Road (Forest Road 815), San Juan Mountains, Colorado
- Co-ordinate: The starting point of the Clear Lake Road: 37.80553, -107.76288
- Permit/Fee: No fee required.
- Best time to visit: Summer and fall, the road is impassable from October to June.
- Parking: Please park at the designated open space. Do not park on the tundra or any vegetation. It takes years to rehabilitate the vegetation. Don’t harm it for your pleasure.
- Amenities: none
- Mountain weather changes very quickly. Check the weather first and dress appropriately in layers. Bring sunglasses, hat, sunscreen, snacks, and water.
- While at the higher elevation, you should be careful about any kind of altitude sickness symptoms such as nausea, dizziness, headache, vomit, etc. If you are feeling any symptoms, please stop whatever you are doing. You should take rest, eat some food, and drink water. Then decide if you are feeling well enough to continue or you need to turn back.
- This lake is easily accessible and beautiful. Please practice the ‘leave no trace’ principle all the time, and let’s try to keep this place as beautiful as it is.