Alta Lakes is a popular dispersed camping area that offers fishing and camping in a spectacular alpine setting. There are 20 designated campsites that are completely undeveloped. The access road to the area is narrow and rough, requiring a high clearance vehicle. Trailers and RV's are not reccomended.
Half of the camping spots are kind of difficult to get to if you don’t have a Jeep/4Runner/Tacoma. Definitely worth the drive up the mountain to see these Alpine lakes. Kind of crowded when we went on Labor Day weekend, but that was to be expected. Make sure you hike up to the other two lakes, they are even more beautiful than the main lake.
I will start off by saying the trail up was unique with a lot to do, the ghost town is cool with mini waterfalls if you will. The views looking over the mountains were amazing. BUT please have a 4w drive vehicle to drive up, and this is NOT dispersed camping. Very crowded even while rainy. Alta lakes themselves were not as impressive as I hoped for but there are better lakes near it if you talk to the people who live in Telluride. Still a cool spot to go hang out but if you like to camp without neighbors around then don’t pick here.
We were able to get our popup to these sites but not necessarily recommended to even attempt to bring a trailer (ours is lifted with heavy duty tires) worth the risk because, Wow!! Perfect lake views, snow capped mountain tops, and wildflowers for days. We were sadly not allowed fires but this year we are getting tons of moisture in CO so we will head back up to Alta by summer, hopeful for fires again. Port a John's are rarely serviced, so if that's a deal breaker for you….and Please Leave No Trace!! This area is so beautiful, let's keep it that way.
There are 16 sites, rock fire pits, need a high clearance vehicle to reach the sites. Small trailers can reach half of the sites as long as you have someone directing you! Beautiful views. Telluride ski mountain is just behind this campground and for a long hike you could hike down to mountain village about 5 miles away. We were there for 2 nights and there were always sites available. This is a free campground! Portapots available.
There's not likely to be a more beautiful place than the high alpine of the San Juan Mountains. Alta Lakes boasts a series of small lakes stocked with fish annually - making for great fly fishing, naturally. Dispersed camping means pack it in, pack it out but since you can park at your site, this is never difficult. Get there early to enjoy the pick of the pack then get on the water with SUPs, kayaks, and beyond. Stunning views of the Milky Way, always!
Paths are narrow and as temperatures begin to drop the road gets a little less than desirable to travel. At least this was my experience as I went from a long day of driving to one of the worst camping experiences of my life. A tow truck had to come save me from ice on the narrow road as my vehicle caught black ice and spun into a slide that was scary to say the least.
Upward on the mountain it was cold and while the views at dusk and sundown were beautiful it was a hard sell on alleviating the stress and strain the road had taken on me.
I might return during summer months but never again during spring or fall. Facilities are primitive and dispersed but with any snowfall this limits your optimal spaces.
I stayed at the Alta Lakes dispersed camping in late August 2017. There are I believe three lakes however I only checked out the first lake. It is roughly 11,100 ft and it can get chilly at night.
The sight was beautiful, I lucked out and got one tucked into the woods right on the edge of the water. It was a small sight and the ground was not level there was a slight incline and I kept sliding a toward the front of the tent at night. there are quite a few sites in the area, the road is a bit sketchy, like most areas of the San Juan range clearance is usually necessary and AWD is very helpful.
The water was almost glassy in the early morning and evening, A lot of fish in the water probably a great spot if you flyfish. Lots of birds as well and squirrels. I was camping alone but there were several other people around me I hung my hammock right at the edge of the water and it was still very peaceful. I did not see any large animals. I would camp here again.
This place is amazing. You will want a high clearance vehicle, we took our F350 up. The initial road was a little stressful for us as it is wide enough just for us but we got up and once we hit the Ghost Town, we were in awe. The ghost town comes before the campground and we did attempt to go to the campground but in one spot we couldn't see what was on the other side of our hood of our truck and chose to turn around, if we had been smart, we would have stepped out and seen that the campground was just over that spot we turned around. Regardless, we camped behind the brothel, which is one of the only buildings still fully standing. You can't explore any of the buildings, at least not legally, but you can see them and experience what used to be. It's all dispersed camping so you can camp anywhere really and if you make it to the campground, it has a lot of designated sites too. None of them have picnic tables but they all have fire pits. There are a couple vault toilets at the campground, take your own tp, it was often out. The lake is amazing, people were fishing, although I didn't see anyone pulling out fish. There are a lot of opportunities to hike and experience the history of the location. When we were there there was a lot of wind so we were at the top of the valley and the wind would just rush up and you could hear it coming. Then our tents would suck in and puff out. It was insane. It got pretty chilly at night and rained most of the days. If you want to bike, it really is only mountain biking suitable. We had our kids with a seat on one of the bikes and it was too much for us, we are used to street biking.
Dirt road to high alpine setting, big views and lakes - mountain camping at its finest!
4WD recommended for the drive up - water crossings and some good ruts. Gorgeous lakes, can be heavily used by locals so pretty obvious trails between tent sites. Check out Alta ghost town (abandoned mining town), which used to serve Gold King Mine.
You can hike up over the ridge onto Telluride ski area, and hike down into town of Telluride this way if you're feeling up for a long walk. Great views of Palmyra and some backcountry ski terrain!
If camping isn't your thing, walk up to the Observatory or book a stay there!
Alta Lakes is amazing! First off, make sure you have 4WD if you're going to attempt it. The drive is tough and has some water crossings too. You'll pass an abandoned mining town and continue of the road for a while before you reach the lake. It took us about 30 mins to get up and down the mountain. The lake is beautifully blue with gray snow covered stunning peaks surrounding it. You can camp in a few spots around the lake or make your own off the shore. It's up pretty high so make sure you're ready for a cold night!
if you can't make it to the top or don't feel like driving all the way you can camp off of the road anywhere you find a flat spot!