30 prettiest lakes in wildlands

There's something about serene, pristine waters that soothes us deeply. And there's no better place to find such waters as in our beloved wildlands. Gorgeous landscapes become even more memorable when mirrored by crystal lakes.

Lakes in designated wilderness areas are also fully protected from threats like logging and mining because a wilderness designation is the highest form of land protection. So keeping our wild lands protected ensures that some of our most wondrous lakes remain clean and beautiful.

Check out our list of inspiring lake views below. If you don't plan to visit them, you can still witness the wonderful waters captured in the stunning photos below.

1. Robin Lakes, Alpine Lakes Wilderness, Washington

Of the more than 700 lakes and ponds in this revered wilderness area in the North Cascades, Robin Lakes is one of the most popular backpacking destinations. In late 2014, Congress passed legislation to protect an additional 22,000 acres of land adjoining the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, which includes cherished rivers as well.

Photo credit: flickr, Jeff Pang


2. Lake Michigan at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, Michigan

This body of water and its home state derive their names from an Ojibwa word meaning "great water." The lakeshore at Sleeping Bear Dunes is stunningly turquoise in color. Hikers, hunters, anglers and boaters come to this area for its varied landscapes, but the shorelines' bluffs are the main attraction, rising more than 400 feet in some locations. Known for gorgeous sunsets over these towering dunes, Sleeping Bear Dunes was voted as America’s most beautiful place on Good Morning America. In 2014, Congress passed legislation to protect portions of Sleeping Bear Dunes as wilderness. At that time, it was the first wilderness area designated in about five years.

Photo credit: flickr, rkramer62


3. Alger Lakes, Ansel Adams Wilderness, California

Colorful Alger beckons to the hiker descending the rugged trail from Koip Peak Pass, a door from Yosemite National Park into in Ansel Adams Wilderness. Alger's cool, deep waters are nestled in green meadows amidst the mountainous terrain of the Sierra Nevada. 

Photo credit: flickr, SteveD.


4. Saddlebag Lake, Hoover Wilderness, California

Saddlebag Lake is the largest and easiest to access of those in the popular Twenty Lakes Basin at the northeastern border of Yosemite National Park. Its expansive blue surface is an appetizer for the many more one-of-a-kind waterbodies deeper in the backcountry. With a campground and resort, this area is a paradise for boaters, anglers and wildlife lovers. 

Photo credit: flickr, Scrubhiker (USCdyer)


5. Big Pine Lakes, John Muir Wilderness, California

Inside the boundary of the second-most visited wilderness area in the U.S., located along the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail, are a series of lakes in the Big Pine Canyon known by number. First Lake lies beneath slopes of Temple Crag and Mount Alice with the milky, turquoise waters characteristic of glaciers. Second Lake, the largest and one of the prettiest, is surrounded by granite cliffs and boulders. Third Lake is less colorful and more shallow, Fourth Lake is surrounded by forests (pictured below), and Fifth Lake is enclosed by rocky slopes and filled with deep, clear, blue water.

Photo credit: flickr, MiguelVieira


6. Pose Lake, Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, Minnesota

With over a thousand lakes, many forming chains for linear or circular routes, Boundary Waters is renowned as a destination for both canoeing and fishing. Pose Lake is small but accessible only by hiking trails that wind through old growth forests strewn with berry bushes. Lake Superior lies to the east of this wilderness area, but the most popular entry points for boats are at its smaller lakes like Lake One, Trout Lake, Mudro Lake, Moose Lake, Snowbank Lake, Saganaga Lake, Seagull Lake and Sawbill Lake.

Photo credit: wikimedia


7. Ramon Lake, Pasayten Wilderness, California

Ramon Lake lies half a mile from the Canadian border inside the wild Pasayten. It offers views of the cliffs of Sheep Mountain, named for the domestic sheep which roamed this area before it was protected. Pasayten's trails, including the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail run deep into the mountains at the crest of Cascades, offering access to about 160 bodies of water.

Photo credit: flickr, araddon


8. Holland Lake, Scapegoat Wilderness, Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex, Montana

The Scapegoat Wilderness is part of the Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex, 1.5 million acres of pristine wilderness. Scapegoat contains 14 lakes, the headwaters of the Blackfoot River and legendary backpacking adventures. On the western edge of "the Bob", Swan Valley hosts Holland Lake, a popular place to begin or end such summer camping trips. The inaccessible but gigantic Holland Peak lies just north. Some visitors stay at the lodge here, fish in its waters or take an easy hike to nearby Holland Falls.

Photo credit: flickr, Forest Service - Northern Region


9.  Lake Aloha, Desolation Wilderness, California

West of Nevada's Lake Tahoe in the Sierra Nevada mountains is a valley smoothed by glacial activity called Desolation. Despite 130 lakes to choose from, some reaching 900 acres in size, Lake Aloha is the centerpiece of this wilderness area. Visitors from the nearby metropolis pass a handful of other lakes on the trail to these granite-lined shallow waters, an adventure that is considered to be an ultimate day hike.

Photo credit: flickr, blackwing_de


10. Snow Lake, Sky Lakes Wilderness, Oregon

South of Crater Lake National Park, stretching along the peaks of the Cascade Mountains is a wilderness area sprinkled with pretty lakes. Three major lake basins contain over 200 water bodies, from small ponds to lakes as large as Fourmile, which exceeds 900 acres. Several, notably Alta and Natasha, were once determined to be the most chemically pure worldwide. Like most in this wilderness, Snow Lake is lined with tall trees that reach to the edge of the lakeshore, making for reflections of green on its clear surface.

Photo credit: flickr, ex_magician


11. Garnet Lake, Ansel Adams Wilderness, California

Named for locally-abundant small garnet crystals, this big, gorgeous lake offers absolutely spectacular views of Banner Peak and Mount Ritter. While not as famous as the neighboring Thousand Island Lake, it is just as pretty and remains one of the most photogenic in the Sierra Nevada. Some hikers consider it the most beautiful place on the John Muir Trail.

Photo credit: flickr, Mat Honan


12. Rae Lakes, Kings Canyon National Park, California

Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks contain over 3,000 lakes and ponds filled with water from the winter snowpack from the Sierra Nevada, which you may catch a reflection of in its cool waters. Along with the rivers and streams, these waters are a drinking source for those living in California’s Central Valley. Rae Lakes is Betty White's "soul place" - and because The Wilderness Society worked to protect it, she has been a member of our organization for more than 30 years. The hiking trail around Rae Lakes is arguably one of the most popular in the area, attracting those trekking the John Muir trail as well.

Photo credit: flickr, Jonohey.


13. St. Mary's Lake, Glacier National Park, Montana

Those arriving to the land of big lakes known as Glacier National Park will find this expansive waterbody in the valley at its eastern doorstep. Spanning almost ten miles across, its surface is sculpted by passing winds. Visitors catch some of Glacier's most amazing views as they drive around St. Mary Lake, or some take a tour on it by boat to be guided into the depths of this stunning landscape.

Photo credit: flickr, eleephotography.


14. Mirror Lake, Yosemite National Park and John Muir Wilderness, California

Like most lakes in Yosemite, Mirror Lake is only accessible via hiking trails. But its famous reflections of Half Dome and surrounding cliffs, and likely wildlife sightings,  are well worth the two-mile trek. Some claim this lake has been shrinking in recent years and may actually be more accurately referred to as pond-size, but it usually grows in size when the rains come in spring and early summer.

Photo credit: flickr, Images by John 'K'.


15. Fontana Lake, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina and Tennessee

While this isn't a natural lake, Fontana's 240-mile shoreline is surrounded by beautiful mountain scenery, adding to its reflective beauty. Hikers on the nearby Appalachian Trail may find this water body a particularly welcome sight. The lake offers visitors fishing and boating as well as access to remote, historic places in this classic park. 

Photo credit: flickr, aaronmorganphotography


16. Jenny Lake, Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming 

Grand Teton's Snake River may offer world-class fishing but its lakes are much more accessible. Formed by glaciers about 12,000 years ago, Jenny Lake is a focal point in the park, with boat rides and hiking trails that lead climbers to its tallest peaks. Its popularity makes it more congested of course, but its views are hard to beat - including of resident moose!

Photo credit: flickr, eleephotography


17. Lake Crescent, Olympic National Park, Washington

Formed by glaciers and landslides about 7,000 years ago, this lake's deep, pristine waters are quintessentially wild. Visitors may catch a Crescenti trout, hike up a mountain, picnic at the edge of a creek-filled forest or take a sailboat for a spin on its wind-swept waves.

Photo credit: flickr, laviddichterman


18. Helen Lake, Lassen Volcanic National Park, California

Helen Lake is formed by a crater at the base of Mount Lassen in this National Park. Its cool, calm waters contrast with its neighboring volcanic landscape, which hosts geothermal hot springs as well. No vessels are allowed on this lake, which means it offers visitors true peace and quiet. 

Photo credit: flickr, Eric Leslie


19. Mills Lake, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

Mills Lake is where visitors can witness one of this high-elevation park's best views of Longs Peak and the Keyboard of the Winds. The trail leading there takes hikers by a 30-foot waterfall before reaching this waterbody at an elevation of almost 10,000 feet. It is named after Enos Mills, who spent years lobbying for the protection of this land before it was named a park in 1915.

Photo credit: flickr, Steven Bratman


20. Crater Lake, Crater Lake National Park, Oregon

This photograph shows a landmark known as "phantom ship" in the legendary Crater Lake - a lake so lovely that an entire park has been named for it. It's deep, pure blue water encloses a few other islands and it is surrounded by dramatic cliffs thousands of feet high. If you want to see a view of Wizard Island, Llao Rock and perhaps even Mount Thielsen from its Sinnott Memorial Overlook at 7,100 feet, check out the park's webcam. Crater Lake was also one of the many gorgeous scenes from the movie Wild, which details one woman's journey along the Pacific Crest Trail.

Photo credit: flickr, MA1216


21. Yellowstone Lake, Yellowstone National Park, Idaho, Montana and Wyoming

Yellowstone has the largest lake on the continent at high elevation (7,733 feet), which is about 20 by 14 miles wide. Frozen for almost half of the year, Yellowstone Lake is also remarkably deep - at least 390 feet in some parts. The lake has an underwater landscape much like the one surrounding its edges, complete with geysers, hot springs and fumaroles. Lake temperatures in some areas get up to 252° F, producing conditions similar to those near the mid-Pacific's hydrothermal vents. 

Photo credit: flickr, amalakar


22. Wonder Lake, Denali National Park, Alaska

This waterbody has the closest campground to Mount McKinley, otherwise known as Denali. Though it's nearly 26 miles away from the lake, the highest mountain on the continent can be viewed towering in a reflection on its surface. The area is fittingly very wet, which means plenty of mosquitoes but also many waterfowl, beavers and sometimes bears call this place home. Imagine spying a reflection upon its smooth surface of the aurora borealis' shimmering colors at night as well!


Photo credit: flickr, Kevin and Kelli Redington


23. Rainy Lake, Voyageurs National Park, Minnesota

Minnesota is known as "The Land of 10,000 Lakes" and Voyageurs is the state's only national park. Rainy Lake is a world-class fishing destination, so large that there's about 1,600 islands inside it. Visitors can experience the life of a professional voyageur via boat or canoe tour, spying a historic commercial fishing camp, old gold mines and a plethora of wildlife as they cruise its expansive depths.

Photo credit: flickr, jck_photos


24. Eagle Lake, Acadia National Park, Maine

Eagle Lake is the largest fresh water lake in this park and is surrounded by lush forested mountains. Sunsets at Cadillac Mountain, which towers above, are reflected off the lake's serene surface, splashing even more color onto the scene. Visitors can walk or bike around its 6.1 mile edge, or explore its center via kayak or canoe.


Photo credit: flickr, jeffgunn


25. Lake Ross, North Cascades National Park, Washington

Although it is technically a reservoir, Lake Ross is a popular boating destination in North Cascades, even hosting visitors at its floating resort. Glacier and snowmelt from the surrounding mountains fill its basin with cool, trout-filled waters. The lake borders a few incredible wild places, including North Cascades National Park, Pasayten Wilderness and Ross Lake National Recreation Area.

Photo credit: flickr, javi.velazquez


26. Lake Ellen Wilson, Glacier National Park, Montana

A series of waterfalls connect Lake Ellen Wilson with neighboring Lincoln Lake. The headwaters for the continent are located in this mountainous park, where pristine quality and chilly temperatures make the water appear remarkably clear. Hiking, fishing and camping make this particular spot one of the most popular out of the 131 waterbodies in Glacier National Park. 

Photo credit: Neil Shader


27. Lake of the Angels, Olympic National Park, Washington

Nestled in an open basin on snowy Mount Skokomish, Lake of the Angels is truly heavenly. Waterfalls cascade down smooth rock faces while marmots and mountain goats roam nearby. It requires quite a climb to reach it in person, offering a delightful reward for true adventurers.
Photo credit: flickr, nick.mealey

28. Loch Lake, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

A climb from Mills Lake will take you to "The Loch", aptly named with the Gaelic word for lake. Breathtaking views of the park's enormous peaks and Glacier Gorge make this a popular destination, especially for snowshoers in winter who will encounter a world of ice and snow at an elevation of 10,000 feet. Interestingly, this lake is located within one of the most studied watersheds in the world. 
Photo credit: flickr, Steven Bratman

29. Lake McDonald, Glacier National Park, Montana

The largest and deepest lake in a park full of them, McDonald stretches parallel to Glacier's Going-to-the-Sun Road, offering classic scenic views for those driving by. The massive mountains above it remind viewers of the awesome power of the glaciers that carved out these cool waters thousands of years ago. Remarkably, it is not uncommon for viewers to be able to see with clarity to depths of 30 feet below the surface of the water.
Photo credit: flickr, jonathanw100

30. Bowman Lake, Glacier National Park, Montana

Although it isn't nearly as accessible as McDonald, Lake Bowman has something special. Extending well into the mountains, the lake offers visitors a view of Glacier's towering peaks seemingly rising straight out of the crystal clear water. Because it is so remote, it also offers near its shores a more private camping destination, which has become a local favorite. 
Photo credit: flickr, diana_robinson
See more: