A little gem known as Pearl Lake glimmers at the foot of Farwell Mountain, a half hour north of Steamboat Springs. The wake-free lake is a cozy Colorado State Park that claims Gold Medal fishing and front-row camp sites along the shoreline.
Pearl Lake is a prime base camp for day hiking in the Routt National Forest and Mount Zirkel Wilderness Area, with dozens of epic trailheads in a 20-minute range. One jaunt not to miss (departing either from Hahn’s Peak Village or Columbine) is the hike to Hahn’s Peak’s 10,839-foot summit, a perfect cone of a mountain where an historic 1912 fire lookout tower is currently undergoing restoration. Another memorable full day is certain on the Zirkel Circle, an 11-mile loop in the Wilderness Area that includes the impossibly blue glacier melt that is Gilpin and Gold Creek lakes.
With just 36 campsites (no hook-ups) at this 300-acre lake, it’s best to reserve early. Each site has a picnic table and fire ring. Pearl Lake also has two 20-foot yurts available for rent year-round (i.e., come back with your cross-country skis for sweet solitude when the snow flies).
As you putter around on Pearl Lake area adventures, limited provisions and the obligatory ice cream cone can be found at the historic Clark Store, a mash-up market, deli, post office, liquor store and library book drop. The deli’s homemade chipotle hummus is must-have sustenance for your backpack, and as the enormous scoop of ice cream drips down your arm, the clerk cheerily reassures you, “Eat anything above 7,000 feet and there are no calories.” Just down the road, Murphy’s Tavern is the spot to toss back a cold post-hike beer and commune with the North Routt locals.
Pearl Lake is tucked into its own little valley, just a couple miles away from Steamboat Lake. At this sister lake, a visitor center offers nature interpretation and various services, and the vibe can feel a little less tranquil; still, it’s a nice jaunt from Pearl Lake for the swim beach, lakeside trails and fast-paced boating, including waterskiing. Snowcapped views from Hahn’s Peak to Sand Mountain are especially beautiful from Steamboat Lake.
But one of the best reasons to stay put at Pearl Lake is the ban on shaking up the lake’s glassy surface. Fishermen lazily dot the shore, paddle around in canoes and float their tubes, casting only with flies and lures. Meanwhile, flat water is an ideal place to stand-up paddleboard, better known as SUP. The sport has become a nationwide rage, from the waves of the Pacific to the Yampa River through Steamboat Springs. Pearl Lake’s calm water is the perfect place to get hooked.
Rent a SUP at Backdoor Sports in Steamboat before you head up to Pearl Lake. They’ll make sure you’re paddling genuine Hala Gear, the super-cool inflatable SUPs that were born and raised in Steamboat. Plus, SUPs are fun for fishermen too, kind of like a sit-on-top kayak – and more than a few yogis have been known to strike a blissful pose atop a SUP while floating serenely across the lake.