The 15 Highest Elevation Lakes in the United States

Written by Taiwo Victor
Updated: April 1, 2022
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Reaching the United States’ highest-elevation lake is a mission few take on. The picturesque solitude found along its shoreline is worth the risk and physical effort it takes to get there. There are lakes at all elevations in the United States, including some that are thousands of feet above sea level. The title of America’s highest lake is up for debate. It all boils down to a disagreement over the precise meaning of “lake” and whether a United States Geological Survey (USGS) designation is required to provide legitimacy to a lake.

Whatever definition you use, the United States has some wonderful elevated lakes in some of the most beautiful parts of the country. This article will look at the 15 highest elevation lakes in the United States and some of their fascinating facts.

The 15 Highest Elevation Lakes in the United States

15. Lake Tahoe, California/Nevada

Lake Tahoe
Lying at an elevation of 6,225 feet, Lake Tahoe is a prominent tourist attraction.

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Lake Tahoe is a vast freshwater lake in the United States’ Sierra Nevada. It straddles the state line between California and Nevada, at 6,225 feet (1,897 meters). The lake was formed as part of the Lake Tahoe Basin about two million years ago, and its current extent molded throughout the ice ages. It is known for its crystal clear water, panoramic views of the surrounding mountains on all sides, and a maximum depth that ranks as one of the deepest throughout the country and in North America. In both Nevada and California, Lake Tahoe is a prominent tourist attraction. It is home to winter sports, summer outdoor activities, and year-round splendor. 

14. Crater Lake, Oregon

Crater Lake form the top of Watchman's Peak
Known for its water clarity, Crater Lake is the deepest in the country.

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Crater Lake is a crater lake in the western United States, located in south-central Oregon. It is the main feature of Crater Lake National Park, known for its stunning blue color and water clarity because no rivers flow into or out of the lake. With a caldera rim ranging in elevation from 7,000 to 8,000 feet (2,100 to 2,400 meters), Crater Lake ranks 14th among the highest elevation lakes in the United States. It compensates for evaporation through rain and snowfall, replacing the complete volume of water every 250 years.

13. Yellowstone Lake, North America 

Being the largest body of freshwater in North America, Yellowstone Lake stands at an elevation of 7,730 feet.

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Yellowstone Lake is a large natural lake in Yellowstone National Park in northwestern Wyoming, United States. It is the largest body of water in North America and comes in at number 13 at a high elevation of 7,730 feet (2,356 meters). The geology beneath Yellowstone Lake reflects lava flow shaping within the caldera and other activities shaping beyond the caldera in the southern half of the lake. It is swum by cutthroat (and non-native lake) trout, fished by white pelicans and bald eagles, and prowled at its edges by grizzlies.

12. Tenaya Lake, California

Lake Tenaya has an elevation of 8,150 feet.

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Tenaya Lake is an alpine lake located between Yosemite Valley and Tuolumne Meadows in Yosemite National Park. The surface of Tenaya Lake has an elevation of 8,150 feet (2,484 m). Glacial action carved out the lake basin, leaving a backdrop of light granite rocks, whose beauty was known to the Native Americans. It’s also an excellent place to fish because it is known for producing various forms of trout, such as brook trout, rainbow trout, and brown trout.

11. Sawtooth Lake, Idaho

Located in Idaho, Sawtooth Lake is 8,500 feet above sea level.

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Sawtooth Lake, one of Idaho’s most well-known backcountry destinations, is located roughly 8,500 feet above sea level in the magnificent Sawtooth Range. It’s in the shadow of 10,190-foot Mount Regan and often remains frozen into early summer, and the journey up also provides views of Alpine Lake, which is a little lower but equally stunning. Abundant wildlife thrives in the lush, grassy meadows of Sawtooth Wilderness, and many species of fish live in the thousands of streams that feed the headwaters of four major rivers.

10. Thousand Island Lake, California/Nevada

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Thousand Island Lake, named for its abundance of rocky islets, is a massively proportioned glacial tarn framed by Banner Peak’s massive tooth. The High Trail starts at 8,340 feet and ascends to 9,725 feet as it crosses the northeast side of a canyon containing the Middle Fork of the San Joaquin River. The trail bounces down to 9,415 feet before ascending to Thousand Island Lake at 9,840 feet.

9. Dream Lake, Colorado

Located in Colorado, Dream Lake has an elevation of 9,905 feet.

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Dream Lake is a high alpine lake in Rocky Mountain National Park, located east of the continental divide in northern Colorado. The lake has an elevation of 9,905 feet at the base of Hallett’s Peak, which is accessible via the famed Bear Lake trailhead. Dream Lake is a vision right out of a fairy tale in the early morning hours. It has clear blue-green waters to swim in, gnarled pines to sit against, and abundant wildflower meadows to “ooh” and “ahh” over.

8. Saddlebag Lake, California

Lying at 10,141 feet above sea level, Saddlebag Lake provides an excellent fishing experience.

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Saddlebag Lake is a high mountain lake in Mono County, California, lying at 10,141 ft (3.091 meters) above sea level. The sparse landscape may not offer much, yet some of the best fishing and hiking in the Eastern Sierra surround the lake. While the lake itself provides excellent fishing and trekking experiences, the waters that flow to and from the lake are world-class. It is due to the high elevation, which makes the season there shorter than elsewhere.

7. Lakes of the Clouds, Colorado

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The Lake of the Clouds, located near Westcliffe, Colorado, is a spectacular backcountry site within the Sangre de Cristo Wilderness Area. The primary body of water between two other alpine lakes along Swift Creek is the Lake of the Clouds, at over 11,500 feet. The three lakes (and the surrounding streams) are known for the best trout fishing. Plus, because the water is so clear, you’ll almost certainly be able to see your fish before you cast. The waters of the alpine lake are renowned for being extremely cold in any season.

6. Summit Lake, Colorado

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Summit Lake is a tarn that sits at 12,836 feet (3,912 meters) altitude in a glacial cirque on the north face of Mount Evans and the east face of Mount Spalding. The lake has good fishing opportunities, and the recent addition of jetties allows bank anglers to access deeper water. Largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, yellow perch, brown bullhead, pumpkinseed sunfish, coastal cutthroat, and northern pike are naturally reproducing in this relatively deep lake but maintained for rainbow trout and kokanee.

5. Frozen Lake, Colorado

Located on the south slope of Mount Bierstadt, Frozen Lake sits 12,950 feet above sea level.

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Frozen Lake is on the south slope of Mount Bierstadt in the Front Range of the Rockies, at 12,950 feet above sea level. Although the edge of Frozen Lake is rocky and scrambling can be laborious, there are numerous sheltered nooks and high perches worth visiting. If you enjoy birding and don’t mind hiking long distances, there are plenty of white-tailed ptarmigan here.

4. North Halfmoon Lake, Colorado

We’re returning to Colorado to visit the country’s fourth-highest lake, only a few inches lower than Lake Waiau. The North Halfmoon Lakes are a series of lakes, and the highest is 13,020 feet above sea level. The lake itself is a beautiful shade of blue. Lush green grass encircles it, contrasting beautifully with the lake and the neighboring mountains. The most popular species caught here are brook trout and greenback cutthroat trout.

3. Lake Waiau, Hawaii

Lake Waiau is the third-highest elevation lake in the United States.

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At number three is Lake Waiau in Hawaii, the only glacial lake in the Mid-Pacific. This lake is near the top of Mauna Kea, a dormant volcano that serves as the Big Island’s highest point at 13,020 feet above sea level. According to Hawaiian folklore, this bottomless lake was where spirits passed between the spirit realm and the earthly plane. In Hawaiian, the name means “swirling water,” despite the water being typically calm. In the winter, the water freezes, although aquatic insects like midges and beetles reproduce in it. The most popular species caught here is Greater Amberjack.

2. Winchell Lakes, Colorado

Lake trout, northern pike, and smallmouth bass thrive in Winchell Lakes.

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The uppermost of the three Winchell Lakes, located on the east slope of Blanca Peak in southern Colorado’s Sangre de Cristo mountain range, is the country’s second-highest lake. This 2.3-acre lake, which sits at 13,100 feet above sea level, is not to be mistaken with Winchell Lake, a much larger—and lower—body of water in Cook County, Minnesota. Lake trout, northern pike, and smallmouth bass are among the fish that thrive here. 

1. Pacific Tarn, Colorado

The highest officially named lake in America is the Pacific Tarn which sits at an elevation of 13,420 feet.

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Pacific Tarn, a little lake on the eastern crest of Pacific Peak in Colorado’s Tenmile Range, is the highest officially named lake in America. It sits at an elevation of 13,420 feet above sea level. Carl Drews, a Colorado citizen who organized an expedition to the lake in 2002 to test its size, depth, and water chemistry, pushed efforts to name the lake. If you’re a fan of extreme swimming, Pacific Tarn will give you serious bragging rights. The most popular species caught here is cutthroat trout.

Yellowstone National Park

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About the Author

For six years, I have worked as a professional writer and editor for books, blogs, and websites, with a particular focus on animals and finance. When I'm not working, I enjoy playing video games with friends.

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