The Pacific Tarn in Breckenridge, CO, is a magnificent lake at the top of the Colorado Rockies. Though a Pacific Tarn hike is for experienced backpackers, if you fit in that category and are looking for a new challenging expedition, the McCullough Gulch Trail will bring you to magnificent views by one of the most famous lakes in the United States.
1. Highest Lake in the US
At 13,420 feet or 4,090 meters in elevation, Pacific Tarn is officially the highest lake in the United States whose name is recognized by the United States Board on Geographic Names. The stunning natural feature sits on top of the eastern ridge of Pacific Peak in the Tenmile Range of the Colorado Rocky Mountains. The second highest lake is Lake Waiau in Hawaii at 13,020 feet near the summit of Mauna Kea.
2. The lake remained unnamed until 2004
This famed lake was still unnamed until January, 8, 2004. At this point, the United States Board of Geographic Names officially approved the title Pacific Tarn. The person to spearhead this lake naming effort was Carl Drews, a resident of Boulder, CO, who organized an expedition to the lake in 2002. During this expedition, he measured the size, depth, and water chemistry.
3. Hiking there, you will pass several waterfalls
Backpacking in Colorado is one of many enjoyable outdoor activities. With astounding views from high elevations, the Rocky Mountains provide ample hiking, biking, camping, and snow sport entertainment. At its high altitude, the Pacific Tarn is a great hiking destination. The 7-mile McCullough Gulch Trail to Pacific Tarn is a favorite for fairly advanced backpackers, passing multiple waterfalls en route to the breathtaking lake basin with off-trail access to Pacific Tarn. It is only a 2.7-mile round trip to the first lower lake dubbed the Upper Blue Reservoir, and over double that to visit Pacific Tarn. You will cross a creek on a wooden bridge, climb steeply, follow a dirt mining road, traverse past pines and aspen, and navigate a boulder field, among other escapades.
4. You can swim in the highest lake in the US (at your own risk)
If you’re going to hike up to Pacific Tarn, you might as well dive in! It’s a freeing experience to tread the waters at such a high altitude. Just make sure you’re prepared for a shock and that you’re not attempting the feat in the winter months. The water is pretty cold at any given time of the year, and this feat should probably only be attempted in the warm parts of summer. If you’re feeling adventurous but not that adventurous, try dipping your feet in to say you’ve been in the highest lake in the US!
5. Just below, you can go fishing
On your way to Pacific Tarn, you will pass the Upper Blue Reservoir, a lake available for fishing with a valid Colorado fishing license. This is a great stopping point to cast your line and take a lunch break before enduring on the most strenuous stretch of the trail. You can even strike up a campfire (as long as you are 100 feet away from the lake and .25 miles away from any treeline) and cook your freshly caught meal!
Stay in the Mountains
After your thrilling hiking expedition to Pacific Tarn, come back at relax at a Book Breck mountain rental. You can get one nearby or closer to town depending on if you want to stay in the mountains or retreat to some civilization and nightlife. Back at your vacation rental, soak your sore muscles in a hot tub or Jacuzzi and enjoy the comforts of home away from home!