We report a comprehensive study on the optical properties of GaN- and AlGaN-based lasing structures at high-levels of optical excitation (carrier densities of 1017−1020 cm−3) and identify critical issues necessary for the development of near- and deep-UV light emitting devices. We successfully achieved room temperature stimulated emission (SE) with emission wavelengths ranging from 351 nm to 373 nm in a variety of samples. Through an analysis of the temperature-dependent lasing characteristics, combined with absorption and time-resolved photoluminescence measurements, we estimated the carrier density required to achieve the SE threshold in GaN epilayers. We found that in AlGaN epilayers, the onset of SE (∼1019 cm−3) occurs at carrier densities one order of magnitude higher than in thick GaN epilayers, indicating that an electron-hole plasma is the dominant gain mechanism over the entire temperature range studied (10 K to 300 K). A remarkably low lasing threshold was observed in GaN/AlGaN heterostructures over the temperature range of 10 K to 300 K. Our experimental results indicate that GaN/AlGaN heterostructures could be used to efficiently generate laser emission with wavelengths shorter than 373 nm. The implications of this study on the development of UV laser diodes is discussed.