|Trail Features:||Outstanding Views, Lakes, Wildflowers|
|Trail Location:||Blue Lakes Trailhead (#201)|
|Roundtrip Length:||8.6 Miles|
|Trailhead Elevation:||9350 Feet|
|Total Elevation Gain:||2370 Feet|
|Avg. Elev Gain / Mile:||551 Feet|
|Highest Elevation:||11,720 Feet|
|Trail Difficulty Rating:||13.34 (strenuous)|
|Parking Lot Latitude||38.035759|
|Parking Lot Longitude||-107.806825|
Is it possible to sense that you’re being watched by a mountain lion?
The first time I hiked to Blue Lakes was in 1997, which was also one of the first times I ever went hiking with my future wife. We had known each other for almost a year when we decided to do a hiking trip in the Ouray area. We were roughly 1.5 miles from the Blue Lakes Trailhead, just past the point where the trail enters the Mt. Sneffels Wilderness area, that I had this distinct feeling that we were being watched…presumably by a mountain lion. I didn’t feel threatened, nor that we were being stalked, but just had an eerie feeling. I didn't want to say anything to Kathy for fear of making her unnecessarily nervous, especially on something that could be completely unfounded.
It wasn't until we returned back to the trailhead several hours later that I relayed my story to Kathy. Surprisingly, she also had that same feeling - in that exact same spot. It was the first time, and the only time, that either of us has ever felt like we were possibly being watched by a predator. Maybe it was nothing, or maybe we were passing through the territory of a mountain lion. Who knows?
The Blue Lakes are located in an extremely scenic glacial basin within the 16,566-acre Mt. Sneffels Wilderness area of the Uncompahgre National Forest. The drive to the trailhead is quite spectacular, and offers outstanding panoramic views of Mt. Sneffels and the Dallas Creek drainage area. It’s especially spectacular in the fall when the aspens turn to yellow and gold.
The trail is located off Colorado Highway 62 between Ridgway and Telluride. From the highway, turn onto Dallas Creek Road (FR 851) and drive 14 miles south to the trailhead. Although you won't need a 4WD vehicle, 2WD vehicles will have to take their time in a couple of spots where you'll encounter washboard and ruts along the dirt/gravel road. The trail begins just past the locked gate at the end of the road.
Just beyond the gate you'll pass the Blaine Basin Trail junction, which branches off towards the east. Hikers should continue on the Blue Lakes Trail, which heads in a southwesterly direction while following along the East Fork of Dallas Creek.
From here the trail steadily climbs up the valley between Mt. Sneffels and 13,041-foot Wolcott Mountain. The early portions of the trail wanders in and out of Engelmann spruce forests, while providing expensive views of the Sneffels Range in the open areas.
At roughly 1.5 miles from the trailhead the path crosses a small stream, and then begins heading towards the southeast as it makes its final climb up to Blue Lakes.
Roughly 3.5 miles from the trailhead hikers will arrive at the Lower Blue Lake, which sits at an elevation of 10,980 feet, and is the largest of the three lakes. From the western shore you'll have a commanding view of Mt. Sneffels towering above the lake.
At 14,150 feet, Mt. Sneffels is 27th in height among all 53 fourteeners in Colorado. However, it ranks as the third highest peak in the incredibly beautiful San Juan Mountain range of southwestern Colorado. It was named by Frederic Endlich during the 1874 Hayden Expedition because he thought it looked like Mount Snaefell in Jules Verne's "Journey to the Center of the Earth".
There are several campsites near and around this lake. Many people will use this area as a base camp for their climb to the summit of Mt. Sneffels.
Although a very nice view here, the upper lakes provide far more scenic panoramas.
From the lower lake the trail begins to climb again. Hikers will ascend more than 500 feet in a little over a half-mile to reach the middle lake at 11,500 feet. The Upper Blue Lake is a little more than a quarter-mile away, and sits at an elevation of 11,720 feet. Here you'll have outstanding views of Mt. Sneffels, as well as 13,809-foot Dallas Peak and 13,694-foot Gilpin Peak looking towards the south.
The areas surrounding the three lakes offer a profusion of wildflowers in the summer. Once the winter snow melts hikers can enjoy blue columbine, purple larkspur, lupine, Indian paintbrush, alpine avens, red queen's crown and pink moss campion.
From here the Blue Lakes Trail continues up to Blue Lakes Pass (at roughly 13,000 feet), and then back down into Yankee Boy Basin. If you have the energy I highly recommend continuing for another quarter-mile or so beyond the upper lake to soak in the grand view of all three lakes. The views looking from above are simply outstanding. You may want to note that proceeding much further up towards the pass is extremely steep, and has some very steep drop-offs alongside a fairly narrow trail.
If you're considering making the climb to the summit of Mt. Sneffels you should note that the last couple hundred feet to the top is characterized by loose volcanic rock and eroded sections of trail, making this more of a mountaineering route than a hike. I highly recommend reading Gary Roach's Colorado Fourteeners guide before attempting this route.
The hike to Blue Lakes is one of my all-time favorite hikes. It’s as good as some of the best hikes in some of the best national parks around the country.