Turquoise lakes nestled in dramatic glacial cirques, wildflower-filled alpine meadows ringed by craggy peaks and ridges and a pass with see-forever views makes the Blue Lakes trail a top hike on my “to do list” on every trip to southwest Colorado.
The hike, one of the few in the Mount Sneffels Wilderness, culminates at spectacular Blue Lakes Pass (13,000-ft.) located on a steep ridge extending south from Mt. Sneffels (14,150-ft). Along the way the trail visits three scenic lakes cradled in a beautiful glacial basin set amid rugged ridges and peaks over 13,000-ft.
For an easy day Lower Blue Lake, lying in a pretty cirque dominated by Dallas Peak, makes a worthy destination. From here a short, steep trail leads to the two upper Blue Lakes set beneath the western flanks of Mt. Sneffels in wildflower filled meadows ringed by jagged ridges. Beyond the lakes a demanding trail ascends 1,250-ft. in 1.4 miles to the panoramic viewpoint at the pass.
Distance from Trailhead: 6.3 miles (round trip)
Ending/Highest Elevation: 10,940-ft.
Elevation Gain: 1,590-ft.
Blue Lakes, one of the few trails penetrating the Mt. Sneffels Wilderness, starts at the north end of the Blue Lakes trailhead parking lot (see driving directions below). The trail passes through a gate and soon reaches a “Y” intersection. Our path to Blue Lakes branches right and ascends on moderate grades through a forest of Engelmann Spruce and pines along the right (west) of East Fork Dallas Creek. (The trail to the left leads to Blaine Basin.) Occasional openings in the trees provide tantalizing views of surrounding peaks.
After an hour of climbing meadows provide vistas of the rugged peaks lining the lower basin. Soon after passing an avalanche chute on the east side of Wolcott Mountain the grade abates. You'll know when you are less than 1/3 of a mile from the lower lake when you see a waterfall tumble down a rocky cleft on your left (southeast).
Past the waterfall the trail climbs on moderately steep grades to a junction with a short spur trail to the right (south) leading to the Lower Blue Lake. Acclimated hikers will reach this point in about 1 ½ hours (3.2 miles, 1,500-ft. elevation gain).
Pretty Lower Blue Lake (10,940-ft.), is nestled in a scenic bowl beneath a cirque of jagged peaks dominated by Dallas Peak (13,809-ft.) to the southwest. Mount Sneffels (14,156-ft.) rises to the east. Steep scree slopes spill down the cirque's rugged walls to the southern and western shoreline of the lake. Nice campsites, sheltered by trees, are located on the lake’s north shore, with addition sites to the east across the creek.
Distance from Trailhead: 8.2 miles (round trip)
Ending/Highest Elevation: 11,750-ft.
Elevation Gain: 2,400-ft.
To reach the upper lakes return to the junction and rock-hop across the lake’s outlet stream. Follow the trail a short distance and cross to the east side of the East Fork Dallas Creek on a large log. Finding the trail on the other side of the creek can be little confusing due to erosion and use trails leading to campsites.
The way now climbs steeply up the headwall of the lower basin, en route crossing back to the west side of the creek. As you climb trees give way to alpine tundra filled with wildflowers in mid-July. At the top of the cliff the trail reaches a fantastic viewpoint showcasing the lower lake basin.
Beyond the viewpoint the climb moderates, passing to the west and above middle Blue Lake to reach Upper Blue Lake after 0.9 miles and a 700-ft. elevation gain. (Total hiking distance: 4.1 miles / 2,350-ft. of elevation gain.)
The upper lake is set amid meadows dotted with wildflowers. A scenic ridge with steep scree slopes tinted bronze, rust and gold extends from Dallas Peak to Gilpin Peak (13,694-ft.), forming the southern wall of the upper basin. The ridge between Gilpin Peak and Mt Sneffels creates the eastern wall.
While the upper basin is a great destination and the perfect place to relax and take in the scenery, hikers with the time (and good weather) will want to climb to Blue Lakes Pass (13,000-ft), which lies 1,250-ft. above the upper Lake on the ridge extending between Mt. Sneffels and Gilpin Peak.
Distance from Trailhead: 11.0 miles (round trip)
Ending/Highest Elevation: 13,000-ft.
Elevation Gain: 3,650-ft.
To reach the pass follow the well-defined trail around the left (east) side of Upper Blue Lake to a series of long, steep switchbacks. As you ascend fields of wildflowers give way to dirt and talus. Footing is generally good except for a few short, eroded sections.
Take occasional breaks from the climb to admire the wonderful views of the jagged ridge towering above the sapphire blue lakes nestled in the upper basin. The top of the pass is reached in 1.4 miles (total distance: 5.5 miles with 3,650-ft. of elevation gain from the trailhead).
The pass offers splendid views to the north of the peaks and ridges defining the Blue Lakes basin. To the south is Yankee Boy Basin dominated by Gilpin Peak (13,694-ft.), Potosi (13,786-ft.) and Teakettle Mountain (13,819-ft.). In the distance a series of peaks and ridges form the northern wall of Yankee Boy Basin.
On the northeast side of the pass a faint trail indicates the start of a Class 3 route climbing Mt. Sneffel’s southwest ridge. (see: Summit Post Mt. Sneffels for more information on climbing Mt. Sneffels.) This route should only be used by parties with prior climbing experience. Most people climb Mt. Sneffles (14,156-ft.) from a well-defined Class 2 route that begins in Yankee Boy basin.
Once you are done soaking in the scenery retrace your steps to the trailhead. Parties with a pre-positioned second vehicle can continue over the pass and down to a 4WD road in Yankee Boy Basin (1.4 miles).
Note: This is a popular trail that is best hiked on a weekday if you wish to encounter fewer people on the trail.
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This opinionated guide includes all the hikes in the Ouray, Telluride and Silverton sections of the website plus info on local services and nearby attractions.
Driving directions from Ouray: It takes 45-50 minutes to drive the 24 miles from Ouray to the Blue Lakes trailhead. The drive is quite scenic with views dominated by 14,150-ft. Mt. Sneffels and its neighboring peaks and ridgelines, almost all over 13,000-ft.
From the center of Ouray take Highway 550 heading north for just over 10 miles to Highway 62 in Ridgway. Turn left (west) on Highway 62. Drive 4.8 miles and take a left onto County Road 7,marked Dallas Creek (the road use to be marked East Dallas Creek). It is easy to miss the turn while you are admiring the scenery to the south of the highway. In two miles CR-7 bears right where it meets CR-7A. Continue for a total of 9 miles on CR-7 through a beautiful valley to the parking area at the trailhead. Note: CR-7 turns into Forest Road 851.1 at the forest boundary.
Driving Directions from Telluride: From Telluride the trailhead is a 90 minute/ 44 miles drive. Drive west on West Colorado Avenue to Highway 145. Head west on Hwy 145 12.7 miles to where it dead ends at Highway 62 in Placerville. Take a right (turn east) onto Highway 62 and drive 18.6 miles to County Road 7, marked Dallas Creek (the road use to be marked East Dallas Creek). Turn right onto CR-7. In two miles CR-7 bears right where it meets CR-7A. Continue for a total of 9 miles through a beautiful valley to the parking area at the trailhead. Note: CR-7 turns into Forest Road 851.1 at the forest boundary.
Road Conditions: Passenger car accessible. CR-7 is a good, graded gravel road up to National Forest boundary. Beyond this point the road maintenance deteriorates and you will need to dodge potholes.