Blue Lakes

Round Trip Distances:
Lower Blue Lake: 7 miles
Upper Blue Lake: 9 miles
Blue Lakes Pass: 11.4 miles
Difficulty: Strenuous
Lower Blue Lake: 9345 - 10,940 feet
Upper Blue Lake: 9345 - 11,750 feet
Blue Lakes Pass: 9345 - 13,008 feet
Cellphone: 0 bars
Time: 7 hrs. (Upper Blue Lake)
Trailhead: Blue Lakes
Fee: none
Attractions: Forest/alpine hike, scenic views

The Blue Lakes trail is located in the Mount Sneffels Wilderness Area of the Mountain Division of the Uncompahgre National Forest between Ridgway and Telluride, Colorado. The trail ascends a valley along the East Fork of Dallas Creek where it leads to the three pristine mountain lakes, Lower Blue Lake, Middle Blue Lake and Upper Blue Lake. The trail continues past Upper Blue Lake to the 13,000 foot Blue Lake Pass where it then drops into the Yankee Boy Basin near the 14,157 foot Mt. Sneffels peak. Primitive camping is available near the trailhead as well as other places along the trail. Lower Blue Lake is a popular destination for backpackers.

To get to the trailhead from Ridgway drive about 4.8 miles west on Highway 62. Turn left at the Dallas Creek sign. Follow Ouray County Road 7 for about 8.5 miles to the trailhead staying to the right near the 2 mile point where Country Road 7A splits off on the left. During dry weather the road is normally passable by 2-wheel drive vehicles without any problem.

Follow the trail that departs near the far southern end of the parking area. Stay to the right at the first fork where the Dallas and Blaine Basin trails branch off along the east fork and Blue Lakes is on the right.

The trail begins climbing immediately as it leaves the trailhead. For most of the distance between the parking area and Lower Blue Lake the trail is secluded by thick stands of aspen, pine and spruce trees. Occassionaly the trail will pass through an open area where glimpses of the surrounding peaks can be seen.

The steeper sections of the trail make use of numerous switchbacks that make the overall elevation gain a bit easier.

At the 1.6 mile point the trail crosses into the Mount Sneffels Wilderness Area. From here hikers and backpackers should follow the wilderness guidelines which include 1. No camping (or pooping) within 100 feet of streams, lakes and trails. 2. Camp in a spot that is not visible from the trail. 3. No campfires. (small propane stoves okay) 4. Bury the brown but carry out your toilet paper.

There are many cascading waterfalls along the trail but only a few of them are easy to see. At least one creek has to be waded across between the trailhead and Lower Blue Lake. Several other areas may be wet or marshy depending on how late in the summer it is and current weather conditions.

A short spur leads to the Lower Blue Lake trail at the 3.5 mile point. It is only about a hundred yards to the lake so if you are heading past this point it will add less than a quarter mile to your round trip distance to visit the lake.

Lower Blue Lake sits in a beautiful cirque below Dallas Peak. This photo was taken in mid July and as you can see there are still pockets of snow.

Some of the best views of Lower Blue Lake come as you continue hiking up the trail and look back at it from above.

From Lower Blue Lake the trail crosses a log bridge and begins a fairly steep climb up to the other lakes. The creek flowing out of the upper lakes must be waded across enroute. Middle Blue Lake sits in a grassy bowl surrounded by jagged rocks like a reflecting pool that is suspended above the lower valley. As the water spills out of its mouth it makes a sudden plunge down the mountain where it becomes East Dallas Creek. As the water flows from the tranquil lake it is transformed in an instant into a white torrent. From the trail you can spy some pretty good sized fish swimming near the surface.

The waters of Upper Blue Lake fill a glacial bowl just above the middle lake in an alpine setting that is well above timberline. Due to frequent afternoon thunderstorms backpackers are well advised not to camp above timberline where there is no protection from lightning. Far too many people get killed by lightning every year above timberline in the state of Colorado.

The trail continues past Upper Blue Lake to Blue Lake Pass. As the trail nears the pass it becomes pretty rotten and hard to follow in places. Just like Lower Blue Lake the view makes it worth continuing past Upper Blue Lake for at least another half mile or so. For  this post we hiked above the 12,500 foot point and turned around at the first sound of thunder. Before getting down to Upper Blue Lake the higher peaks were shrouded in clouds and it had begun to sprinkle.

Scores of marmots inhabit the area around Upper Blue Lake. By standing perfectly still a few inquisitive ones would slowly approach. This one got within about 3 feet when I decided to move before it began crawling up my leg.

Late June through early October are good times to visit the Blue Lakes. Be sure to come prepared for all types of weather. Afternoon thunderstorms are very common and temperatures can dip below freezing even in July. Due to the popularity of the trail we chose a weekday to hike it for this post. If you come on a weekend or holiday you may want to leave early and arrive at the trailhead just before sunup. We give the Blue Lakes trail the highest rating that we reserve for special places which we feel are worth visiting no matter where it is you are coming from. Be sure to make all the necessary preparations for a strenuous hike so that you can enjoy it as much as possible. If you would like to see it for yourself then all you have to do is 'Take a hike'.