It took just one picture of the Blue Lakes Basin posted on Facebook for me to say, “I want to go there.” The Blue Lakes Basin between Ouray, Ridgway and Telluride is a hike for people who like lakes in amazing cirques and are willing to hike a steep trail to get there.
The hike starts about 13.7 miles from Ridgway (directions below). Find a parking spot and head out on the main trail marked with a sign that says “Blue Lakes Trail.” Take just a few steps and the trail quickly splits. Take the Blue Lakes Trail No. 201 to the right.
The trail follows a stream for a short distance. Let the sound of the water crashing over the rocks fill your ears, because soon all you’re going to hear is the sound of your own huffing and puffing.
The trail starts as a rolling dirt path in the forest with ups and downs. But not long after that, you’ll be climbing a steep section of switchbacks. In the first 1.5 miles to the Mount Sneffels Wilderness sign, you’ll gain 900 feet. While that doesn’t sound like much, the steep sections along this trail are quite steep.
Again, the trail goes up and down as it continues toward the Blue Lakes. About 0.85 miles from the wilderness sign, the trees finally open up and you’ll get a nice view of the surrounding peaks. This is a great spot to take a break and take some photos. It’s another half mile to a nice cascade in the valley below the trail. From the cascade, it’s about a quarter mile and just 100 feet of elevation gain to Lower Blue Lake.
Just before Lower Blue Lake is a trail split. It’s a left turn for the upper lakes and Blue Lakes Pass, but first let’s go straight, over the Lower Blue Lake. It’s just a short 0.1 mile walk to the shoreline of the lake.
Lower Blue Lake sits in an amazing cirque surrounded by five peaks that soar 2,000 feet above the lake, to elevations above 13,000 feet. From the shore, the lake looks green-ish, but your opinion will change as you hike above the lake. For now, consider walking around the right side of the lake to the waterfall that feeds the lake. After exploring, it’s time for the big climb.
From Lower Blue Lake to Upper Blue Lake, the trail is about 1 mile with 740 feet of elevation gain. To get there, go back to the main trail, cross the stream and begin climbing up. You’ll climb a section of scree, cross the stream again, take a few steps and then… it appears! Lower Blue Lake 230 feet below you showing off the brilliant blue color it is famous for. Even on a cloudy day with haze from far-away fires, the lake sparkled a brilliant blue color.
The trail is still quite steep here, so take a few steps, take a few pictures, take a few steps, take a few pictures.
Middle Blue Lake is not so blue. It’s just a nice lake in a valley below another mountain ridge. However, you’ll enjoy the lake for several minutes as you make the final climb to Upper Blue Lake. Walk the path above the middle lake, take a few steps over a saddle and Upper Blue Lake appears.
Upper Blue Lake sits in yet another beautiful cirque. Here you’ll see several 13,000-foot peaks and one 14,000-foot peak, Mount Sneffels. As you enjoy the views, look at the clouds. Make sure it’s safe to stay here and have lunch. If there are storm clouds approaching, you’ll want to take a photo and start back down the trail. Otherwise, find a spot overlooking the lake or at the shoreline for lunch. As you marvel at the surrounding peaks, look for the trail up the pass. It’s on the left side of the lake. It goes up the side of the valley over scree fields, tundra and dirt, climbing 1,200 feet in 1.35 miles to the top of Blue Lakes Pass. From the pass, some people hike to the summit of Mount Sneffels, but we stopped at the lakes.
See more hikes in the area below and check out this list of 200+ great hikes in Colorado.
Details: From the TH to Upper Blue Lake and back was 9 miles roundtrip with 2,700 feet of elevation gain with all the ups and downs.
Directions: From Highway 550 in Ridgway, turn west on Highway 62. Drive 4.8 miles to the East Dallas Creek/CR7 turnoff and turn left/south. Follow the dirt road (don’t turn into any private driveways) 8.9 miles to the end at the Blue Lakes Trailhead.