While there’s several “Blue Lakes” in the state of Colorado, none compare to this amazing Blue Lakes hike outside Ridgeway, near Telluride, Colorado, in the San Juan Mountain Range. These lakes are an amazing blue hue, a color unlike the majority of alpine lakes in the state or even the country. There’s three alpine lakes on the same hike, each of which offer their own unique shade of blue and views of the surrounding mountains. While the first lake has the best coloring of all three, we believe that only hiking to the first lake leaves you missing out on amazing views and different perspectives. If you’re able, it’s well worth the effort to get all the way to the third lake, or even Blue Lakes Pass if you’re up for it.
The total distance of this hikes varies depending on where you anticipate turning around. Since it’s an out-and-back hike, you get to choose how far you go. To the first lake, it’s 3.2 miles one-way. If you continue on (which we HIGHLY recommend), it’s another 0.6 miles to lake #2 and another 0.3 miles to lake #3. If you’re feeling extra adventurous, go all the way up to Blue Lakes Pass, which is 5.4 miles one way for the total 10.8 miles roundtrip.
Getting To The Blue Lakes Hike
This Blue Lakes trail is located just outside of Ridgeway, Colorado, which is near Telluride and Ouray. (not to be confused with Blue Lake Trail in Breckenridge) From Ridgeway, head west on 62 for 4.3 miles then take a left turn onto CR-7. This road is unpaved, and if you have the option for a four wheel drive vehicle with higher clearance, we would recommend using it. Many hikers have reported that the last 2 miles to the trailhead is “pothole city”. Follow this dirt road for about 9 miles to the trailhead. Parking is sparse, so arrive early and avoid holiday weekends. If coordinates help you, the trailhead is located at 38.035852, -107.806819. Even the drive to the trailhead is beautiful – it’s just a glimpse of what is to come!
Camping at Blue Lakes Trailhead
Once you arrive at the trailhead, it’s possible to dispersed tent camp for free in this area. There’s a vault toilet at the trailhead, but it’s nasty (don’t say we didn’t warn you). Even though the trail itself was quite busy, we were able to easily find a great camping spot near the river. We arrived in the afternoon before our planned hiking date, hiked the following day, then stayed the night again after hiking before moving onto our next destination. Staying in the nearby town of Ridgeway is also an option, as it helps decrease the otherwise lengthy drive from most other places. This trail is quite a bit out of the way.
The Blue Lakes Hike
Starting from the trailhead, you’ll find a fork in the trail very early on – take a right. It’s about 3.4 miles to the first lake with 1,614 feet in elevation gain. The uphill climb is pretty steady, and we found this section to be moderately difficult. You’re mostly hiking through conifer forest with some incredible views back down the valley behind you sprinkled here and there. We also found abundant wildflowers here in mid-July, especially on the portions of the trail closest to Dallas Creek.
Just before the first lake, there’s a wonderful waterfall to your left. Keep your eyes out because we missed it on the way up – I guess we were too excited to get to the lower lake! From there, the trail flattens out a bit and you’ll start to see a ton of backpacking tents. This is a really popular backpacking trail and there were tons of people using this spot as a home base to hike up to the higher lakes and Mt Sneffels. The trees will open up to the view of the first lake, which is located in a massive glacial basin in the mountains. This Lower Blue Lake is the largest of the three lakes, and sits at an elevation of 10,980 feet.
We didn’t think it could get more beautiful, until we continued hiking up!
From the lower lake’s shoreline, retrace your steps back a bit to find the spur off to the upper two lakes. Pretty soon, you’ll need to cross the stream but there’s several rocks and logs to make this easier. There’s a second creek crossing in the near future, but this second one is much easier because it’s so shallow. You can easily walk across the water with any waterproof shoe but you may have to be more careful if you’re not waterproofed. Between these two crossings lies a cascading waterfall, so keep your eyes out for glimpses of that!
The trail continues uphill, and we found this ascent from lake #1 to lake #2 to be one of the most difficult portions of the hike. Everyone we saw was huffing and puffing. Despite its difficulty, it offered one of the most amazing views of the lower lake basin, and the color really came to life from this angle. This view alone is worth all the effort from the entire day, and it really showed us the blue hues this area is famous for.
Once you leave the first lake, you quickly make your way above tree line, so make sure you are planning ahead to be back down to this point by early afternoon. The second lake is set off to the left side of the trail just 0.6 miles after the first lake. It starts to show off more and more the higher you hike, just like the first lake, which is why we recommend to just keep going! While it’s a different kind of blue, the view is awesome.
This middle lake was also abundant in wildflowers, with tons of Rocky Mountain Columbine, the Colorado state flower. This flower typically grows in more shaded areas, so it was special to see it so exposed with an amazing backdrop. As you can see on the right side of the lake, the inlet stream is home to even more wildflowers, as shown by the strip of dark green seen in the photo below.
From middle Blue Lake, it’s only another 0.3 miles to upper Blue Lake. You’ve made it this far, why not keep going?! When we got to the third lake, we found a beautiful reflection of the glacial mountain bowl it sits in. It’s hard to see in the picture below, but Blue Lakes Pass is just across the lake and you can even see the summit of Mt. Sneffels (14,156 feet) on the left (barely visible behind the ridgeline). From here, we turned around, but if you want to continue to the pass, you’re closer than you’ve ever been before. Turning around here would put you at 8.2 miles roundtrip, which is a really big day hike!
Fishing Blue Lakes
If you are a fly fisherman, the second lake offered our most productive fishing of the upper two lakes (we didn’t fish at the lower lake because we got rained out). The outlet was especially productive and we caught some beautiful Cutthroat Trout on dry flies. We saw tons of trout in the uppermost lake, but couldn’t figure out what they wanted to eat. Ashley caught one but that was it for lake #3.
This Blue Lakes hike continues to be one of our favorite hikes in the entire state (along with the Four Pass Loop, the Crystal Mill Hike, Mohawk Lakes, and Acorn Creek Loop) and always wows us when we look back at pictures. We have yet to find a lake that compares to any of the three here and would highly recommend this trail to anyone. The elevation gain is no joke, so you must be in decent shape to complete this route, but it’s well worth the effort. We found that the views were so incredible, we were so distracted and didn’t really pay attention to how hard we were working.
If you are Looking for another incredible hike close by check out Island Lake and Ice Lake!
About the Author
Ashley is an adventurous soul who loves all things nature, especially warm sunshine, hiking, wildflowers, and mushrooms. If she isn’t writing content for Know Nothing Nomads, she’s probably in a forest looking at big mountain views and tiny pieces of moss on the side of the trail.