Whenever someone asks me if I want to go to the Blue Lakes in Colorado, I always have to ask which Blue Lake. The one in Boulder? Breckenridge? Telluride? Which ONE in Telluride? Blue Lake or The Blue Lakes? It could be anything. I have no idea.
There are a few different levels of hikes in this area ranging from easy/moderate to a difficult 14er. This makes it really convenient because you can just continue on up as far as you feel comfortable and then turn around.
This hike is one route to complete the 14er Mount Sneffels. The section most people complete (and what I will detail in this post) is the portion that leads to Upper Blue Lake. For a moderate option you can stop at Lower Blue Lake. For a more difficult option but doable day hike you can stop at Upper Blue Lake. If you’re looking for a more challenging option I will let you know where you can continue the hike to complete Mount Sneffels.
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Before we begin I do want to give a couple of quick tips.
I’d recommend arriving at the trailhead early so that you can beat the crowd and any chances of getting stuck in an afternoon thunderstorm, as this hike does summit above tree line. My friends and I arrived at the trailhead around 6:00am and had no troubles finding parking, but heard folks who arrived around 9 have more trouble.
Elevation Gain: 5501 ft.
Length: 13.0 miles (out and back)
Difficulty: Moderate-Hard (depending on route)
Time: 5-6 hours
Dog Friendly: Yes
This hike starts out pretty steep right off the bat, so be prepared. Unfortunately hungover Megan was not prepared, so a few too many water breaks were taken here.
After that the trail gets a lot easier to manage. There are a couple of streams that you have to cross but nothing technical. Just plan to wear waterproof hiking boots or take your shoes off. I wear the Columbia Newton Ridge waterproof boots and highly recommend them. They kept my feet dry through all of the water crossings (and even through a 5 hour hike in freezing rain once).
Within about 2 hours you will come into a clearing and soon be rewarded with GORGEOUS views as you arrive at Lower Blue Lake.
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The elevation gain at the beginning takes a lot out of you, but there is nothing technical involved. I’d especially recommend this if you’re visiting from outside of Telluride Colorado. My friends and I struggled a bit with the altitude even though we live in Boulder and are used to higher elevations.
I’d highly recommend if you’re up for a bit of a challenge continue on to the upper lake. The distance from the lower lake to the upper lake is roughly a mile and another 1000 feet of elevation gain. Be weary, because steep is an understatement.
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Whenever you leave the lower lake you’ll head back to the clearing where there is a sign directing you toward the upper lake. You have to cross a creek that looks quite intimidating, but there are tree branches laid down for you to walk across. My dog was scared of the rushing water so I had to carry her across the creek, and we both still made it just fine.
My friends and I did not check our navigation, and ended up on our hands and feet through thorn bushes before realizing we were off trail. It’s extremely important to stay on trail not only to make it easier, but also to avoid disturbing the vegetation and wildlife along the trail.
As long as you stay on trail it’ll still be a difficult hike, but definitely a manageable route to the Upper Blue Lake. You will break above treeline about halfway through.
Upper Blue Lake was still frozen over when we went in late May. It’s beautiful in the winter, and even more beautiful in the summer! If you want the best views for this hike I’d recommend you go between July and September.
The views of the Lower Blue Lake from the Upper Blue Lake was absolutely stunning! I recommend stopping here for photos.
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After you reach the second lake, you will see a trail continuing around the lake and up the ridge. This is the trail to complete Mount Sneffels. Continue on for an even greater challenge, or head down the mountain to enjoy an evening in Ouray and Telluride.
We chose the latter because afternoon thunderstorms started rolling in and Chi was pretty pooped. So pooped we actually carried her a little bit of the way and walked at snail speed the rest of the way. We made it down back to the trailhead within about an hour and a half, making our total hiking time a 5 hour and 45 minute round trip, which I find to be a pretty average amount of time for this hike.
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Hi there, Rootless Adventure Company! I have to say that it’s a great read! Your post is so detailed and informative that it feels like I was right there with you on the trail. I’ve never been to Telluride before, but after reading your post, I’m definitely putting it on my list of places to visit. Your pictures of the Blue Lakes are absolutely stunning, and I can only imagine how much more breathtaking they must be in person.
I love that you included information about the difficulty of the hike and the best time of year to visit. As someone who enjoys hiking but isn’t a seasoned pro, it’s really helpful to know what to expect in terms of the trail’s difficulty. It’s also great to know that the trail is open for a limited time each year, so I can plan my trip accordingly. Your tips on what to pack and how to prepare for the hike are also really helpful, especially for those of us who might be new to hiking or hiking in higher elevations.
All in all, I really enjoyed reading your post about the Blue Lakes Trail. Your passion for hiking and love for the outdoors really shines through in your writing, and it’s contagious! I can’t wait to lace up my hiking boots and hit the trail myself. Keep up the great work!
I’m so glad you’ve gained so much value from this blog post! Thanks so much for the kind words! This is such a beautiful trail and I can’t wait to hear about your experience on it. Keep me posted 🙂