When visiting the San Juan Skyway, particularly if you are staying at or near Ridgway, Ouray or Telluride, you are in close proximity to what may be the most beautiful adventure hike in the state of Colorado, a visit to the Blue Lakes in the Uncompahgre National Forest. Be forewarned however that you will pay a small price for your admission for entry. Not in dollars, but in effort to get there. You may be quite assured however that the price of admission is well worth it.
Your entry point to this magic wonderland is Country Road 7 just off the main road between Ridgway and Telluride which is Hwy 62. From Telluride it is a distance of 39 miles, from Ouray it is 20 miles and from Ridgway it is 9 miles. Once you turn on to Country Road 7 it will be a straight shot drive of about 40 minutes to the Trailhead for the Blue Lakes Hike. During good climatic conditions, such as you will find in the late Spring, Summer and early Autumn you will have to contend with a well pothole marked road as you get close to the trailhead. Some of the ruts and embedded rocks will cause slow driving and athletic steering so obviously the more ‘off-road’ worthy your car is, the better, but as we experienced on the days of our travels there, quite a number of regular economy models were able to make the trek as well. And the journey along Country Road 7 is totally scenic in its own right. Winter time is another story altogether so make your plans for a fair weather excursion.
You will have an option on this hike to pick one of three curtains. You can go to the first Blue Lake and then make the return or you can choose to proceed to the middle and upper lake as well. All choices are well worth it but in our opinion, the biggest return on your energy investment is enjoying your trek to the first of these beautiful lakes and then returning. The advantage of continuing on is that you will be able to see the lakes from a higher altitude perspective but you will have to double your hiking time uphill, so for hardy hikers it will be a worthwhile but rigorous adventure. For everyone else, we assure you that a visit to the first lake alone will raise your endorphin level to ‘maximum’ so you will be more than satisfied with that experience on its own.
The trail to the lake is beautiful from the start as you travel through the forest with all its intrinsic beauties. The distance is about 3.3 miles from the trailhead to the lake but it does cover an elevation increase of about 1500′ so it can be a bit of an uphill challenge at times. Depending upon the exact time of year you choose to go you may be courted along your way by a series of beautiful wildflowers but beautiful foliage, inspiring streams, waterfalls and peekaboo views to the surrounding mountainside will always serve as inspiration.
Once you arrive at the first Blue Lake after perhaps two and a half hours of hiking you may feel like a fairy entering a magical kingdom as the minerals of the glacial basin surrounding it give it its deep blue or often emerald green hue. And you will be close enough to see the ridgeline ascending to the highest peak in the area known as Mount Sneffels. No photograph or video can really do your experience justice as you will likely be overwhelmed with sensory overload from every direction. Plan to spend some time here in the pristine silence and brilliance of the area and savor it in. These are moments you will take back with you to wherever you came from but will not be able to duplicate in any measure from memory alone.