If you have read my recent blog post about the Ice Lake hike, let me tell you about another electric blue lake in Colorado. The color of the lake is out of the world. This lake is also located in the San Juan Mountain range though the hike is tougher than the Ice Lake hike. This hike is more like a climb in elevation at a steep 12% grade. So, be prepared for some legwork.
We started our hike around 10 am. It was a bit difficult to find the exact location where the trail starts. For this hike, you have to look carefully for the trailhead on Forest Road 679. The day started very nicely- a bright sunny day with a bit of cloud in the sky. The initial part of the hike is steep switchbacks, which is a little bit more than a mile. Most of this part is in the tree line range and uneventful. When we reached around the mid-way of the switchbacks, it started raining. Suddenly a bright sunny day turned into an ominously overcast afternoon. At first, it was drizzling, then it started raining with thunder rumbling overhead. Thankfully, we had raincoat and poncho both with us. Most hikers were turning back because after the tree line part, the trail is wide exposed climbing without any shades, and it would not be a good idea to go further. But against all the odds, we decided to go to the end of the tree line and wait there. We still did not know what the weather would bring, but we waited for one hour at the end of the switchbacks where the tree line ended. We were confused about what to do at that moment. Surely, if it continues to rain with thunderstorms, there was no way we could finish the hike. Thankfully after one hour of waiting, the cloud started to move, and we saw a little bit of blue sky of hope. We could not be more thankful for this. It was almost past mid-day, and if we didn’t continue this hike the whole day would have been wasted. But it is what it is. Sometimes we have to rely completely on Mother Nature and this time it did not disappoint. The rain stopped finally, and we started hiking.
Once you are above the tree line, the view gets better and better. Suddenly, you are right in the middle of the valley surrounded by mountains. From this point, the trail is steep intense incline through the valley full of different wildflowers such as Indian Paintbrush, Columbine, Fireweed, etc. Regarding the wildflowers, please enjoy them from a distance. Don’t cause any harm or pick up the flowers. It’s really important for the ecosystem. Hiking in the summer months is rewarding. We got to see many wildflowers by the side of the lake. The moment was so quiet, and everything was so peaceful, it seemed like the moment had stopped right there. I could feel the stillness of the moment. There is a certain peace in this type of moment when everything else becomes worthless except that moment. I hike because I enjoy those moments. We started climbing slowly and taking a lot of rest stops. Most of the hikers had already gone right when the storm started. As a result, there were zero people on the trail. The climb will go on for another mile and a quarter and you will be able to see views of mountains especially Lookout peak and T-12 Peak while you make your way towards the lake. Once you cross the meadow, you will have to traverse over the saddle which will add some more elevation along the way. Once you pass the saddle, the terrain starts to level out and the last one-and-a-half-mile distance is relatively flat. Even in mid-July, there was still snow in some parts. We had to be very careful while walking through the snow-covered sections. But the view! The alpine valleys, distant mountain peaks, and a beautiful bright sky- everything in a word ’spectacular’.
Right before the lake, the terrain becomes a little bit rough with a little bit of elevation gain. If you have already hiked the whole trail, this section will be very easy for you. After a very beautiful hike, here comes the reward- the beautiful blue Columbine Lake. I still remember the first view of the lake. It was the blue you could never imagine possible and the snow-capped mountains around the lake made it amazingly beautiful. It’s really hard to explain the beauty in words. The color of the lake is such blue because of the glacier eroding rock flour into their runoff. Once you are at the end of the trail, you will see a thin faint trail wraps around the lake in both directions. You can follow any of those and get the beautiful unparallel view of Columbine Lake. You can do backpacking here. I can’t imagine how great it will be to wake up in the morning and see the beautiful blue lake surrounded by the mountains. In that case, check the weather, bring the proper gear, and follow all the backcountry rules. You can also set up your tent in the valley area in case you don’t want to spend the night at a higher elevation.
Overall, it was an amazing experience. I am glad that we did not turn back like all the other hikers and decided to wait. Of course, Mother Nature cooperated with us. Otherwise, it would have been a loss to miss a view like this.
At a glance/fact
- Hike length: 8.2 miles out and back
- Elevation gain: around 2700 ft
- Difficulty: strenuous
- Location: Silverton, Colorado
- Trailhead: 37.8606, -107.7279
- Trailhead description: The trailhead is at Forest Road 679 (Ophir Pass 4WD Road). Look for the sign ‘Trail 509’, which is about a quarter mile in the Forest Road. Though it’s a four-wheel drive, during the dry season you can still make it with a two-wheel drive car. The road is quite narrow. You have to be very careful while driving and parking on the side of the road.
- Best time to visit: Summer and fall.
- Permit/Fee: none
- Parking: There is no designated parking spot, and the trailhead is not even marked. People usually park on both sides of the road. As the road is narrow and parking is very limited, you have to be very cautious while driving.
- Amenities: None.
- Mountain weather is always changing frequently. Please check the weather beforehand and dress in layers. Don’t forget to bring sunscreen, hat, water, snacks, etc. Please carry a poncho or raincoat in case if it rains.
- If you are backpacking, please bring bear canister. Carry bear spray, attach ring bell with your bag. Talk loudly while on the trail to ensure your presence.
- It’s really hard to be on constant network in this area. Please download the offline map beforehand. It surely helps a lot.
- Most of the part of the trail is above 10,000 feet. It is important to acclimatize yourself before the hike. If you feel any kind of altitude sickness such as nausea, vomit, dizziness, etc. please take rest, drink some water. If you still feel bad, please do not continue the hike. It’s time to turn back.
- Always practice ‘leave no trace’ principle. It’s our duty and responsibility to pack all our trash out and keep the place as beautiful as it is.