Hello and welcome to my article on the Blue Lakes Trail! My name is Dan Howarth and I grew up in rural Leicestershire, England – which is a stark contrast to New York City where I have lived for the past five years.
Coming from a small community, I was eager to explore what I considered to be more exciting parts of the world (although nowadays I love going home to the rolling fields and villages). We were fortunate to have family friends that frequently moved internationally, and we would visit them in Singapore, Germany, the US and other places when I was a teenager.
Discovering new places and experiencing them with locals, not just as a tourist, spurred me to take volunteering trips to Africa and to spend a year living in Asia. I have always been fascinated by both arts and science, as well as travel. This led me to study a bachelor’s degree in Architecture.
Eager to combine these interests with travel, I moved into journalism and worked for an architecture and design website for many years. During this time, I reviewed hotels, attended fashion shows, test-drove cars and covered events all over the world. I got to stay in some chic places, and explore locations I had never even thought about, so I feel lucky.
Trip to Colorado after Lockdown
After months of lockdown, my friends decided that we were in desperate need of fresh air, open space and a change of scenery. We settled on Colorado, lured by the landscape and opportunity to explore in isolation.
We stayed at a ranch close to Ridgeway, which offered views of Mount Sneffels and a range of peaks to the south. So when it came to choosing a hike – a trail up among these mountains (Blue Lakes Trail) was a no-brainer.
Our trip was in August, so we got up before sunrise to avoid the heat later in the day. We set off on the hike after dawn when it was cool, but the temperature increased through the morning and it got hot by the time we finished early afternoon. Luckily the last part of the hike was through dense forest, so we were shaded from the worst of the midday sun.
One thing we noticed as we set off was the strange pinkish color of the sky, which we later realized was due to severe wildfires in the north of the state. It was quite surreal, but luckily it didn’t affect the air quality too much.
Seven Hours on the Blue Lakes Trail
After a winding and bumpy drive up the mountain, we parked at the trailhead and set off following the markers. The trail is linear, leading up to and connecting the three bodies of water one by one, then returning along the same route. These lakes are by far the highlights, and it’s worth going the distance to see them all as each one has a unique color and quality.
All in all, this hike took us seven hours with multiple stops for water, snacks and to simply sit and take in the scenery. We arrived back at the car at 2pm, leaving us the rest of the day to grab tacos and margaritas from GNAR in Ridgeway, before traveling back to the ranch for a well-deserved nap.
Breathtaking Scenery of the Blue Lakes Trail
The scenery and terrain on this hike was nothing short of breathtaking, in every sense of the word. It’s steep, mountainous, high-altitude and dramatic, with different environments unfolding along the trail.
The section of the trail up to the first lake is by far the longest, and mostly stays under the cover of the huge evergreens, with brief reveals of wildflower meadows, steam gullies and distant vistas. Arriving at the lake, the intensity of its color is hard to describe. The bright blue is even more pronounced thanks to the dark backdrop of steep rocks on three sides.
There are spots along the shore to sit and take in the views, and we stopped here for a small picnic. The next section gets rocky as it begins to climb above the treeline and we spotted several small chipmunks flitting between the stones. We stopped several times as we ascended to look back at the cerulean lake from above (and to catch our breath of course).
An intense climb ended at the second lake, which is equally as beautiful as the first but emerald green in color. On one side, the rock faces have a reddish hue, while grass grows around the other. Together with the snow-capped peaks behind, it’s quite an otherworldly scene to take in.
The section to the third lake is shorter and flatter, taking just a few minutes and worth a final push to the highest point. Different again, water here is crystal clear and reflects the outlines of the towering mountains. Once we reached the top, we stayed for a while to take photos and dip our feet in the water, before returning down the same trail we had climbed.
How Hard is the Blue Lakes Trail?
Blue Lakes Trail is challenging and strenuous, particularly sections towards the higher part where the paths are steep, narrow and littered with loose rocks that make it uneven and slippery. Even at the beginning there were steep sections that left all in our relatively fit group gasping on the way up.
There is a 3,650-foot elevation gain from trailhead to peak, so it’s uphill all the way for the first half, then back down those steep slopes on the return. My legs were jelly afterwards. The trail is well-marked and easy to follow, but a high fitness level is needed and hiking boots are a must.
My Rating of the Blue Lakes Trail: 10/10
The Blue Lakes Trail was one of the most beautiful and memorable hikes I have ever taken. Maybe this was because I had been confined to my one-bedroom apartment for several months beforehand during lockdown, but the awe of being in such vast spaces really made me emotional.
The scenery is indescribable and photos don’t do justice to the scale of the mountains, colors of the lakes, and feeling of being so small compared to nature. Even if you are from Colorado or a similarly spectacular part of the world, this trail is special and is well worth the trip. It’s a 10/10 from me!
Best Memory from this Hiking Trail
Within the first 10 minutes we saw two huge elk standing a few feet off the trail. We stopped to watch them graze and slowly move through the forest, until they were far enough that we wouldn’t disturb them.
I had never seen elk in the wild before, and the moment was made even more magical by the morning light shining beautifully in shafts through the trees. This was definitely the highlight for me on the Blue Lakes Trail!
Need to Know Before you Go
The road up to the trailhead is in pretty bad shape and it didn’t make for a pleasant driving experience to be honest – particularly in the dark. I would highly recommend a vehicle with four-wheel drive for getting up there and leaving plenty of time because it’s slow-going once off the tarmac.
We saw tents pitched close to the first lake, which seemed to be the only campsite along the route. I can imagine that waking up to the quietness and views of the piercing blue water would be magical. If I ever find myself in that part of the world again, I would definitely consider camping. We didn’t go camping on the trail but I would recommend giving it a try!
The elevation is high, around 13,000 feet at the peak. Taking a few days to acclimatize to the altitude of the Rockies before heading higher is a smart move. I live at sea level, so I spent a weekend in Denver ahead of traveling to the mountains. This did the trick and I had no altitude sickness.
It’s extremely remote and there is nowhere to purchase supplies or get help in the event of an accident. Pack light but take plenty of water, snacks, a first-aid kit and safety equipment. And don’t forget your camera!