Where Are the Blue Lakes in Colorado? (And How to Get There)

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Wildflowers above a Blue Lake in Colorado mountains.

The number of inspiring areas to visit out West seems endless, but your list should include Blue Lakes in Colorado. Haven’t heard of them? You’re in for a treat. We’ll explain how these gorgeous alpine lakes got their name and what else makes them special.

They’re in a rugged area, but it’s not too remote if you don’t mind a bit of an uphill hike. We can guide you directly to them so you can experience their grandeur with your own eyes.

Are you ready to explore the Blue Lakes in Colorado? Let’s go!

What Are the Blue Lakes in Colorado?

These three separate high-altitude mountain lakes lie along a glacial basin regularly replenished with melting snow. The runoff contains tiny particles of minerals like sandstone and limestone, sometimes called “glacial flour.” It’s the result of glaciers grinding against the mountain rocks over time. 

Follow along on the hike on Blue Lakes Trail

The particles end up floating on the surface of the lakes. They reflect sunlight in a way that gives the lakes their intense and distinctive color, which some describe as turquoise.

You’ll walk a few miles through a splendid forest of pines, spruces, and aspens to get to the water’s edge.

Where Are the Blue Lakes in Colorado?

If you’re familiar with Telluride, that’s a good start. The Blue Lakes are nestled among the San Juan Mountains in southwestern Colorado. They are within the federally protected Mount Sneffels Wilderness Area, which is part of the Uncompahgre National Forest.

Because of its dramatic, icy slopes and jagged ridges, visitors to this spectacularly scenic area often compare it to Switzerland. The wilderness area encompasses just over 16,500 acres near Telluride and two other communities, Ridgway and Ouray.

The Blue Lakes are about 45 miles south of Montrose and about 80 miles north of Durango. Elevations range from about 9,600 feet above sea level to about 14,150 feet at the mountain’s peak.

How Do You Get to the Blue Lakes? 

From the town of Ouray, you can expect a scenic drive of about 45 minutes to almost an hour. Most of the drive is along the smooth and well-maintained U.S. Highway 550, with stunning views of the towering Mount Sneffels.

The final stretch is a sometimes-bumpy Forest Service road made of dirt and gravel. You’ll want to take these last few miles slowly and cautiously to avoid vehicle damage from ruts or potholes.

A brilliant Blue Lake surrouneded my mountains and pines in Colorado.
Lower Blue Lake

From the center of Ouray, go about 10 miles to Highway 62 in Ridgway. Take a left to head west on Highway 62 for 4.8 miles to County Road 7, marked as Dallas Creek Road. Follow this for about 2 miles to its intersection with County Road 7A, keeping to the right.

Continue on County Road 7 for about 9 miles until you reach the parking area for the north trailhead. This road becomes Forest Road 851.1 once inside the park’s boundaries.

How Long Is the Hike to Blue Lakes Colorado?

Once you arrive by vehicle, you still have a hike ahead of you. The distance depends on whether you want to see one or two of the Blue Lakes. You have a 3.15-mile hike from the north trailhead’s gate to the Lower Lake, with an elevation gain of 1,590 feet.

From the Lower Lake to the two Upper Lakes, it’s another mile and another 800 feet of climb. That makes for a round trip of 8.2 miles to visit all of these spectacular bodies.

While there, you may feel tempted to hike another 1.4 miles to visit Blue Likes Pass. Standing at around 13,000 feet above sea level, it’s another 1,250 feet higher. The trip to the lakes and the magnificent mountain pass is an 11-mile walk from the trailhead and back.

Traveler’s Tip: Locals don’t want you to know about Paradise Cove in Colorado.

Can You Swim in Blue Lakes Colorado?

Mount Sneffels gets its name from a Nordic word for snowfall, so the waters are often frigid. Many adventurous souls might consider an icy swim as heaven on earth. It can certainly be invigorating, and you won’t find restrictions preventing it.

Go for it, but take along a towel and swimsuit. Otherwise, you may have to trek back downhill in cold, wet clothes.

Upper Blue Lake in Colorado nestled between green hills with trails and rocky mountain peaks.
Upper Blue Lake

Are There Fish in Blue Lake Colorado? 

This area is known for its trout, especially cutthroat. They’re similar to rainbow trout and get their name from the distinctive red or pink markings on their throat.

You can also find other species in the lake. Remember to check local regulations for permits before fishing.

Can You Fish at Blue Lake?

You can absolutely drop a line for these trout or other fish at the lakes or the nearby Dallas Creek. Just make sure you have a valid fishing license.

If you’re serious about fishing, you may even want to stay overnight. You can find a few designated campsites in the area. Backpack camping is allowed if you remain at least 100 feet away from water or trails.

Is Blue Lakes Dog-Friendly?

The Blue Lakes trail is dog-friendly, so feel free to bring your four-legged friends along, too. Just make sure they’re on a leash.

However, we wouldn’t advise including them unless they are used to making hikes in these conditions. It can be a hard and long way to go for little legs.

Middle Blue Lake with snow melting in the mountains in Colorado.
Middle Blue Lake

Is Blue Lake Colorado Worth Visiting?

Many people probably instantly think of the Rocky Mountains when they hear Colorado. Across the state, a much smaller range called the San Juan Mountains has many incredible natural features to enjoy. They include these brilliantly blue lakes that are more vibrant than the sky.

Going to Blue Lake, Colorado isn’t the toughest hike to make, but it’s no simple stroll in the park. For experienced hikers used to strenuous forest hikes, this is another experience not to miss.

You may choose only to visit the lower lake but not the other two. There’s no shame in that, and visiting any of these stunning blue lakes is certainly memorable.

If you find the going tough, just remember that the return trip is downhill. Would you like to visit these blue lakes?

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