- Difficulty: Moderate – Strenuous
- Type: Out and Back
- Distance: ~13 miles round trip, from shuttle lot to Blue Lake
- Elevation Gain: ~2,950 feet, starting at shuttle lot to Blue Lake
The town of Telluride is mountain paradise for those with an open heart for nature. Located in the San Juan Mountains, Telluride holds many miles of hiking, beautiful water features and historical sites from its mining days.
A jeep road leading out from the east side of town switchbacks up to Bridal Veil Falls: 365-foot waterfall that glows in front of dark-colored rocks in a box canyon. A privately owned, historic power plant sits among the cliffs next to the falls.
The trail leading beyond Pandora Mill is where you want to go to see one of the most scenic alpine lakes in Colorado: Blue Lake.
Take Forest Service Road 648, located 2.5 miles east of Telluride. Continue up this road, in a high-clearance 4×4 vehicle or on foot (like Bryce and I did), until you reach the mill. You’ll see signs for Black Bear Pass but park the car here and hang right to hike up past the mill and head towards Blue Lake. From the mill, the lake is about 5 miles from the top of the falls and the trail is a wide road, previously a forest service road.
The trail is wide has a constant incline. From the top of the falls, the elevation gain is nearly 2,000 feet. Prepare by packing plenty of water and snacks that will keep your blood sugar, carb and protein levels happy.
Bryce and I drove to Telluride in a Mini Cooper, so our safe bet was to walk the jeep road up to the falls. This added another ~3 miles and 1,000 feet of elevation, but it was a nice warm-up nonetheless.
After about a mile, the trail will split but is unmarked. Keep left at this split to head to Blue Lake. The right hang will take you to a steep and more difficult trail to Silver Lake.
There will be one more fork after another ~0.5 miles, but hang right this time.
Bryce and I started this trail the day we drove to Telluride, which took about 6 hours, so we planned to camp later on the hike. We loaded up our packs and said bye to the mini at the shuttle parking lot. We reached the top of Bridal Veil Falls about 4 p.m. so we had a few hours of daylight left. The trail switchbacks along Bridal Veil Creek. Take a peek every so often at the shooting, but short, waterfalls!
We trekked this hike mid-July and the wildflowers were like vibrant blotches of paint on a green canvas.
After a few hours, the sun started to set. We stopped to awe at the red beams hitting the cliffs in the distance.
We continued for about a half hour at dusk until we reached a campsite that was just across the trail of another beautiful cascading waterfall.
The next day we ditched the packs for the rest of the way. This trail was one of the first to carry my pack (not suggested) so my mentality was also dragging me down the second day. I was tired, sore, and just wanted to see the lake. After a short while, I pulled my thoughts away from the fatigue, (with much encouragement from Bryce), and I began appreciating my surroundings.
Growing up a Colorado girl, I haven’t seen many Columbines because they’re rare, but abundant at high altitudes and in lush vegetation. I’ve always been appreciative when I happened along one in Teller County where I grew up.
However, on this trail, I’ve never seen so many Columbines! There were bushes of faint and deep purple, white and yellow ones – it was my heyday!
Keep in mind that this is the Colorado state flower, so it is illegal to pluck one, protected by the General Assembly law enacted in 1925. Appreciate the growth of these rare, beautiful flowers and don’t be as possessive to pick one. Photo note: This bloom had already fallen from its stem; I did not pick it!
Colorado’s beauty, more specifically – Telluride’s, is one to see for any native or tourist.
As we neared the end of the hike, marmots were popping up through the grass and one even followed us for a few moments. We named him Michael the Marmot.
One last little dip in the trail and you’ve reach Blue Lake. You can’t help but stop and pause to take in the view with every heaving breath. The snow capped mountains curve around the blue water and a little canoe sits on the shore. You can spot a few thin waterfalls feeding snowmelt into the water, but the ripples are minimal that allow for a brilliant reflection. The bowl is rocky and rigid, exaggerating the features of this hike.
We ate lunch by the lake and listened to the sounds of the quiet nature surrounding us. By tackling this trek, I learned that the best views have to be earned.
The hike back down was quick and even more interesting. Dark clouds started to roll in half way down and rain began to pour. Thunder rolled between the mountains but we felt safe between the trees and rocks of the forest. The rain continued to pelt and our rain gear reached dew point by the time we reached Bridal Veil Falls again.
A white 4-Runner was turning around so we started waving our arms. The man stopped and we asked him for a ride. He noticed the beers in our hands and said if we had another for him, he’d take us. After handing us a few towels to wipe off with and lay over his seats, we ended our trip in a warm car.
You can do the hike in one day if you start early and end late. I suggest you take two days to capture the essence of this place.
Know Before You Go:
- No bathrooms at the top so brush up on your backcountry bathroom etiquette.
- Be aware of altitude sickness symptoms.
- Dogs must be on-leash.
- Be aware of summer afternoon storms.
Drive to the east end of Telluride to Forest Service Road 648, which is a rocky, dirt road that highly suggests use of 4×4, high clearance vehicles. Park at the top of near Bridal Veil Falls. Walk through the gate and follow the narrow road behind the power plant. After about an hour’s walk, take a left at the first split.