Blue Lakes Basin

About a week ago I made a quick overnight trip into Blue Lakes Basin in the San Juan Range of Colorado. The trailhead, appropriately named the Blue Lakes Trailhead is just outside of the town of Ridgeway. The drive from Durango took about two hours, which put me at the trailhead about noon, but unfortunately I had to pack up since still since I had just kind of thrown all my gear in the truck. I ended up heading up the trail about 1330, not exactly an alpine start, but I’ll take it.

My recommendation for this trail would be to hike it either in the morning or the evening, before the blazing hot sun takes flight overhead, the trail is definitely shaded in some spots, but I would say a good forty percent of the hike is in alpine meadows as the trail meanders around switchbacks and climbs it’s way up towards the basin. This makes for an awfully hot midday walk, none the less, there I was walking up the trail with a forty pound pack in the middle of the day, sweat pouring off the brim of my hat. Along the way there are a couple of nice waterfalls and a shallow creek crossing, nothing too difficult. Just a climb up, up, and up some more.

The trail ascending towards Blue Lakes Basin.

From the trailhead the trail climbs 1600 feet over approximately 3.3 miles to the first lake, called Lower Blue Lake.

This is the trail junction right before reaching Lower Blue Lake.

From here it’s just a short walk over flat ground to the shores of Lower Blue Lake. The lake itself is a beautiful aqua blue color.

This is a view of Lower Blue Lake from the trail heading up to the middle lake.

There are plenty of campsites a short walk from the shores sheltered in the trees around the lake, and although I never saw anyone catch anything, apparently people tell me it’s worth bringing your fishing pole cause there is supposed to be some good fishing in the aqua blue waters of the lower lake.

I didn’t bring my pole, so instead I set up a quick camp and headed out to explore. First I shot some images from the shore of Lower Blue, but of course the midday sun was still in full effect so I decided to go ahead and head up to the middle lake to see what it’s all about. From the trail going up to the middle lake there are multiple views of the lower lake that accentuate the amazing color and setting of the Lower Basin.

The hike up to the Middle Lake took about forty-five minutes with stops to enjoy the view looking back down. I decided to bypass the middle lake from a distance and stay on the trail to the Upper Lake, which offers a great view of Blue Lakes Pass above, and the trail descending the headwall down into the Upper Basin.

This is a view looking toward Blue Lakes Pass, if you look real close you can see some of the trail switchbacking up the distant headwall.

With the unusually light snowpack this year I’m not sure if I missed the green grass of the upper basin or if it was too early in the summer still. I figured it was too early for wildflowers so that wasn’t a surprise to me. None the less it’s a beautiful place full of solitude and reflection. I stayed at the Upper Basin until the sun started to set, however a sharp shadow crept over the basin and made shooting the basin at sunset pretty difficult so I hightailed it back toward the viewpoints of the Lower Basin that I had passed on the way up in hopes of making a nice image on the way back to camp. I figured it would also put less distance between me and camp to travel in the dark as well.

On the way back to camp I found a couple of nice places to shoot in the soft sunset light.

This shot of alpenglow over Lower Blue Basin was captured on my way back to camp as the last light of the day illuminated the towering peaks.

I made the last ten minutes of the trek back to camp under the magic light of post-sunset without any difficulty. There was a sign on the way into the basin prohibiting campfires, let alone the fact that it is super dry already this year, so I opted for no campfire and heated up some water on my stove for my Mountain House. Unfortunately my stove had some sort of malfunction and quit working halfway through heating the water so I had to settle for half crunchy noodles in my spaghetti and no warm drinks. Oh well, you win some and you lose some.

Since I planned to shoot from the shore of the lower lake for sunrise I didn’t have to be up all that early and I enjoyed waking up to the sound of the birds singing me a nice good morning tune. I gathered up my gear and set off around the shore of the lake to look for a nice shot. The fact that there was ice around the edges of the lake gave a good indication to me of how cold it was. Unfortunately even with trying to be careful not to fall in I slipped on a thin sheen of ice covering a rock while I was jumping in a creek and ended up drenched. The upside was that I held my camera up during the fall and it was completely dry, unlike me.

So wet and cold I tried to make the best of the cloudless sunrise and still managed to shoot a couple of images before the cold crept into my bones and I had to go back to camp and change into dry clothes. The shores of the lake at sunrise are magnificent and there are a number of real nice foregrounds that make for beautiful compositions.

Morning light softly takes hold of Blue Lakes Basin as it touches first touches the surrounding peaks.

After a cold breakfast I dried my clothes in the sun while taking a nap on the quiet shores of the lake and rejuvenated myself in the splendor of mother nature’s majesty before packing up and heading back down the trail toward home. The walk out wasn’t quite as hot as the walk in, but the truck was still a welcome sight by time I arrived.

And looking back at the trailhead I think to myself, “I’ll be back, without a doubt.”


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