Columbine Lake Trail
I hadn’t heard of Columbine Lake until I started doing some research on *gasp* non-14er hikes in the Montrose area, but wow, this trail did not disappoint!
Columbine Lake is located south of Ouray over Red Mountain Pass, north of Silverton.
If you’re coming from the north, the turn onto 820 from highway 550 is very sharp, so be prepared.
If you have the option, I recommend taking a high-clearance, AWD or 4WD vehicle.
Once on 820, you’ll pretty quickly reach a creek crossing. In mid-August the water was only a couple inches deep, but it may be higher earlier in the season.
On the other side of the creek, the road steepens and has lots of loose rock.
After a couple switchbacks, the road widens. This is a good spot to park as there’s only room for two cars at the trailhead.
If you parked in that first area, the trailhead is about 0.1 mi down the road. The main trailhead along the right is narrow and unmarked, but there are quite a few other side trials that connect up to the main trail, so be on the lookout. Anything that looks climbable will do.
If you feel like you’ve been walking too long, you may have missed it. I blew right past it but it was much easier to spot from the return direction.
Columbine Lake Trail
The trail wastes no time ascending and the incline continues for 16 switchbacks.
Pause for calf stretching as needed.
#LegDay sponsored by switchback #12.
As you crest the last bit of hill, the trail opens up into a valley.
Enjoy the views as you meander through the valley.
When you reach a junction with a trail that splits to the left (about 2.7 miles), continue straight.
The trail then sweeps up and around the valley (don’t worry, no more switchbacks), skirts around the rock ledge, and then crosses over the saddle into the neighboring valley.
Looking back down the valley
The rock ledge
The scenery on the other side is wow. I’d post more pictures but I don’t want to spoil all of the views.
Hike slowly, push the feeling of being rushed out of your head, and enjoy the beauty.
The trail remains pretty flat as it wraps around the backside of the mountain.
You’ll crest another ridge then the trail will continue along fairly flat again. You’ll probably start feeling like you’re in the Sound of Music.
When the trail meets up with the river and starts to follow alongside it, you’re getting close!
The next landmark is Columbine Lake.
Waiting for the mermaids
If you’re lucky, you’ll just about have the whole place to yourself. I didn’t see a soul on the way up and there were only three people up at the lake, two of which had camped there. Unheard of for a Colorado trail!
Enjoy the lake for as long as you can. It gets bluer and bluer as the sun rises higher. Find a place to sit, have a snack, and just be. You worked hard for this. Enjoy the tranquility.
So much space to myself
It looked even bluer right before I left
- Trailhead: Columbine Lake Trailhead
- Car driven: Subaru Impreza hatchback
- Day of the week hiked: Thursday
- Trailhead arrival time: 6:15 am
- Parking: Open, but limited spots available
- Restroom at the trailhead? No
- Crowd count:
- On the way up: 1 (when parking)
- At the lake: 3
- On the way down: 26
If you like to follow along on the GPS while you hike, I recommend the Hiking Project app.
Trekking poles recommended? Yes. This is a perfect trekking pole trail.
Shoe verdict: Hiking boots for ankle support on the loose rock.
After your hike, stop in Ouray for some lunch! Maggie’s Kitchen has fantastic burgers (gluten-free buns available) and they’re pretty cheap.
Looking for other things to do in the area? Mt. Sneffels, Highland Mary Lakes Loop, and Telluride are some great options!