The 20 Best Backcountry Lakes: Little, Middle, and Upper Blue Lakes

Mt. Sneffels Wilderness, Colorado
Blue Lake

Choices, choices: On the way to Upper Blue Lake, camp a night in the mead- ows by Middle Blue Lake overlooking Lower Blue Lake (and Mt. Sneffels). (Photo by Grant Ordelheide)

Glacial tarns are a special subset of lakes—the surrounding peaks are sharper, the water is bluer, the air is thinner. Case in point: Upper Blue Lake. Seated below Colorado’s 14,150-foot Mt. Sneffels, the turquoise pool drains a glacial cirque in the San Juans. In summer, wildflowers bloom in the surrounding meadows, which you can camp in (find an established spot). To get there, take the Blue Lakes Trail (#201) 3.3 miles along Dallas Creek to Lower Blue Lake. Transition from spruce woods to talus as you trek another .8 mile to Upper Blue Lake at 11,720 feet. If stormy weather makes above-treeline camping iffy, find a protected spot on the north shore of Lower Blue Lake. At the Blue Lakes basin, the Sneffels summit is a must: Continue 2.4 miles on the Blue Lakes Trail to the pass by the same name, then take the class 3 ridgeline .8 mile to the summit. “You don’t need climbing gear,” says Brad Wallis, the Wilderness Trail Coordinator for the Ouray Trail Group, “but be careful of loose rock and exposure. Some sections require handholds.” (Also: Start early to avoid afternoon thunderstorms.)

Trailhead Blue Lakes (38.035759, -107.806825) Season Late June through mid-October (wildflowers bloom mid-July) Permits Grab a free, self-issued permit at the trailhead.