Date hiked: 06/17/16
Mileage: 10.8 mi; 3.75 hr
Head Count (how many other hikers I saw):2-3 groups.
Telluride may be known for its world-class skiing, but type the word into any image search, and a good chunk of those pictures are going to be of Bridal Veil Falls plunging from the high cliffs at the head of the snug box canyon in which Telluride is nestled. At over 350 feet in height, it’s the tallest free falling waterfall in all of Colorado, and a photographer’s hotspot. It’s also the gateway to the Blue Lake trail.
Unknowingly, I made the trip during Telluride’s Bluegrass Festival and hit a wall of traffic at the final stretch into town. Pushing through those last few narrow blocks of town – a trip that should of taken ten minutes – stretched a good thirty at least. A word to the wise: check their summer schedule if you’re hoping to beat the crowds. Telluride is busy enough without adding more kindling to the fire.
Not to be confused with the Blue Lakes monolith of a trail in the Sneffels Wilderness near Ouray, the Blue Lake of Telluride sits perched in a high cirque of Bridal Veil Basin, just waiting to be discovered.
The first leg of the route follows a rugged and rutted 4×4 trail, that any good 4WD or AWD car can make. It’s even Subaruable. But if you’re heading up in a 2WD car with low clearance, it’s best to park it at Pandora Mill and hike the last 1.8 miles to the summit. Worry not, though, it’s a hike well worth it, parading amazing panoramic views of the mountains surrounding Telluride’s valley and the historic Smuggler-Union Hydroelectric Power Plant sitting like a sordid castle atop the falls. Take care during the summer months, as this road feeds into the western mouth of the infamous Black Bear Pass. That’s a lot of road traffic, and a lot of dirt kicked up.
1.2 miles into the trip, the trail flattens out where the twin falls meet in a thundering pillow of mist. On a hot day, it makes for a nice cool-down.
The summit comes quickly. Here, another switchback sweeps the road into the crux of Black Bear Pass (perhaps the hardest and most dangerous off-roading Colorado has to offer), but a sign indicates no entry as only downhill traffic is allowed on the switchbacks themselves. Another gate bans drivers from entering the Smuggler-Union Hydroelectric Power Plant. But, as a hiker, you can step on through, and let the true start of the hike commence.
Beyond the gate, the trail sidesteps the plant. With its original Westinghouse Electric AC generator still in use, it’s the second-oldest facility in the United States. The water, which was piped in from Blue Lake, now supplies renewable energy to Telluride.
The route follows Bridal Veil Basin into much rougher terrain. As the other hikers dispersed, I was nearly alone heading into the first intersection with the Silver Lake Trail. Stocked annually with trout, Silver Lake makes for a good fishing lake, but with the water levels, Bridal Veil Creek makes it unreachable this time of year without getting your shins wet.
Continuing straight at this point, the trail climbs steadily with unbeatable views every which way you turn: up ahead, the piercing fin of East Basin which houses Blue Lake; and at your back, Telluride nestled against the red cliffs and high snowy peaks.
About two miles in, at an unmarked junction, continue left onto the Blue Lakes Trail. Right will take you to Lewis Mine.
The trail is dry enough, but I still found a lot more snow up here than expected. On the return trip, once the sun had been given enough time to warm things up, convoluted rivers of snowmelt drowned the gravel out, turning the trail into a creek.
More than half a mile from the intersection, the route levels out, and a mine comes into view. For me, this was where the snow started, and wearing shorts with no gaitors sucked to say the least. Blue Lake is about half a mile beyond this point.
(From Telluride):From the roundabout, head east on CO-145 (Colorado Avenue) for 2.5 miles. If you have 2WD, park here at the Pandora Mill. Otherwise, continue another 2 miles to the Bridal Veil Powerplant. Parking is very limited at the top, but the road offers plenty of pullouts along the way. A lot of people park at the base of Bridal Veil Falls .8 miles from the top.
2.4 miles to Pandora Mine; 10 min