Lewis Lake and Mine

Date hiked: 08/12/16

Mileage: 14.4 mi; 5.5 hrs

Head Count (how many other hikers I saw):1 group


Nestled deep in a remote alpine basin 12,000 feet up, with no motorized access and a long trek in, Lewis Mill is one of Colorado’s best living examples of mining history today, despite having only lived through three years of production.

During the early 1900s, in the cusp of a new era for Colorado mining, the five-story Lewis Mill was a state of the art facility which marked the transition from stamp milling to full chemical flotation. Today, it’s the last transitional mill which still houses its original milling equipment.

Lewis Mill was at one time capable of cranking out 12 tons of ore concentrate in a single day. But having sat vacant since the forties, with only sporadic use after 1912, the timber-sided structure clings to the mountainside, each year shedding another piece of its livelihood to the harsh alpine elements.

Starting out from Pandora Mill in Telluride, follow a long set of gentle switchbacks up the canyon wall to Bridal Veil Falls and the Bridal Veil Power Station. If the hike up seems familiar, it should. The first four miles of the route shares a path with the Blue Lakes trail.

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1.8 miles from Bridal Veil Falls, the unmarked junction between Lewis Lake and Blue Lake straddles the grassy hillside. Taking a right at the split this time, the trail follows an old mining road along a steady grade through rich meadows of wildflowers. Treading south, more or less, the trail follows Bridal Veil Creek before it hits an outlet stream and strays west to bypass a series of rocky outcrops. Sweeping back to the east, the trail gains elevation, then meets back up with Bridal Veil Creek just before Lewis Mill slips into view.

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Turn right here. Blue Lakes is to the left.

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Blue Lake lies in the basin on the other side of this cliff. A seldom hiked mining road cuts across the mountainside to connect the two lakes.

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Just shy of two miles after the Blue Lake-Lewis Lake junction, the Bridal Veil Trail peels off towards Ophir, many miles to the southwest, and connects into the Bear Creek Fall Trail (not to be confused with Ouray’s Bear Creek National Recreation Trail). Keep left for Lewis Lake and Mill.

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The first signs of mining history.

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Lewis mill and bunkhouse.

Spared from certain death by demolition, the mill was restored by a State Historical Fund grant in 2001 and placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2009. During rehabilitation, the materials had to be flown in by helicopter, and the workers entered the site by way of ATVs or their own two feet.

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Ghostly shafts of light haunt Lewis Mill inside and out. Who knows what still lurks within these walls.

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Inside the bunkhouse:IMG_9502 (2).JPGIMG_9501 (2).JPG

Rising along a steep drainage beyond the mill, the trail up to Lewis Lake strains towards the 12,700 foot dam at the east end of Lewis Lake. Beyond that, switchbacks summit Columbine pass 300 feet higher.

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Sun setting over Telluride on the hike back.

Trail Map

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(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 summit.

2.4 miles to Pandora Mine; 10 min

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