Columbine Lake

Date Hiked: 10-03-16

Mileage: 7.9 miles from the upper trailhead

Head Count (how many other hikers I saw):0 groups


With its more popular neighbor Ice Lakes, the Columbine Lake trail is a lesser known hike which still offers the best that alpine backcountry has to offer.

Starting right in on the switchbacks, the trail gains its first 1,000 feet of elevation in no time as it ascends the expansive and heavily wooded eastern arm of Lookout Peak. When I was barely a quarter mile from the trailhead, feather-light snowflakes started to fall and gather on the dirt around me, and the short teaser of what’ll soon be the norm was enough to lift the winter blues that fall’s end always awakens in me.

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The snow is gathering fast. Soon enough it’ll be time to break out the snowshoes and skis!

Since early August, brief cycles of snow and cooler temperatures have plagued this region of the state, and now, the usually thick coniferous cover has already shed some of its summertime coat, bringing with it spotty views of the mountains across the highway. Just 2.5 miles from the trailhead, the trail exits the trees, leveling briefly before climbing out of this first basin into the next. With the wider horizons, views of Anvil Mountain and Ohio Peak open up, as well as the higher 13,000 foot peaks that rise on Silverton’s southwestern edge; and in the furthest distances, you can spot Arrow, Vestal and the three Trinity Peaks of my favorite sub range, The Needles.

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Above treeline, frigid snowflakes pelt my exposed face.

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The sun trying to break free of the cloudcover.

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Almost out of the first basin.

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We’ve come a long ways already.

The trail tops out, and the route flattens as it wraps westward towards Columbine Lake. Imposing cloud-covered views of the mountain ridges separating us from Blue Lake and Lewis Lake stir feelings of unease, but it’s that fear that keeps me wanting to explore further. With a few more easy ups and downs, the trail dumps into the eastern shores of Columbine Lake.

From here, the trail continues up to Columbine Pass for a new perspective on Lewis Lake and Mine. With my map forgotten at home and unable to find the trail, I turned back here, but I guess it’ll give me a good reason to come back and explore the pass and the surrounding peaks another day.

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Blue Lake lies just on the other side of this basin wall.

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Where it goes, nobody knows.

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The clouds break and gather in the Mill Creek drainage.

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The glacial blue waters wafting lazily on Columbine Lake. I was glad the lake hadn’t been given enough time to freeze yet.

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Mill Creek. Heading home just in time for the snow to start falling again.

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On the return trip, the fog finally lifted, revealing a fresh untouched dusting across the highway.


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(From Silverton): Drive north on Highway 550 for 4.8 miles, then turn left on FR-679. In .4 miles, turn right onto FR-820. The trailhead is on the left side of the road, about .85 miles further. With 2WD, park at the beginning of FR-820 – there is enough room for one or two cars.

6.6 miles; 15 min

There is also another option to turn onto the other end of FR-820 just north of FR-679. The dirt continues north and parallels the highway for half a mile before bending back to the south towards the trailhead. At the bend, the road crosses Mineral Creek, which would pose no problem for high-clearance vehicles, but a sedan probably couldn’t make it, and the creek is too high to cross without getting your feet wet.


One thought on “Columbine Lake

  1. Where can I obtain a copy of the “Blue Lake lies just on the other side of this basin wall” photo ? It is so surreal and mystical and captures this moment in time. I am very impressed and intrigued with your outdoor photographs!


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