Blue Lake? Another one? Yep. Here’s yet another Blue Lake in Colorado, but it’s yet another that is worth a visit, especially if you can bring a shuttle car so you can hike the West Branch Trail.
The trailhead for Blue Lake is on Highway 14, 54 miles from Ted’s Place (directions below). The hike starts by a sign in the parking lot. Take the dirt path a few steps and you’ll find yourself in the thick forest. The hike starts easy because it starts downhill. Follow the path as it winds past a turnoff for the Long Draw Parking lot, then crosses a bridge over Joe Wright Creek.
The trail drops about 120 feet in the first 0.6 miles, then begins climbing. At times the trail is wide, at times the trail is only wide enough for one to two people. The Forest Service website says the first two miles of the trail follows an old wagon trail.
About 1.9 miles from the trailhead, there’s a small opening in the trees. Take a few steps and you’ll find yourself at an overlook of sorts. That’s Chambers Lake below you.
At 2.25 miles, you’ll cross Fall Creek, then enter the Rawah Wilderness. The Forest Service says “Rawah” is a native American term meaning “wild place.” There are 25 named lakes and 86 miles of trail in the 78,000-acres Rawah Wilderness.
At this point, you’re nearly half way to the lake, but you’ve only had about 250 feet of elevation gain, so the trail is about to get steeper. Tall spruce and fir trees keep the trail shady in the morning as you climb nearly 1200 feet of elevation gain in the next 2.6 miles.
Suddenly, the trail leaves the forest and you’ll find yourself on a ridge below the nearby peaks. It’s a short distance from this spot until you see Blue Lake in a bowl below you. Come here in June and July and the wildflowers put on a show on the banks of the lake. Come here in late August and you may miss the colorful display.
After a photo stop and a snack, it’s time to hike on. While the trail just above Blue Lake dropped a bit in elevation, you’re going to gain that back plus another 300 feet climbing to the top of Blue Lake Pass. The hike to the top is less than a mile and when you need a break just take a photo of the Blue Lake Valley. On a clear day, you can see the nearby mountains and into Rocky Mountain National Park.
At the top of the pass, you’ll have great views of both sides. You can turn around here for a 12 mile roundtrip hike, but if you have a shuttle car, the hike along the West Branch Trail is a treat.
Hike down the north side of Blue Pass enjoying the views of the nearby peaks and valley. The trail gets a bit steep here dropping 825 feet in 1.3 miles. There are a few creek crossings, so make sure you come prepared with good boots and socks and poles.
At 1.5 miles from the top, you’ll reach the West Branch Trail. Go west 2 miles for Island Lake or turn east/right to head downhill.
The West Branch Trail is very pleasant as it winds in and out of the forest, passing some large meadows. When you come to a meadow, stop and enjoy the views.
The West Branch Trail drops 400 feet in the first two miles after the Blue Lake Trail. At 9.4 miles (from the Blue Lake trailhead), you’ll pass a turnoff for Rawah Trail. A short distance away, there’s a pretty major creek crossing that had no logs when we hiked here. Some people got across with slightly wet boots, others took off their boots and rolled up their pants. Just a warning that in early summer, this is probably a challenging crossing.
At 10.25 miles from the trailhead, you’ll pass another turnoff, this one for the Camp Lake Trail. From here, you still have 2.75 miles and 840 feet of elevation to drop. However, there are a couple spots with elevation gain on the way back. They’re not too steep and they don’t last too long, so just take your time.
About 11 miles from the trailhead, the forest suddenly changed to Aspen trees. What a treat it was to hike through the sea of Aspens for the next 1.5 miles or so. Come here in September and the trees should be putting on quite a show. There were even some yellow leaves here in late August.
At 12.5 miles, you’ll pass the turnoff for the Tunnel campground, remember you want the West Branch Trailhead. So veer left, follow the trail over a canal to a dirt road and take that dirt road to the paved road. Go through the gate, turn left and walk a short distance to the West Branch Trailhead. One warning, once you cross that canal, you’ll be back in the sun at the warmest part of the day so make sure you’ve saved a little water to get you back to your car.
Details: The hike from the Blue Lake Trailhead to the West Branch Trailhead is 13 miles with 1800 feet of elevation gain.
If you’re looking for hiking in Poudre Canyon, my favorite hikes are Lake Agnes, Lake Emmaline, Mirror Lake and the B-17 crash site. Find more Poudre Canyon hikes and hikes across the state in this list of 400+ Colorado hiking trails. Don’t miss any of my trip reports, sign up for an email alert by clicking on subscribe at the bottom of this article and follow me on Facebook.
More Blue Lake hikes in Colorado: Ouray, Telluride, Rocky Mountain National Park
Directions to the Blue Lake Trailhead: From Fort Collins, take Highway 14 through town. When Highway 14 makes a left turn at a gas station (Ted’s Place), zero your odometer. Drive about 54 miles to the turnoff for Long Draw Road. The Blue Lake Trailhead is on the right side of the road where Long Draw turns left.
Directions to the West Branch Trailhead: From Fort Collins, take Highway 14 through town. When Highway 14 makes a left turn at a gas station (Ted’s Place), zero your odometer. Drive about 52 miles to the Laramie River Road Trailhead. Drive 6.8 miles up this dirt road to the West Branch Trailhead.