Looking for spectacular scenery and a beautiful lake? Then don’t miss Columbine Lake near Silverton. The hike is challenging with 2,000 feet of elevation gain in the first two miles, but the scenery is amazing.
The hike starts just about one mile off Highway 550 between Ouray and Silverton (directions below). The trail is marked with a small sign that says “Columbine Lake Trail” with an arrow. Head that way.
The single-person wide, dirt trail starts with a steep climb and you might as well get used to it. The trail is pretty challenging as it gains about 100 feet every tenth of a mile. The trail switchbacks through the forest for the first mile or so. We gained 513 feet in the first half mile, 946 feet in the first mile.
The trail isn’t steep the whole time, it does mellow out for a few steps here and there, but come ready for a steep climb on a trail that is rocky at times.
About 1.1 miles from the start, we came to a small meadow. It was nice, but at 1.2 miles is the big view. You’ll come out of the trees, pretty much at treeline, to an incredible view of Mill Creek Basin. Enjoy the incredible view and start hiking up the valley. In mid-July, the wildflowers put on quite a show here.
As you hike up the valley, you’re now at 11,700-feet, so it’s bit slower hiking here. When you need a break, don’t forget to turn around and see the amazing scenery behind you.
When the trail crests a ridge at about 1.8 miles, you’ll better see the ridges/passes up ahead. While the trail zags toward the left ridge, it actually makes a turn/switchback and goes to the right. At the top of the valley, cross a scree field, walk along a rocky ledge and head for the next valley to your north.
There’s a little more elevation gain on the other side, but at this point you’ve tackled 2,000 feet of elevation gain and you’re hiking at about 12,500 feet.
For the next mile, the trail stays at about 12,500 feet, going up and down just a bit here. However, in mid-July, we found lots of snowfields here that we had to cross. Some of the snow fields were knee-to-hip deep. You’ll want traction devices and waterproof boots and socks for this hike.
The trail winds its way along the side on this next valley, staying on the left side. Columbine Lake is at the head of the valley and slightly left. If you see a trail up the middle of the valley, don’t go that way. Stay slightly south.
About 3 miles or so from the trailhead we came to a wide stream – that’s the outflow from Columbine Lake. Don’t cross the stream, even though some do, just turn left and follow the stream up to Columbine Lake.
Columbine Lake is one of the bluest lakes you’ll see in Colorado. Even when it was mostly frozen, you could still see some of that deep blue color. When you arrive at the lake, you have two choices, make this your turnaround spot or follow the lakeshore to the right and head for Columbine Pass at 13,044 feet. From the top of the pass, I’m told you can see Lewis Lake, but due to all the snow, we were unable to hike to the pass.
Note: We hiked to the lake on July 16 and found it mostly frozen. I would recommend this hike in August if you want to see the lake melted.
Details: The hike to Columbine Lake is about 6.7 miles roundtrip with 2,250 feet of elevation gain. Add more miles and elevation gain for an extra exploring you do.
When hiking in Silverton, don’t miss Ice Lakes along with Fuller & Island lakes. Other Silverton hikes include Highland Mary and Verde Lakes. Find more hikes in Southwest Colorado and Colorado hiking trails in this list of 400+ hikes across the state. Don’t miss any of my trip reports, sign up for an email alert by clicking on subscribe at the top of this page and follow me on Facebook.
Directions: From Silverton, take Highway 550 north about 4.7 miles to Ophir Pass Road. Turn left on Ophir Pass Road, go over the bridge and start driving up the hill. After about 200 yards (think 2 football fields), turn right on County Road 100. When we came here, there was no sign, but it’s the first right turn after the bridge and it’s a bit uphill from the bridge. Take CR 100 about 0.7 miles to the Columbine Lake Trail sign on your left. We had to drive a bit farther to find a place with a wide enough shoulder/pull out to park.