Labor Day Plans for This Counselor

For most of the summer I’ve wanted to hike to Blue Lake, which is located northeast of Cameron Pass. The lake is positioned at treeline, which, for me, makes it an irresistable destination. Two trails take you there. The West Branch Trail #960 is accessable from Larimie River Road, and the Blue Lake Trail is off of Colorado Highway 14.

My daughter and I hiked the Blue Lake Trail this past Labor Day. It’s the shorter of the two trails, but the hike is still five miles one-way. We got a good start, and the day cooperated by being clear and bright.

The trail itself is punctuated by three bridges, each positioned at an important juncture in the trail. First there’s x. The next bridge marks the boundary where you cross into the Rawah wilderness. Then the third bridge x.

After we crossed the first bridge, we realized the sky was turning grey. By the time we crossed the second bridge, dark clouds rolled overhead and the temperature had dropped. It began to hail. Even as the hail pelted us, it wasn’t obvious what we should do. We were almost three miles away from the car, and I knew that hail storms didn’t usually last too long. So, we put on our jackets and kept walking forward, but we weren’t happy.

The hail finally let up, and we trudged on through the woods. The Blue Lake Trail is purported to be a fantastic hike for viewing wildflowers in July and August (Pamela Irwin [1999], Colorado’s Best Wildflower Hikes, volume 2: The High Country, Westcliffe Publishers, Englewood, Colorado, pages 108-112). However, what we experienced was a hike through a long green tunnel. The trail gains only 1,755 feet in elevation from the trailhead to the lake, which makes for mostly easy walking, but by the the time we crossed the third bridge and had almost reached the lake, my daughter and I had agreed the trail was the most boring hike we’d made in Poudre canyon.

Then we crested a rise and looked across a mountain basin and marvelled at Blue Lake. The lake is a gemlike, bluegreen color and 100% spectacular to see. We found a rock in the sun and ate lunch while we admired the view.

Forest covers the sides of the basin around the lake to the east, south and southwest. The extensive devastation to the forest caused by the mountain pine beetle (Dendroctonus ponderosae) is readily apparent and is typical of the beetle’s impact in this part of Colorado. The lake’s basin funnels upward to the northwest, where the elevation quickly rises above treeline. We could easily see the nearby pass where the Blue Lake Trail hooks up with the West Branch Trail.

As we ate our lunch, we were surprised by the amount of activity around the lake. People arrived by both trails, some to fish, but most, like us, simply wanted to see the lake. The lake and surroundings are indeed a gorgeous destination, but my daughter and I debated if it was worth the trouble to hike the Blue Lake Trail to get there. We decided if we ever want to see Blue Lake again, we’ll try hiking the West Branch Trail.