Columbine Lake Silverton Colorado

Backpacking Guide to the beautiful Columbine Lake at 12,700 feet

I’ve done my share of backpacking to insanely colored lakes, but backpacking Columbine Lake in Colorado was a real shocker. Sitting at 12,700 feet in the middle of the San Juan Mountains outside of Silverton, Columbine Lake’s deep blue color will stop you in your tracks if the thin air doesn’t.

At only 4.3 miles up, it’s a pretty attainable hike if you’re willing to work for it as you gain close to 3,000 feet over the short hike. Then, all you have to do is think about the swim you have waiting for you once you arrive. In terms of backpacking Colorado, this might take the cake!

If you’re looking for good hiking in Silverton, keep reading. This is the spot for you!

Hiking and Backpacking to Columbine Lake in Colorado

Sunset at Columbine Lake Colorado

Trip Details for Backpacking to Columbine Lake

  • Length: 8.3 miles RT
  • Elevation Gain: 2,900
  • Starting Elevation: 9,900 feet
  • Difficulty: Breaks will be a-plenty
  • Beauty Level: Drop-dead gorgeous
  • Water availability: Not much until the lake
  • Trailhead: Ophir Pass turnoff

Trail Report for Hiking to Colorado’s Columbine Lake

The Trail above the saddle | Columbine lake Colorado

After parking by the bridge, I walked up the dirt road for about a mile. If you have high clearance, you can probably shave off 75% of this walk and save yourself some time. (You only walk on the Ophir pass road for a few hundred yards, then head right.)

For the next .75 miles, it’s a gradual uphill to the beginning of the trail, which you’ll find on your left-hand side. This is where the trail gets tough.

Over the next mile, you’ll gain 1,000 feet through a handful of switchbacks. The air thins on every step, making it exhausting, but the trail is nicely maintained. After the switchbacks, you’ll leave the shade and begin the next portion of the hike –  an uphill push to the saddle above you.

The trail isn’t steep, but you’ll likely be forced to take breaks. This section is slightly under a mile, though it’ll feel longer. Thankfully, once you’re at the saddle, your hike eases up considerably.

The final push to reach Columbine Lake

Once you’re on top of the saddle, your view opens up, leaving you amazed. Your view will stretch for miles and miles, and you’ll be able to make out the faint trail as it winds its way across the tundra. The hike will be a gentle roller coaster for the next mile, taking you gradually up to the lake.

The final quarter-mile has a little more elevation gain, but you’ll be gazing longingly at the deep blue lake before you by the time your heart rate really picks up.

Welcome to Columbine Lake!

Sleeping at Columbine Lake Silverton Colorado
Aim to be 100 feet from the water | Columbine lake Colorado
Backpacking to Columbine Lake Silverton Colorado
Columbine Lake Silverton Colorado
Exploring the upper lake | Columbine lake Colorado
Drone Columbine Lake Colorado
The basin from above | Columbine lake Colorado
Columbine Lake Drone Shot Silverton Hikes
The deep blue columbine lake from above
Hiking to Columbine Lake Colorado Lookout Peak

Camping at Columbine Lake

If you plan on staying overnight, there are plenty of places to sleep. A quarter-mile to the right of the trail, about 100 feet from the lake, was my home for the evening. A nice rocky area had been made as a tent site.

I also saw people camp atop the hill to the left, where the trail and lake intersect. It also looked like there were some good spots on the far side by Milky Creek. It was a stunning night at Columbine Lake, and I got to shoot some Milky Way directly out of my tent.

Milky Way Night Photography Columbine Lake Colorado

Hiking Questions about Columbine Lake, Colorado

Can you swim in Columbine Lake, CO?

Most definitely, yes, you can. I went in after my hike, and it was glorious. I was surprised to find it was not that cold for late August. With not much more snow melt coming in, as you can see by the photos, I’m sure the water in Columbine Lake was warming up in the summer heat.

Backpacking Silverton hikes colorado

How to get to Columbine Lake, Colorado?

Getting to Columbine Lake is accessible from Silverton, CO. It’s about a 15-minute drive to the Ophir Pass turnoff. Here, cross the bridge, and there will be a small parking area. Then, if you have a higher clearance vehicle, you can drive it to the actual trailhead about 3/4’s of a mile further up the road.

 What should I bring to hike or backpack the San Juan Mountains?

Silverton Hikes Colorado

Where should I stay before my trek?

The closest place would be to stay in Silverton, with Ouray and Durango being good second and third options. If you stay in Durango, you’ll have a 70-minute drive to the trailhead.

Final thoughts on Hiking and Backpacking Columbine Lake

A reminder for hiking Columbine Lake and others in the area:

  • Keep an eye on the weather forecast. The mountains can create afternoon storms when none are predicted
  • It’s recommended to hike in the morning
  • At elevations over 12,000 feet, it can snow even in late summer
  • Remember the Leave No Trace principles.
  • Even in the summer, it can get chilly. Pack like you would for fall weather in other parts of the country.

If you’re looking for other hiking in Silverton, check out Ice Lakes Basin, and then if you head to Telluride, Blue Lakes, and Mt. Sneffels.

Until next time, adventurers, stay safe.

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Author: Alec Sills-Trausch

Title: Founder of Explore with Alec

Expertise: Hiking, Backpacking, Photography, and Road Trips

Alec Sills-Trausch is a hiker, backpacker, landscape photographer, and syndicated travel writer. He enjoys showing off the beauty of the world through his photos, videos, and written work on Alec is also a 2x cancer survivor and bone marrow transplant recipient, showing the world that there is a future from this terrible disease.

He lives in Washington, where he gets to enjoy the stunning PNW mountains in addition to all the other places he attempts to visit each year! You can see more work on IG at @AlecOutside