It’s one of the easier trails here in Pagosa Springs. At only 1.2 miles long one way with 488 feet of elevation gain, this is a trail that anyone can do. Combined with stunning views and aspen groves, this makes for a very crowded trail at times.
I went about a week before peak color in October and the parking lot was completely full. The video here is somewhat deceiving because in reality I passed probably over 50 people. No matter where you’re at on the trail, chances are you can hear someone in front of you and someone behind you.
I saw lots of families with younger kids since pretty much anyone can walk this trail. Which is great to see. I love to see dads and moms introducing their young ones to the great outdoors.
But despite the crowds here, this trail is definitely worth the easy access to a gorgeous lake situated against aspens and cliffs in the background.
The drive up to the trailhead really starts on Blanco Basin Road, eight miles south of Pagosa on Hwy 84. From there it’s about 14 miles up a relatively well maintained dirt road. It takes about 25 to 35 minutes, depending on if you get stuck behind someone from Oklahoma taking their deep freezer on vacation.
When you arrive at the trailhead, there’s a good amount of parking available. If the lot is filled up, there are other spots near the trailhead and along the road.
As you start up the trail, most of the elevation gain takes place right at the beginning. There’s a couple switchbacks, but nothing challenging. Once you hit the aspen groves, it levels out quite a bit and it’s a beautiful and pleasant stroll. I could’ve stayed here for hours watching the sun peak through the golden leaves as they gently started to fall to the ground.
After the Aspens, the trail opens up to some meadows which gives you your first glimpse at big views. There’s layers of colors out here as you pass a couple small stream crossings. Bring your fishing rod. I watched some locals catch a few small trout out here.
After the streams, you’ll arrive at opal lake, which has a unique color to it. The light opal color of the lake is caused from the rhyolite dust that drains from the cliffs of chalk mountains near the lake.
Take a minute or two or three to have a snack or lunch and just take in the beauty of this area. From here, you can start to head back to the trailhead or you can take a small trail around the lake that will lead to a natural spring that feeds the lake.
One quick tip…on the way back from Opal Lake, you can take a left onto the Fish Creek Trail to take a break from the crowds. Travel uphill about a quarter of a mile and you hit a fantastic meadow surrounded by aspens.
This is a great area to hang some hammocks and take a little nap. It’s completely silent here and I didn’t see a single soul. Once you’re refreshed, it’s an easy mile long hike back to the trailhead.
Overall, this is a fantastic and easy introduction to the beautiful trails of Pagosa Springs. And without a doubt, my favorite time to hike it is in the fall.
For more information on great trails around the area and other outdoor opportunities, be sure to checkout thisispagosa.com. And as always, if you would like to spend more time in the mountains rather than just a week or two a year, I’d love to help you find a place to call home so you can start living the mountain lifestyle…which is the best life there is.