One way to escape the summer heat in Southwest Colorado is to head for high mountain lakes.
Taylor Lake in the La Plata Mountains and Columbine Lake near Silverton are worth the visit.
Getting to Taylor Lake involves a 14-mile drive up La Plata Canyon from Hesperus on U.S. Highway 160, to the Kennebec Pass Trailhead. The last several miles is a moderate four-wheel-drive road.
At the trailhead, the lake is only 1 mile to the west, perfect for a short hike or easy backpack. Set up camp with views of the lakes and the interior of the La Plata Mountains.
Several trails can be explored from the lake. The Highline section of the Colorado Trail traverses Indian Trail Ridge, which separates the Animas and Dolores River Valleys. The Sharkstooth Trail heads toward Centennial Peak and Sharkstooth Pass. The Bear Creek Trail is nearby.
La Plata Canyon is rich in Native American and mining history.
Ute Tribes camped and hunted in the area. They used Indian Trail Ridge to cross through the La Plata Mountains to the hot springs in Ouray, where they would rendezvous with other bands of the Utes from the Gunnison Valley, according to state historians.
Miners arrived in the La Plata Canyon in the 1870s and clashed with the Ute Tribes living there, until the Brunot Treaty allowed settlers to access the mines. The mining towns of Parrot City, Mayday, and La Plata City flourished from 1874-1883. Remnants of historic mines remain, including the old Gold King stamp mill that employed 50 people.
Columbine Lake near Silverton sits at 12,541 feet elevation in a glacial bowl surrounded by jagged peaks.
The steep, 3.5-mile trial to the lake switchbacks up through alpine forests, and climbs over high mountain passes. Enjoy 360-degree views of mountain ranges and valleys near and far.
The vibrant turquoise hue of Columbine Lake surrounded by wildflowers is worth the strenuous uphill hiking.
To access the Columbine Lake Trailhead take the Ophir Pass Road from U.S. Highway 550. After crossing Mineral Creek, look for the smaller side road heading north and travel about 1 mile to the trailhead. Parking is limited at the trailhead.