Hiking To Blair Lake

WARNING: This post contains a LOT of pictures. Thus, unless you have a fast connection, you might want to brew yourself a nice cup of hot chocolate, pop yourself some popcorn, or grab a glass of milk and some cookies (whatever suits your mood). This will need some time to download :-)

Another hike I enjoyed this summer was to Blair Lake. While I had been to Blair Lake a few summers ago - via horseback - this was my first hike into this lake which sits on the backbone of the Continental Divide.

Some mountain ranges abound with lakes. It seems there is a lake in every valley. However, the Centennial Mountains are not heavy on lakes. There are many little streams but few bodies of water large enough to earn the title ‘lake’. Blair and Lillian Lakes are two of the nicest, and are located not far from the lodge or each other.

The journey to Blair Lake can begin at the hiker’s choice of two trailheads. Oddly enough both trails begin within a mile of each other and both are accessed from the same service road. Thus the traveler has the option of choosing either. Or, if they desire, this hike can easily turn into a loop which requires little doubling back over terrain already explored.

Last time I visited Blair Lake I traversed the trail to the east. On this hike we decided to make explore the trail to the west. And, since it was a lovely fall day, the drive to the trailhead was almost as pleasurable as the hike to the lake.

We chose the more westerly access because this trail is the shortest from trailhead to lake, and it provides a steady but comfortable climb from trailhead to lake. Were we to have chosen the more easterly access, we could have chosen to intersect this trail partway up the mountain (via the Continental Divide Trail) or take the trail to Lillian Lake (which sits in a swale) and then make a hefty climb up to Blair Lake.

Our chosen trail, the Corral Creek Trail, began along an old road passing through private property. After about a mile we went through a gate onto BLM land and our road became a ‘trail’ - a not-very-well maintained trail at that.

Immediately we began to climb. As this is an older trail which receives little use, it has not been reworked. Thus the trail does not have the new gradient changes which remove the stepper sections from reworked trails. However, we were glad for the added body heat as the morning was brisk.

As we climbed I could not help but notice the patches of brilliant color beside the trail. It seemed just days ago we were picking huckleberries off these bushes. Now the bushes had transformed into delightful splashes of color along our trail.

After about 40 minutes of fairly heavy timber, the countryside began to open up with lighter timber interspersed with small meadows.

After about 50 minutes we hit the junction of the Continental Divide Trail. While there are few to no trail maps for the area we traversed (the Corral Creek Trail didn’t even make the map), the trail signage was very good. At every junction we knew which knew exactly which way to go.

If we had taken the trail to our left (heading down the hill) we would have eventually ended up at Hell Roaring Creek (or at the more easterly trailhead). Of course the Corral Creek trail was the trail we had just traversed.

From here on out we followied the Continental Divide Trail (except for the final 1/4 mile or so to Blair Lake). Straight ahead was a clearly visible sign. We still had 2 3/4 miles to travel to reach Blair Lake.

Although bright yellow and red leaves announced fall had come to the Centennial, a few hardy flowers still braved the cool, crisp mornings and frosty nights. Perhaps the warm ‘Indian-summer’ fall days allowed them to survive.

The trail continued to meander - generally up - through stands of timber and open meadows. We crossed numerous small streams. Most had ‘bridges’ (which barely deserved the title) but were narrow enough to hop across this time of year.

As the countryside opened up, the views became breathtaking. I found it interesting to track our progress with our frequent glimpses of Red Rock Mountain. When we saw it for the first time, we were high enough to be about even with its top, and it seemed quite close.

As we were traversed the final ascent to Blair Lake, it was much further away and seemed quite small.

Along with numerous small creeks, we also passed a few small tarns. This one, the largest, might have qualified as a small pond. It certainly had ‘interesting’ residents.

Having traveled about 2 miles from our last junction, we came to the second of three junctions on this hike. We now had the option of going straight

- and dropping down to Lillian Lake

- or taking a right and switchbacking up the hill to Blair Lake

Here, again, the color splashes were brilliant and beautiful to behold.

Since our first junction, we had been following the Continental Divide Trail up the mountain. This trail is well-marked with distinctive trail signs which make it easy to follow.

Near the top of the divide we finally reached our final trail junction. Here the Continental Divide Trail now goes straight with a poorly marked (but visible) junction Blair Lake heading to the right.

The final leg of our trail took us through a small meadow

Then down through a light stand of timber to the lake. If you look closely at this photo you will see a wooden post ahead of the first hiker.

Attached to this post is an old piece of a Continental Divide Trail marker. While the CD Trail has obviously been re-routed (which adds privacy for those picnicing or camping at Blair Lake), the map has not been updated. Thus, if you make this hike, be aware - the last section is slightly different than the map shows (see note on the map photo above). You will need to watch for the junction marker pictured above.

Of course the views of Mt. Jefferson which begin when the trail gets above the heavier timber, are terrific. By the time you begin the final approach to Blair Lake, you have traveled far enough south to see the mountain from a different perspective.

Blair Lake peek-a-booed us through the trees as we approached from the east.

The trail crosses the lake’s outlet and passes along the lake’s open shoulder. Blair Lake is a pretty lake about 3 or 4 acres in size and mostly round in shape. It sits in about an 8 acre meadow surrounded by timbered and open ridges.

The water is beautifully clear and has a green tint. We had met no one on the trail. Thus it came as no surprise to find we had the lake to ourselves as well. We enjoyed a leisurely lunch in relative peace and quiet (relative is an completely understandable term to those of you who travel - or have traveled - with an 8-year-old :-)

I found another sign from the ‘old’ Continental Divide Trail on a tree near Blair Lake. This further proved my theory the trail had undergone extensive re-routing in the last few years.

The trip up took about 2 hours each way. This crew kept a pretty brisk clip going up. And, because of the steady grade, we found ourselves taking the downhill a bit easy.

By the time we reached our car, we were ready to give our legs a break. However, the memories of this very enjoyable hike will live with us for months to come.

I close this post with a panoramic shot taken from near our final trail junction on the way to Blair Lake. While I have much to learn about panoramic shots (sorry for the color variations), I include this photo because it gives you an idea of the amazing beauty and vast open expanses one experiences on this hike.

Lady of the Lake

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