Highland Mary Lakes - Hiking
The Highland Mary Lakes hike delivers crystal clear lakes nestled in open expanses of wildflower-strewn meadows within the majestic San Juan mountains.
There are many options to suit your ability and timeframe. It is approximately 1.75 miles from the trailhead to the 3 main Highland Mary Lakes, and 3 miles to Verde Lakes. Those embarking on the loop with the Continental Divide Trail will complete 7.5 miles in total. Other options are to hike beyond the Verde Lakes to the Lost Lake overlook, which will also add about a mile to your trip.
Destination Distance From Downtown
The first 1.5 miles climbs steeply on a loose, rocky trail through dense spruce forest. As you reach treeline and the lakes, the trail mellows out to gentle sloping meadows. Total elevation gain to the high point (12,300ft) between Highland Mary Lakes and Verde Lakes is around 1,800 feet.
Time To Complete
Out and back to Verde Lakes is 6 miles total, and to go this far takes about 4 hours total. However, there is plenty of room to explore, try your hand at fishing in one of the lakes, or pick up the spur trail which takes you to the Continental Divide Trail (see explanation below). The lakes are a peaceful place to pack a picnic or a tent for an overnight adventure. Wide open meadows invite children and dogs to play, while the peaceful shores of the lakes invite time to sit and contemplate the beauty of the landscape.
Summer and Fall
Depending on the past winter, snow can remain in Cunningham Gulch late in the year. In early summer, take caution as the runoff in the streams is high, which makes the multiple stream crossings (both on the trail and driving to the trailhead) tricky. The photos provided were taken on July 4th weekend, and there was still significant snow above 12,000ft. Late July through August is ideal for wildflower viewing, as the open grassland is filled with colonies of paintbrush, columbine, king's crown, alpine blue violet, alpine sunflower, and many more. Be mindful of summer thunderstorms, as the majority of this hike is exposed and well above treeline. Get an early start and keep an eye out for clouds forming, as storms can appear very abruptly.