Quartz Lake (South San Juan Wilderness)

  • Rating: Difficult

  • Distance: 9.2 miles (out and back)

  • Elevation

    • Trailhead: 9,950 feet

    • Max: 12,080 feet

    • Gain: 2200 feet

    • Lake: 11,520 feet

  • Road Status: Nipple Mountain above Echo Canyon (FR665)

  • Trail: Little Blanco (572) and Quartz Lake (568)

  • Trailhead Directions (17.1 miles east of Pagosa Springs, CO) 

  • Trail Map

  • ‚ÄčNotes: Lots of elevation gain at high altitude, with large sections above treeline (lightning warning).  Snow often covers the trail into August.  The trail is difficult to find shortly after the keyhole. 

Quartz Lake near Pagosa Springs
Quartz Lake near Pagosa Springs
Quartz Lake near Pagosa Springs
Quartz Lake near Pagosa Springs
Quartz Lake Trail nr Pagosa Springs
Quartz Lake near Pagosa Springs
Little Blanco Trail nr Pagosa Spring

Nestled high in the South San Juan Wilderness near Pagosa Springs, Quartz Lake is a deep glacial tarn located at the headwaters of the East Fork of the San Juan River.  There's an adequate drainage area to support a healthy brook trout population.  It's one of the more accessible high alpine lakes in the area due to the high elevation trailhead. 

 

Little Blanco Trail climbs steeply through aspen groves and open, south-facing slopes from which you can see Pagosa Springs, Echo Lake, and even Chimney Rock.  The trail mellows a bit when it gains a narrow ridge, which is the watershed divide between the Rito Blanco and Sand Creek.  The ridge offers stunning views into the headwaters of both watersheds.  Then the trail climbs steeply above treeline and crosses a snowfield that can cover the trail into August.  Traversing the snowfield can be dangerous. Shortly after the snowfield, the trail passes through the keyhole, a narrow gap in Quartz Ridge, allowing passage into the headwaters of the Blanco River. 

 

Proceed to the lake with caution.  The lake is still 1.6 miles away and entails a 500-foot descent, which means you'll have to gain that 500 feet on the way back.  From this point on, you will be above treeline so you'll be exposed to lightning if thunderstorms develop (this area is the 1st place storms build in the summer, often as early as 11 am).  

 

After a narrow exposed section, you will head north to a section of the trail that I like to call "Ireland".  Lush tundra lines glacially scoured bedrock and large boulders are scattered among shallow ponds. There are also stunning views across the tundra toward the highest point in Archuleta County, Summit Peak (13,307).  Because of the bedrock and late season snowfields, this section of trail can be a bit difficult to find.  You're on the right track if you're heading north, parallel with Quartz Ridge.  The consistent downhill is briefly interrupted by a short climb at mile 3.9.  At the top of the hill,  you'll get your first opportunity to see the lake less than a mile away.  The trail descends through a wet tundra section and then traverses bedrock over the last quarter mile.  

 
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