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Day Hike: Beyond Bridal Veil Falls

Looking past Telluride’s most famous natural wonder.

Growing up in Telluride, easy access to Bridal Veil Falls is a given. The path to Colorado’s tallest free-falling waterfall (365 feet) is now a trade route. Stunning photos of the white plume of rushing water are memorialized on postcards, and the 1.8-mile hike to the top of the falls is amongst the region’s most popular. Lesser known and far more rewarding, however, is the network of trails above the falls, in Bridal Veil Basin.

I know the basin well. I caught my first Colorado cutthroat in Silver Lake at age eight, observing its burgundy underbelly before releasing it. I learned about the San Miguel Watershed on a class hike to Blue Lake, and explored mining relics throughout the basin. Still, I’d never done the six-hour out-and-back hike to Lewis Lake, known for its long-abandoned mill with its original machinery. For visitors who want some history mixed in with their pristine views, the hike to Lewis Lake is a must.

We begin our ascent along the old mining road, which follows Bridal Veil Creek as it cascades over steep drops that nearly rival the beauty of Bridal Veil Falls. When the road splits, we take the less worn double-track on the right. Sunlight kisses our backs as we continue climbing to the upper basin, our only company curious marmots nesting in rusty mining pipes.

The path eventually winds through Alpine tundra littered with indian paintbrush, snow buttercups, columbines, and other high country wildflowers. After passing several small ponds, Lewis Mill comes into view at 12,000 feet, offering a glimpse of the lives of settlers, driven by silver and gold. Onward, the mining road steepens and Lewis Lake emerges, 2,300 feet above the trailhead. Before we can explore further, though, a late summer hailstorm foils our plans and we retreat back to Telluride.

On the descent, we pass a group of breathless mountain bikers pushing their bikes up the hillside. They’re attempting Wasatch Loop, which links Bridal Veil Basin to Bear Creek and is amongst the hardest mountain bike trails in the area. A hint of snow has dusted many of the upper peaks and ridges. We wish them good luck as more thunderclouds roll in, booming and slapping us with pellets of rain.

If you go: Access Bridal Veil Basin via the scenic 4WD road at the east end of Telluride’s box canyon. The hike to Lewis Lake is approximately six hours (8.8 miles round-trip). For more information about hikes in and around Bridal Veil Basin, see the Telluride Hiking Guide by Susan Kees.  —Sage Marshall

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