Opal Lake is a mountain lake in the South San Juan Wilderness near Pagosa Springs, Colorado. It is a relatively easy 1.2 mile hike to Opal Lake from the trailhead. In the fall, the colors are spectacular as the aspen trees turn a golden color.

The trail to Opal Lake is popular during the summer and fall months, as it is known for being one of the easier, family-friendly hikes in the Pagosa Springs area.

Opal Lake in Pagosa Springs, Colorado
Opal Lake in Pagosa Springs, Colorado

Opal Lake Trailhead

The Opal Lake trailhead is shown on the USFS map below. To go to the interactive version of the map, click here.

Map of Opal Lake trailhead
USFS Opal Lake Trailhead map

The Opal Lake trail heads south from the trailhead for 1.2 miles. At that point, you will reach Opal Lake.

The entire round trip from the Opal Lake trailhead and return is about 2.3 miles.

wildflowers along Opal Lake trail
Mountain meadow along Opal Lake trail

First Half of the Hike

The Opal Lake trail is well-maintained by the USFS.

The first part of the hike is the hardest.

trail going through gold aspen tree grove
Opal Lake trail goes through lots of aspen groves

For about 1/2 mile, it goes uphill.

For those not accustomed to the elevation (starts at 8,733 feet and ends at Opal Lake at 9,216 feet), it can be a bit challenging. The entire hike climbs about 485 feet from the trailhead to Opal Lake.

opal lake aspen groves
Aspen groves along Opal Lake trail

But if you keep going, the trail will flatten out for the second half of the hike. It is worth the effort!

You will go through some gorgeous aspen groves, some of which have massive trees!

I took the video below along the Opal Lake trail in October.

YouTube video

Second Half of the Hike

Once you go through the aspen groves of trees, you will enter a meadow area where there are wildflowers during the summer months.

wildflowers in meadow near Opal Lake
Wildflowers on Opal Lake trail

You will cross two small streams, which are easily crossable without getting wet. There are rocks and logs to step across.

Smurf Mushrooms near Opal Lake

The Smurfs are a fictional community of small, blue creatures who live in mushroom-shaped houses in the forest.

In the cartoons, the Smurfs’ mushroom houses just happen to resemble the fly agaric mushroom. This mushroom is known for its bright red cap with white spots.

Smurf mushroom
Fly agaric mushroom (aka Smurf house) near Opal Lake

These mushrooms are common along the Opal Lake trail, especially around some of the small streams you will cross. I took the photo of the mushroom above near the end of the trail by the lake.

A word of warning: The fly agaric mushroom is known for its psychoactive properties, though it is toxic and should not be eaten.

Opal Lake

Opal Lake is named for its milky color, which it gets from mineral deposits at the inlet of the lake.

The lake is known more for its scenic beauty and serene setting rather than its size, as it is a relatively small lake.

It is surrounded by tall pines, aspen trees, and the rocky outcrops of the Chalk Mountains. It is possible to hike most of the way around the lake, but the trail condition gets worse the farther you go.

YouTube video

There is a pretty little stream that runs into the lake year-round

The lake is a perfect spot for a picnic, and there are numerous flat areas for sitting.

When to Visit

The best time to visit is in the summer and fall months.

Wildflowers start appearing around June. The most beautiful time of the year for seeing the gold aspen trees is usually around the first week of October.

opal lake with gold aspen trees
Opal Lake in October

The Opal Lake trail is closed during the winter and spring months when there is snow on the ground. The Pagosa Springs Ranger District posts updates on its website about when the roads open back up for the summer.

To check whether you can drive to the Opal Lake trailhead, go to the Pagosa Springs District Road Status page and look for the status of “Castle Creek to Opal Lake TH.” If it is open, then you can drive to the trailhead and hike to Opal Lake. It usually opens around May.

wildflowers in mountain meadow near Pagosa Springs, Colorado
Mountain wildflowers near Opal Lake

How to Get There

The Opal Lake trailhead is located about 22 miles from Pagosa Springs. It should take about an hour to drive there, as a large part of the driving will be on gravel roads.

The roads are well-maintained and suitable for any passenger car.

Google Map

The Google Map below shows the directions from Pagosa Springs to the Opal Lake trailhead. You can click on the map to get directions from your location.

Driving Directions

  • From Pagosa Springs, head south on US Hwy 84 for about 8 miles.
  • Turn left on Blanco Basin Road (FR 657). Drive for 10 miles.
  • Turn right on Castle Creek Road (FR 660).
  • Stay to the left of the fork at about 3 1/2 miles.
  • In about 1/2 mile, you will see the parking lot for the trailhead.

Final Thoughts about Opal Lake

Opal Lake is a beautiful lake in its own right, but it is especially photogenic in the fall months when the aspen trees change colors.

The hike is popular, and can get a bit crowded during the summer months.

If you’re looking for a quieter alternative in the same area that also puts on a spectacular show in the fall, check out the hike to Buckles Lake and Harris Lake. You will likely have it all to yourselves. The Buckles and Harris Lakes trail is also easier than the Opal Lake trail, but both are beautiful and worth the hike!

For some really spectacular aspen tree color views in the fall, check out the V Rock trail. It is more difficult than the Opal Lake trail, but the view is spectacular. It starts from the same parking area as the Buckles Lake and Harris Lake trail.

You could also soothe your aches by hiking to some natural hot springs in the Piedra River, which is just west of Pagosa Springs.