Winter Adventures in the San Juans: Snowshoeing Andrews Lake

The variety of activities in Southwest Colorado are as varied as the individuals enjoying them.

On a sunny Saturday, with the world at our fingertips, we begin our journey into the wonders of the San Juan Mountains. Making it a bit of a late start, I headed up to Ouray Mountain Sports, grabbed a pair of snow shoes, then hopped into the car, heading south for deep snow and awesome views.

As we passed Ironton Park, skiers and snowshoers dotted the trails, enjoying a sunny day in the snow…but we had a different destination in mind today, so continued south on Highway 550 toward Silverton.

After a leisurely lunch in Silverton, we continued on to our destination,  0.94 miles beyond Molas Pass to the trail-head for the Andrews Lake Day Use Area. Parking is limited to the shoulder of the highway in the winter months, but it is pretty easy to spot the trail-head from the road. 

An easy walk up the hill, which is actually a turn in during summer months, we found the lake, covered in a blanket of snow, marked with the trails of adventurers who had come before us. The sweeping beauty of the mountains all around, we paused for a moment to imagine what this might look like at winters end.

Following the tracks, we begin the Crater Lake trail, walking into a forest of silence and unimaginable beauty. There are no words to accurately describe snow shoeing. It is definitely a work out, testing muscles you may not have known existed before, yet it grants access to a world very few will ever see. Every step is an epic journey through a wonderland of snow and sunshine. Cresting a hill, it is easy to wonder at the mystery of a new trail, debating which path to take and laughing as you realize they all lead to adventure. 

Taking a moment to sit and gaze at the world around us, we watched fellow explorers traverse the trail ahead on back country skis, and greeted another traveler who had opted to venture in a different direction. Once alone, we leaned back and listened to the sounds of nature – it never ceases to amaze me how quiet the top of a mountain is!

At some point, we chose the trail to loop Andrews Lake as opposed to continuing toward Crater Lake, which is an eleven mile hike round trip, and we had gotten a late start. Following the intrepid adventurers I had photographed from a distance, we crested another hill only to have our breath stolen by the skyline…now we knew why they had stopped here for so long!

It was almost a disappointment to reach the end of the loop and get our first glimpse of the cars on the highway below. After roughly five hours of wandering the pristine wilderness, though, lunch seemed to have been a lifetime ago, and a burger and a beer in Ouray sounded mighty fine once we had soaked away the miles in the hot springs at the Box Canyon Lodge & Hot Springs and changed into fresh clothes.

Every day is an adventure, and it is always exciting to find a new place to explore. Looking at the photos of our winter path, curiosity prompted a promise among this little group of friends to visit Andrews Lake again in the summer months. For now, the road is open, and there are so many more places to explore just beyond our door!


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