Ruybalid Lake
excerpts from the book
Incredible Backcountry Trails 
by David Day

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    Distance: 9.4 miles (round trip)

    Walking time:  6 1/2 hours

    : 2,370 ft. gain/loss
       Ruybalid Lake Trailhead (start): 8,810 ft.
       Ruybalid Lake: 11,180 ft.

    Trail: Generally well marked and easy to follow.

    Season: Summer through mid-fall. The upper parts of the trail are usually covered with snow from mid-November through early June.

    Vicinity: South of Alamosa

    Ruybalid LakeRuybalid Lake


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    Ruybalid Lake is one of several seldom-visited lakes that dot the top of a large mesa on the west side of the Conejos River. Although the mesa and its environs comprise the southwestern third of the rugged San Juan Mountains and the Continental Divide runs along the west side of the mesa, the terrain here is surprisingly gentle. This part of the San Juans also receives far fewer visitors than the more challenging mountains further north, and that, for many, is part of its attraction.

    The wild, remote nature of the South San Juans was dramatically brought to the publicís attention in the fall of 1979, when a grizzly bear was killed about 10 miles west of Ruybalid Lake. Until then it had been almost 30 years since a grizzly had been seen in Colorado. There have not been any other confirmed grizzly sightings since than, but there is a great deal of circumstantial evidence that there are still grizzlies living in the area.

    After leaving the parking area the trail winds along the eastern edge of a horse pasture near the Conejos River for a few hundred yards, before entering a dense grove of aspen trees. Soon afterward it crosses the boundary of the South San Juan Wilderness Area and begins climbing up the west side of the Conejos River Valley. This is the most strenuous part of the hike. The trail gains 2,100 feet of elevation over the next 2.5 miles before finally leveling out on the top of the mesa. Fortunately the grade is not extremely steep, and there are several nice views of the Conejos Valley along the way.

    After 30 minutes of walking you will come to a spur trail on the left that leads to the Rough Creek Waterfall. The spur is somewhat primitive and easy to miss, so watch the left side of the trail carefully. There is a 10-foot, 18-inch-diameter bleached log lying on the left side of the trail at the junction with the word "Falls" written on it. Also, there is a small hand-painted sign nailed to a tree, but it is facing the wrong direction and partially hidden from hikers walking up the trail.

    The waterfall is a 10-minute walk from the main trail. The path is not well maintained, and if you want to get to the base of the fall you will need to do some boulder-hopping near the end. Nevertheless, the Rough Creek Waterfall is worth seeing. It is about 80 feet high with a fair volume of water flowing over it. The best time to photograph the fall is about three hours before noon when the sun is high in the east.

    Back on the main trail, the upward climb out of the Conejos River Valley continues for another 1.5 miles. As the trail nears the rim of the mesa it begins to level out, and finally, at an elevation of 11,000 feet, you will arrive at the almost-flat top of the mesa. Shortly after reaching level ground you should see a shallow 150-foot-diameter pond just north of the trail.

    Continuing for another 100 yards beyond the pond will bring you to a trail junction where a small sign points to the Ruybalid Lake Trail on your right. The junction is located on the edge of a meadow and the trails are frequently overgrown with grass, so to help you get started in the right direction the forest services has erected two 6-foot poles in the meadow along the first 100 yards of the Ruybalid Lake Trail. The first pole has the number 855 etched onto it (the trail to Ruybalid Lake is Forest Service trail number 855). The two poles are aligned in a northeast direction from the trail junction.

    Turn right at the junction and when you get to the second pole you will see a faint trail heading into the woods in a northwesterly direction. After the trail leaves the meadow it is much easier to follow. The path winds through an open forest of Engelmann spruce and subalpine fir for about 1.2 mile before ending on the south shore of Ruybalid Lake.

    Ruybalid is a very pretty lake in a tranquil sort of way. There are no dramatic cliffs or rugged mountain peaks near the lake, but its shores are well vegetated with tall trees and abundant ground cover, and there are several fine campsites along its southern shore. Considering its location, the 250-yard-diameter lake is surprisingly large. The surrounding terrain is relatively flat and there are no streams flowing into the lake. Furthermore it is situated right on the rim of the Conejos Valley, separated from the canyon below by an insignificant rise in the land of less than 20 feet. One has to wonder where all the water comes from.

    Ruybalid Lake is just one of several lakes located on the mesa above the Conejos River; the next one, No Name Lake, lies about 1.2 miles to the west. You can reach No Name Lake by returning to the Ruybalid trail junction and continuing west on the better-marked trail for another 2.7 miles, but you will find that Ruybalid Lake is the prettier of the two. The terrain surrounding No Name is much flatter and less scenic than the environs of Ruybalid, and furthermore it does not offer the striking view of the Conejos River Valley that can be seen from Ruybalid. Most of the people who go on to No Name Lake are horseback riders. The gently rolling terrain west of Ruybalid Lake is perfect for horseback riding, but if you are walking the hike to No Name Lake is, in my opinion, not worth the extra effort.


    The book includes more text, more photographs, and trail maps.

    If you are interested in a supplemental map of the Ruybalid Lake Trail
    we recommend:
    South San Juan/Del Norte  (Trails Illustrated, map #142)

    Click here for DISCOUNTED MAP ORDERS

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