Weminuche Wilderness Area


Apr 1, 2001
Outside Magazine
Next Time Try
Colorado State Forest State Park: Colorado

WHY HERE? Ignore the bland name. Your campsite within this Front Range gem offers 112 miles of singletrack and old logging roads, day hikes to 12,951-foot Clark Peak and the Raywahs, and more moose than other campers. From the Clear Lake trailhead off County Road 41, mountain bike or hike eight miles to Clear Lake, and plant yourself beneath the rocky cirques of this 10,000-foot watering hole, where greenback cutthroat trout await.

RESOURCES: State Forest State Park, 970-723-8366

Click here for a topographical map of this area.

INDULGE IN: Hiking, backpacking, alpine and rock climbing, fly-fishing

WHY HERE? The 14,000-foot Needle Mountains, poking out of the 488,200-acre Weminuche Wilderness Area's remote western region, create an imposing blockade for backcountry travelers. Few trails exist in this compact playground of towering spires, snaggletooth ridgelines, and deep, glacial carved valleys; those that do are rugged at best‹which is, of course, precisely their appeal. After riding the 119-year-old Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad (your only way into this primordial mountain kingdom), paradise is whatever, and wherever, you make it. For starters, we suggest pitching camp among the wildflowered alpine meadows of Chicago Basin, a seven-mile hike in from the train stop, from which you can summit a different fourteener‹Mount Eolus (14,083), Sunlight Peak (14,059), or Windom Peak (14,082)‹each day. All three have walk-up routes, but more intrepid climbers can attempt the classic, exposed 5.6 route on Vestal Peak's Wham Ridge. Between summit bids, use a #16 Stimulator to catch rainbow and brown trout lurking in the clear pools of Needle Creek, which runs through the Basin; hike a couple of miles over gnarly Twin Thumbs Pass (13,420 feet) for sprawling views of the southern San Juans; prowl the campsite for wild mushrooms and strawberries; or just kick back and watch for elk and bighorn sheep.

BONUS: For a home-style Italian meal after your reintroduction to civilization, head to Mama's Boy (970-247-0060), a local favorite on Main Avenue in Durango.

ACCESS: 420 miles southwest of Denver. Catch the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad (970-247-2733) to the stop at Needleton. Cross the footbridge over the Animas River, and follow signs to the Needle Creek trail (about a mile south). Chicago Basin is six miles upstream.

RESOURCES: San Juan National Forest, 970-385-1282. Consult Guide to the Colorado Mountains (Colorado Mountain Club Press; $19) for information on climbing routes.

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