BEST: JUNEAUGUST, BEFORE FIRST SNOW
Don't let the whistle stop at Needleton fool you. There's no town. The Needles Range, in a remote corner of the San Juan Mountains, is most easily accessed via the narrow-gauge tourist train between Durango and Silverton. Pick up a map from the Backcountry Experience (bcexp.com), in Durango, and pack plenty of food. Once the train leaves, you're on your own. Head east, cross the Animas River at the unnamed bridge, and hike seven miles up trout-filled Needle Creek to Chicago Basin, at 11,000 feet. Camping is permitted anywhere except on the shores of Twin Lakes. Pitch your tent in full view of the basin's three fourteenersEolus, Sunlight, and Windom (no permits required). Each can be climbed in a day without ropes, but the San Juans are notorious for unstable talus. You'd be forgiven for just admiring the peaks' beauty from below. Arrange your shuttle through the DurangoSilverton Railroad ($79; durangotrain.com).