Photo: Tyler Smith

5 Mindblowing Wilderness Options in Durango, Colorado

National Parks Insider Guides Colorado, United States
Photo: Tyler Smith
Tyler Smith
Oct 18, 2016

High in the rugged San Juan Mountain Range, Durango is a quintessential mountain town. Far from the cities of the Front Range, Durango lays in the furthest reaches of Colorado’s southwest territory. Durango sits at the edge of evergreen forests, alpine tundra, and craggy peaks. That’s why I live here –I love the mountains. Here’s what Durango has to offer.

1. Backdoor Summits in the La Platas

Durango wilderness

A “smaller” subdivision of the San Juan Mountains, the La Plata Mountains are a cluster of 13,000-foot peaks just outside of Durango. To reach them, drive 15 minutes west from downtown and turn onto County Road (CR) 124.

Durango wilderness

Continue up CR 124 and you will quickly break the treeline. The road is rocky and a high clearance vehicle is necessary. Steep switchbacks carve a path to the very top of Colombus Basin at 12,000 feet.

Durango wilderness

Leave the car behind and immediately gain the northeast ridge of Snowstorm Peak. Climb a steep but secure 500 feet to the stunning summit. If you make it up in time for the sunrise, you’re in for quite a treat.

Durango wilderness

Experienced climbers may opt to climb down the other side of Snowstorm Peak and follow the obvious ridge to obtain the summit of Lewis Mountain. Sustained and exposed, this traverse is the longest knife edge in all of the San Juan Mountains.

2. Animas City Mountain

 Animas City MountainDurango, United StatesIt was a great day for rock climbing at X Rock. Nothing says go outside like sun and 60 degree weather. Grab some friends and get out there. #rockclimbing #extreme

3. High Country Camping in the San Juans

Durango wilderness

To fully experience these mountains a night in the high country is mandatory. From Durango, drive one hour north into the very heart of the San Juan Mountains to a little town called Silverton, where the moose outnumber the people.

Durango wilderness

From Silverton, drive 2 miles north on Hwy 550 and turn left onto CR 7. Enter South Mineral Creek, a forested glacial valley encapsulated by high peaks. It’s legal to pull over and pitch your tent just about anywhere.

Durango wilderness

For a demanding but rewarding overnight experience, backpack to Ice Lake Basin. Find the trailhead parking lot at the very end of CR 7. Hike up 5 miles of mercilessly steep single track to arrive at the best campsites just below the lake.

Durango wilderness

Wake up the next day and hike a final 2 miles to Ice Lake. Eat a well-deserved lunch and begin the journey back to the trailhead parking lot.

4. Perins Peak State Wildlife Area

 Perins Peak State Wildlife AreaDurango, United StatesWhile the trail doesn’t open until April, Perins is a great afternoon hike. If you’re looking for a spectacular view of the area or just have summit fever, Perins is the way to go. #hiking

5. Fourteeners

I saved the best for last: Fourteeners. For any lover of the mountains, standing atop one of Colorado’s 14,000-foot peaks is the definition of pure joy. The San Juan Mountains are home to 14 of these giants. Here’s how you can climb one yourself.

Durango wilderness

From Silverton, drive 40 minutes on Hwy 550 to a left-hand pull off for CR 361, which continues for 8 miles before reaching a parking lot at 11,350 feet. Leave the car and walk west up a 4×4 road to the trailhead at 12,460 feet.
Durango wilderness

Take the trail northwest across loose talus. Break eastward off the trail after about 1 mile, ascending some 1,000 feet up the steep banks of scree to your right. After gaining the ridge, climb 800 feet up the obvious couloir on your left. My dog loves this part.

Durango wilderness

About 40 yards from the top of the couloir exit left through a v-shaped notch in the rock. Now walk a gentle 200 feet up granite slabs to the awe-inspiring summit of Mount Sneffels.

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