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Backpacker Adventure Guide: Weminuche Wilderness

Try a stunning new hike–or two thrilling classics–in the Colorado Rockies' top spot for big backpacking adventures.

The forest spits us out onto a dirt road just as the sky begins flashing again. Above the rustle of Gore-Tex, the hiss of zippers, and the dynamite slap of thunder, we hear the tooting whistle of a steam locomotive. Yeehaw! It’s Saturday night in the old mining town, and we’re getting close. Suited up, we set off through the spitting hail, beelining for Silverton’s saloon district, two wilderness prospectors who just struck it rich.

HIKE IT

Weminuche High Route

Retrace the author’s trip through the heart of a fabled wilderness.

This 50.5-mile hike runs south-to-north across Endlich Mesa, Silver Mesa, the Needle Mountains, the Grenadier Range, the Highland Mary Plateau, and Arrastra and Spencer Basins before plunging straight into downtown Silverton. Along the way, you’ll encounter spectacular plateaus of rolling tundra, ripsaw ridges, cliff-ringed lakes, and lush midsummer wildflowers, but it’s not a route for the lazy or unacclimatized. For most of its length, you’ll wander up and down through a succession of steep passes, rarely dropping below 12,000 feet. Budget at least seven days; peakbagging and side hikes beg for more time. About half of the route requires off-trail routefinding. We recommend downloading the author’s track log and waypoints from backpacker.com/hikes for map-plotting or GPS use. Despite often steep terrain, there’s no exposed scrambling that requires ropes–unless you go in spring, when an ice axe and/or crampons would also be useful for steep snow.

The Way

From Main Street in Durango, turn north onto 15th South Street near the Animas River bridge. This funnels you onto Florida Road. Continue 13.8 miles on Florida Road, then turn left to Lemon Reservoir on County Road 2431/FR 596. Twenty-one miles from town, turn right onto FR 597, which quickly becomes a high-clearance road. Continue 10.6 slow, uphill miles to the Endlich Mesa trailhead. The route ends in downtown Silverton.

Maps

Trails Illustrated 140 Weminuche Wilderness, and USGS topos Columbine Pass, Storm King Peak, Howardsville, and Silverton

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