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Backpacker Magazine – November 2010

Best Hikes Ever: The Needles Traverse, CO

Forge your own route through the Rockies' most rugged corner.

by: Kelly Bastone

Indian Paintbrush carpet the valley north of Elk Creek (Glenn Randall)
Indian Paintbrush carpet the valley north of Elk Creek (Glenn Randall)



Solitude and altitude in equal measure were what Steve Howe sought when he linked up this 50.5-mile, south-to-north route across the Needle Mountains in 2007. The passage along the southwest edge of the Weminuche (Colorado’s largest wilderness) is “not a route for the lazy or unacclimatized,” says Howe. “You’ll wander up and down through a succession of steep passes, rarely dropping below 12,000 feet.” But for your effort, you’ll explore historic mining ruins, roam wildflower meadows, and get up-close views of several Fourteeners—including the shockingly craggy Sunlight Peak—that few hikers ever see.

Do it
Allow at least a week. Follow the Endrich Mesa Trail (#534) north and then link: 12,800-foot Trimble Pass; Columbine Lake; Hazel Lake (a scenic camp); Vallecito Creek (mile 20; it runs knee-deep when water’s low); Sunlight Lake; 12,186-foot Verde Lake; then Blair Gulch, at 46 miles; and then down to Silverton.

Resources
Driving
From Durango, take S. 15th St. to Florida Rd. and go 13.8 miles. Turn left on County Rd. 2431/FR 596, then a quick right onto high-clearance FR 597 and continue 10.6 miles to the parking area at Endlich Mesa trailhead.

Maps
USGS quads Columbine Pass, Storm King Peak, Howardsville, and Silverton

Contact
(970) 387-5530; fs.fed.us/r2/sanjuan

Trip ID 43747


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