For most of us, taking on the entire Colorado Trail is a distant, and rather unrealistic, dream. But hitting some of the best highlights in just a few days is in reach thanks to this 40-mile point-to-point route in the San Juans. Enjoy alpine solitude among some of the most astounding mounts and falls in the region. Catch postcard-perfect shots along the entire trail, especially near the Animas River and the teeming Cascade Creek Falls.
From the trailhead, which lies at 12,500 feet, begin by heading south six miles on the well-defined path. Meander through the treeless, alpine environment, passing remnants of a mining camp along the way. In spring, look for fields of wildflowers as you travel seven miles toward camp at Eldorado Lake or the Elk Creek Drainage area.
In the morning, begin the nine-mile descent into the cavernous Elk Creek Drainage area. Find water at a number of waterfalls that drop into the area. Enjoy the aroma of hillsides filled with Spruce and Aspen. Set up camp at the Animas River, where there are great views of the Silverton-Durango Narrow Gauge and the Grenadiers.
On the third day, feel the burn on a 1,900-foot climb over 4.5 miles to Molas Pass. Well-graded switchbacks make this section manageable and the breathtaking views of the San Juans don’t hurt either. During the summer, stop by the Molas Lake Campground for supplies and a hot shower. From here, continue nearly one mile, crossing the Million Dollar Highway (US 550), to Little Molas Lake Campground. Enjoy lunch and a view before finding a campsite. Several great spots lay between miles 25 and 27.5.
On day four, start the steady climb up Rollings Pass, enjoying sweeping views of the drainage on the descent to Cascade Creek. Hike to a campsite at mile 33, to rest for the climb on the last day. Wake up with Grizzly Peak standing tall overhead and begin the last climb up to a small pass on Sliderock Ridge. Keep an eye out for views of the pink and sand rocks of Engineer Mountain as you pass through trees in an old spruce forest. Enjoy the last stretch, through a grassy meadow, before reaching Celebration Lake.
CAUTION: Prepare for snow along this entire route until early July.
PERMIT: San Juan National Forest has no formal backcountry permit or reservation system for small groups. Larger groups, as well as hikers looking for more information, are advised to visit the San Juan Public Land Center in Durango, CO for planning assistance, safety tips, directions, and regulations.
INFO: San Juan National Forest, (970) 247-4874; fs.usda.gov/sanjuan
-Mapped by Jeff Chow