Southwest Colorado

Location: 35 miles south of Montrose, 45 miles north of Durango and 70 mile northeast of Cortez, Colorado.

Featured Hikes

Upper Mill Creek Basin from the saddle

Sneffels Highline

Distance: 8.0 - 12.7 miles (Loop)

This is my favorite hike in Telluride, crossing a high saddle separating two gorgeous alpine basins. Along the way the trail traverses meadows filled with thigh-high wildflowers and serves up spectacular views of the high peaks surrounding the Telluride valley and the San Miguel Mountains in the Lizard Head Wilderness.

View of Pilot Knob and the ridge to the west of Ice Lake

Ice Lakes

Distance: 7.8 - 8.2 miles (Round Trip)

This wonderful hike visits two gorgeous lake basins, traverses wildflower-filled meadows and passes numerous waterfalls along the way. Dramatic peaks punctuate the ridge forming the backdrop for upper Ice Lake, nestled in an alpine wonderland that invites exploration.

Flowers growing by the outlet stream of Upper Blue Lakes

Blue Lakes and Blue Lakes Pass

Distance: 6.3 - 11.0 miles (Round Trip)

This popular hike visits three scenic lakes nestled in beautiful glacial basins set amid rugged ridges and peaks. Beyond the lakes the trail climbs to a dramatic pass on a ridge south of Mt. Sneffels (14,150-ft).

Looking Southwest from Handies Peak

Handies Peak

Distance: 2.3 - 5.4 miles (Round Trip)

This terrific hike wanders through beautiful American Basin, visits scenic Sloan Lake and then ascends to the summit of Handies Peak (14,048-ft.) with spectacular panoramic views of the San Juan Mountains.

View looking west from the summit of Uncompahgre Peak

Uncompahgre Peak

Distance: 7.8 miles (Round Trip)

Stunning panoramic views are the rewards for hiking to the top Uncompahgre Peak (14,309-ft.), the sixth highest fourteener in Colorado and the highest point in the San Juan Mountains.

View of Lewis Lake

Lewis Lake and Mine

Distance: 8.0 - 8.8 miles (Round Trip)

This scenic hike winding up Bridal Veil Basin past the historic Lewis Mill to Lewis Lake, nestled in a stark glacial basin at 12,700-ft. Along the way pass remnants of the area’s rich mining history, numerous waterfalls and hillsides filled with spectacular wildflowers displays.

Great views of Lizard Head and the peaks of the San Miguel mountains

Lizard Head

Distance: 7.6 - 11.7 miles (Loop)

One of the top hikes in the Telluride area, this scenic loop traverses the panoramic spine of Blackface Mountain on its way to the base of Lizard Head Peak (13,113-ft.), an eroded 400-ft. tall spire shaped like the gaping maw of a lizard with its face to the sky.

View of the two largest Highland Mary Lakes (looking north)

Highland Mary Lakes

Distance: 6.0 - 7.7 miles (Round Trip)

Hike to gorgeous lakes set amid scenic alpine meadows with terrific views. An optional extension follows a segment of the Continental Divide turning this hike into a loop with extended views of the surrounding peaks.

View toward the western end of beautiful Columbine Lake

Columbine Lake and Pass

Distance: 7.0 - 8.9 miles (Round Trip)

This little known hike climbs steeply through forest and beautiful alpine meadows to a stunning glacial lake set amid a backdrop of rugged 13,000-ft. peaks. Panoramic views from nearby Columbine Pass encompassing Bridal Veil Basin and the Sneffels Range.

First view of Porphyry Basin

Porphyry Basin

Distance: 5.0 - 7.0 miles (Round Trip)

This scenic hike climbs to two pretty lakes in gorgeous Porphyry Basin. Along the way the trail travels through wildflower-filled meadows and passes waterfalls, interesting rock formations and mining ruins. The lovely alpine meadows of the upper basin offer several options for off-trail exploration.

Looking south from the trailhead toward Coxcomb and Redcliff peaks

Wetterhorn Basin

Distance: 5.8 - 9.0 miles (Round Trip)

This trail wanders through wildflower-filled meadows and then climbs a gorgeous alpine basin to West Fork Pass. From the pass the trail drops into scenic Wetterhorn Basin with view of Wetterhorn Peak (14,015-ft.).

View to the northwest from near the top of the saddle

Wasatch Trail

Distance: 12.3 miles (Round Trip)

Dramatic views of Bear Creek Canyon, beautiful alpine basins, wildflowers and waterfalls are a few of the delights on this steep trail to visit the saddle (13,050-ft.) on the divide between Bear Creek and Bridal Veil basins. The hike includes an initial 2.0-mile segment of the popular Bear Creek Falls trail.

View of Lake Hope

Lake Hope

Distance: 4.5 - 5.9 miles (Round Trip)

This popular hike to a high alpine lake surround by 13,000-ft. peaks offers panoramic views of the Wilson Range and the high peaks in the Lizard Head Wilderness.

Looking back at a section of the ledge trail

Bear Creek National Recreation Trail

Distance: 4.4 - 8.0 miles (Round Trip)

A dramatic trail carved into a steep cliff face high above Bear Creek is just one of the highlights of this hike up a beautiful canyon to two scenic mine sites.

Looking down at Cataract Lake from near the Continental Divide

Cataract Lake (aka Cataract Gulch)

Distance: 7.6 - 8.2 miles (Round Trip)

Beginning in dense woods the trail passes cascades and waterfalls along Cataract Creek, travels through beautiful alpine meadows and visits a scenic alpine lake on its way to the Continental Divide.

Lunch spot above the pond

Pass and Engineer Mountain

Distance: 4.8 - 12.8 miles (Round Trip)

This scenic hike traveling through the high meadows to northwest of Coal Bank Pass features terrific views of Engineer Mountain, Twin Sisters, the high peaks ringing the Cascade Valley and the summits rising to the south of Silverton.

Peaks towering above Yankee Boy Basin

Richmond Pass

Distance: 5.6 miles (Round Trip)

Terrific views of the high peaks towering above the Million Dollar Highway and Yankee Boy Basin are the rewards of this steep climb to a scenic pass to the south of Hayden Mountain.

Great views of the head of Spencer Basin

Spencer Basin

Distance: 4.2 - 7.7 miles (Round Trip)

An old mining road leads to the heart of Spencer Basin, a beautiful, unspoiled and seldom visited valley surrounded by 13,000-ft. peaks. Here use trails and routes lead to two scenic passes.

Yankee Boy Basin and the Mt. Sneffels Range from the Bridge of Heaven

Bridge of Heaven (via the Horsethief Trail)

Distance: 8.0 miles (Round Trip)

This well-engineered trail ascends 3,000-ft. to a knife-edge ridge with spectacular panoramic views.

View from Cooper Lake

Cooper Lake

Distance: 7.6 miles (Round Trip)

This gorgeous hike travels up a seldom visited valley to a scenic lake tucked in a high basin. Here you will experience a level of solitude not found on hikes to the nearby 14ers. Extend the hike by climbing to a saddle overlooking Lee Smelter Gulch to the north.

Closeup view looking north from Handies Peak

Grizzly Gulch

Distance: 8.0 miles (Round Trip)

The top of Handies Peak offers breathtaking views of the San Juan Mountains. This alternative route to the summit is longer and more strenuous but less traveled than the more popular trail to Handies Peak via American Basin.

Looking north to Uncompahgre Peak from Sunshine Peak

Redcloud and Sunshine Peaks

Distance: 9.0 - 11.8 miles (Round Trip)

A great hike leads to the top of two of the easiest fourteeners to climb in Colorado, Redcloud (14,034 ft.) and Sunshine (14,001 ft.) peaks. From the summits a sea of peaks and ridges extend in all directions, encompassing large swaths of the San Juan Mountains.

Looking southwest towards the Uncompahgre Wilderness Area

Devils Lake

Distance: 14.0 miles (Round Trip)

Picturesque groves of mature aspen and beautiful views of the Lake Fork Valley and Uncompahgre Peak are a few of the visual delights on this scenic trail following the Devil's Creek drainage to Devil's Lake, lying beneath the western flanks of the Calf Creek Plateau.

Lower Powderhorn Lake

Powderhorn Lake

Distance: 7.8 - 9.6 miles (Round Trip)

An interesting hike through forest and meadows to a scenic lake basin nestled beneath the eastern escarpment of the Calf Creek Plateau (12,644-ft.) in the Powderhorn Wilderness.

The Region, the Hikes & the Base Camps

This guide showcases the best day hikes in one of Colorado’s best day hiking areas, the San Juan Mountains in southwestern Colorado around the towns of Ouray, Telluride, Silverton and Lake City. The San Juan Mountains encompass more than 10,000 square-miles of some of the most spectacular peaks, ridges and glacial valleys in the state. Sixteen peaks tower above 14,000-ft. and literally hundreds of summits top 13,000-ft. Three national forests and seven wilderness areas protect huge swathes of this amazing landscape.

The trails in this guide, best hiked between mid-July and mid-September, take you above the timberline to beautiful mountain lakes nestled in dramatic cirques, to passes with see forever views and to glorious alpine meadows filled with wildflowers. Round trip hiking distances range from 6 and 12.5 miles with elevation gains of 1,000– to 3,500-ft. Many of the trails offer great intermediate turnaround points for those seeking shorter hikes. All are reached in less than an hour drive from four great base camps; Ouray, Telluride, Silverton and Lake City.

Ouray, Telluride and Silverton are beautifully preserved Victorian era mining towns, each with its own distinct personality. The towns are linked by the stunning San Juan Skyway, a 233-mile scenic driving loop traversing the heart of the San Juan Mountains. Along the way the loop passes through Durango, Cortez and numerous historic sites.

A little further afield is Lake City, a small, remote Victorian town linked with Ouray and Silverton by the Alpine Loop National Backcountry Byway, a network of jeep roads traversing stunning scenery, visiting ghost towns and crossing passes up to 12,800-ft. Visitors driving regular passenger cars reach the idyllic little hamlet along Highway 149, aka the Silver Thread Scenic Byway, featuring some really beautiful scenery and a good dose of history.

Each town offers a range of accommodations, food and other essential services required by outdoor travelers.

Base Camp Information: Ouray / Telluride / Silverton / Lake City