Southwest Colorado Outdoors
How can you choose a few favorite trails from thousands of miles of hiking possibilities? You just do it and hope you don't get too many arguments.
Outside Telluride: The Sneffels Highline is one of my all-time great day hikes. It's a 13-mile loop that starts on the north side of Telluride, circles under Dallas Peak, and then crosses into the Mount Sneffels Wilderness. The meadows of Mill Creek Basin are literally smothered in wildflowers on an August afternoon.
Outside Ouray: The Bear Creek National Recreation Trail follows an old mining route a couple of miles south of Ouray. As it heads into Bear Creek Canyon, the route is little more than a ledge cut into the canyon wall, what seems like a thousand feet above the creek. For a nine-mile day hike, you can go as far as Yellowjacket Mine and back. Backpackers can keep going into the Uncompahgre Wilderness. The Horsethief Trail to the Bridge to Heaven is a second fine Ouray day hike. Beginning at the end of Dexter Creek Road 3 miles northeast of town, the trail climbs steeply to the Bridge, a high ridge affording spectacular views of the Mount Sneffels area and the Uncompahgre Wilderness. Backpackers can continue to American Flats in the wilderness, 15 miles from the trailhead.
Outside Lake City: Uncompaghre Peak, at 14,309 feet, is one of Colorado's easier fourteeners to summit. The hike follows a high ridge across open tundra, with spectacular views across the wilderness formerly known as The Big Blue, now renamed Uncompahgre. It's about a seven-mile round trip to the summit. While no technical climbing is involved, expect a steep strenuous scramble to reach the pinnacle of this hike.
Outside Silverton: Ice Lakes is one of my favorite basins in the San Juans. And you really get two for the price of one. The trail starts a couple of miles from Silverton and climbs a steep set of switchbacks. Then it flattens out in the lovely lower basin. In the distance, you can see the trail cutting up a high ridge. On top, it enters the upper basin, dotted with several lakes and surrounded by 13,000-foot peaks. The round trip is seven miles.
Backpacking: Vallecito Creek is one of the most popular backpacks in the Weminuche Wilderness. A hiker can get lost for days in the backcountry. The route follows the creek for 17 miles to Humpback Pass on the Continental Divide. Backpackers can detour to Chicago Basin, cross the Divide, and exit the north of the Weminuche, or turn east for an extended loop around the wilderness. Take your fly rod; the wild trout may be biting in the pools of Vallecito Creek.
Hot Springs: For hot springs, head for the area around Pagosa Springs. Rainbow Hot Springs is a ten-mile hike into the Weminuche Wilderness to terraced pools cut into the rock along the West Fork of the San Juan River. Piedra Hot Springs are a string of dark beads set along the shore of the Piedra River.
At Mesa Verde: I have already mentioned the Petroglyph Point National Recreation Trail at Mesa Verde. Take the kids on this three-mile, two-hour jaunt, and teach them about the peoples that lived in America hundreds of years before the Europeans arrived.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication