Hikes Around Durango and Silverton

The Hermosa Trail and Ice Lakes
By Paul Pixler
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Hermosa Trail

Hermosa Trail is in the heart of a very large roadless area. There are high ridges and many canyons. The whole area contains many thousands of acres. The main trail is sixteen miles long, and there are many side trails. To explore this area thoroughly would take many days of backpacking. However, good day and half-day hikes can be done from both the south and north ends quite easily.

This is excellent elk-hunting territory and has good trout streams as well. There are also many deer.

The trail at first follows the contour of Hermosa Creek but is several hundred feet above it so that you look down into the canyon below and up at the heavily wooded mountains. Across the canyon, the hills rise up above timberline to the 13,000-foot peaks of the La Platas.

The trail is one of the widest, best maintained, and most heavily used in southwestern Colorado. It is also one of the easiest to hike, for there is no major altitude change. Along the trail are big trees, open vistas, and wildflowers.

To get to the trail, take U.S. Highway 550 ten miles north of Durango to Hermosa Village. Just north of the bridge over Hermosa Creek, and before the railroad crossing, turn left on a little side road. In a distance of just several yards, this road meets a north-south road that parallels the highway. Turn right (north) here, and follow this road uphill to its end in four miles. The first half or more of it is blacktop and the rest gravel. At the dead end, park off to the side and begin the hike just off the end of the road. The trail goes sharply down for about twenty yards, then meets the main trail, which you should take to the right. This point should be carefully studied and remembered for the sake of the return trip, because it is easy to miss this"exit ramp." A miss takes you not only past your car, but quickly onto private property.

The main trail crosses several side streams that may be fairly well dried up or they may be flowing and muddy, making hiking boots useful though not needed on other parts of the trail.

At four miles, the trail divides. This is where the options begin The left branch descends 500 feet in the next mile to a good footbridge across Dutch Creek. Just beyond here, you can step off to the left to Hermosa Creek itself. Both of these are good fishing streams. Hiking beyond this brings you back up to the previous level. You can continue on as far as interest and time permit.

If you take the right branch at the trail split, you are on the Dutch Creek Trail, though you do not see the creek itself until you go up the trail a mile. There is one fairly steep hill of about 250 feet that you go down before reaching the creek. Again, you can hike on this trail as far as time and interest permit. There is a small open grassy meadow where you first come to the stream.

Whichever trail you take, return by the same route to the road and your parking place.

Those who may want to consider doing the entire length of the trail have two options. One is to backpack, spending at least one night on the trail; the other is to spend a long day hiking at a good pace with only a few short rest periods. This is best done from the north end because there is a net drop of 1,000 feet from north to south. It is not all downhill, however; there is the 500-foot climb out of the Dutch Creek Valley described above plus two other rather large hills. It is a very rewarding hike, with ever-changing scenery, starting out in a wide meadow bounded by forest on the mounting sides of the valley and followed by low canyon walls, ending as a traverse of the mountainside with the creek far below and the top high above. The scenery is spectacular, especially during the fall color season, from the last week of September through the first ten days of October. Most of the time the trail is very clear, but there are a few grassy spots where it may be difficult to follow; when I did the full length the most obscure spot was a few miles in from the north end at the site of an old cabin. There is a trail crossing Hermosa Creek at this point. I picked it up and followed it a little way before deciding it couldn't be right; crossing back I soon picked up the right trail again south of the cabin and had no more problems following it after that.

For access to the north end see the following hike description. "Corral Draw-Hermosa Trail."

All of this area is excellent for elk. An especially good place to look for them is in the aspen trees at the beginning of Dutch Creek Trail.

© Article copyright Pruett Publishing.


Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
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