Durango may be a hub for mountain biking, skiing, and kayaking (among many other adventure sports), but nothing beats its hiking and backpacking opportunities. With the remote Weminuche Wilderness and La Plata Mountains at our backdoor, there’s no shortage of incredible adventures to be had. Here are a few of our favorite backpacking trips in the area.
Highline Loop – 2 days, 1 night
Short and sweet, but definitely not without its challenges, the 20-mile Highline Loop in the rugged La Plata Mountains is a fantastic weekend trip. Accessing some of the more remote regions of the La Platas, the Highline Loop is a low-traffic alternative to some of the more popular trails in the region. Beginning at Kennebec Pass (4x4 or high-clearance required), the trail follows Indian Trail Ridge before veering off into the Bear Creek drainage and loops back to Kennebec via Sharkstooth Peak. Plan on incredible views and waterfalls.
Vallecito to Chicago Basin – 3 days, 2 nights
This is one for the bucket list. Beginning in Vallecito, hike into the fabled Chicago Basin via Columbine Pass. From Chicago Basin, you can take the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad back into Durango. Though it’s only 25-miles, this route sees some serious elevation gain, with a high point of 12,400 ft. at Columbine Pass. You could extend this trip by staying an extra night in Chicago Basin and bagging a few 14ers.
Flint Loop – 4 days, 3 nights
Though this 41-mile loop can be completed in 3 days, it’s much more pleasant to take your time in the Weminuche high country. The Flint Loop begins near Vallecito on the Pine River Trail. Follow it 12 miles to the intersection of the Flint Creek Trail. From there you’ll climb over 2,000 ft. to Rock Lake, which makes an excellent place to camp. The following morning, climbing over the unnamed 12,500 ft. pass to Moon Lake then Emerald Lake for your final night. The next day is a 9-mile hike back to the Pine River trailhead. This is by no doubt one of the more strenuous hikes in the region because of its high elevation and steep climbs, but the views are worth every drop of sweat!
Cool days are ahead and what better way to spend a cozy afternoon than with a good book? Find a nice tree shedding its fall colors and lean back with one of these soon-to-be-released travel reads.
L’Appart: The Delights and Disasters of Making My Paris Home by David Lebovitz
To be released in early November, Lebovitz’s latest book from Paris is poised to be a humorous and subtle account of life abroad. An ex-pat (chef and food writer) who has made Paris his home for nearly twenty years, Lebovitz sets out to remodel his apartment but is confronted with a befuddling mix of red tape and culture shock over European work ethic and hours. Lebovitz weaves the renovation story together with recipes, and thoughts on building a life abroad.
Arthur: The Dog Who Crossed the Jungle to Find a Home by Mikael Lindnord
You probably saw Arthur on your Facebook feed or perhaps ESPN. He’s the little tan terrier that followed Mikael Lindnord and his Swedish adventure racing team through 435 miles of Amazon jungle. At first the team tried to discourage Arthur from following them, but eventually they realized he’d become a member of the team. Together they crossed raging rivers, battled injuries, and formed and inseparable bond. When they finished the race, Lindnord began a new battle to bring Arthur home. Arthur will be released today, September 12th.
Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century by Jessica Bruder
Jessica Bruder takes to the road to discover America’s growing nomadic workforce. She travels from beet fields on North Dakota to Amazon’s CamperForce program in Texas and meets a myriad of characters living in RVs and campervans: a former McDonald’s executive, a motorcycle cop, and Home Depot clerk. Bruder recounts the dreams and ambitions of the people she meets on the road. Nomadland comes out on September 19th.
Birding Without Borders: An Obsession, a Quest, and the Biggest Year in the World by Noah Strycker
Noah Strycker sets out to become the first person to see half the world’s birds in one year. An unusual quest, but a grand one all the same! He travels to all seven continents and sees 6,042 species of birds, all the while battling mudslides, floods, war zones, and chronic sleep deprivation. Birding Without Borders arrives in bookstores on October 10th.
Earlier this year we posted a few tips on preparing for your first backpacking trip. However, making the leap from day-hikes to an overnight backpacking trip can be intimidating, so if you haven’t checked that item off your list this summer, don’t worry! Now that Fall is approaching, the weather is prime for an end-of-season backpacking trip. Set aside a weekend and follow these easy tips on planning your first backpacking trip.
Find a buddy
A good hiking partner can help make those learning curves more tolerable and a lot less embarrassing! If you know someone that’s been backpacking before, team up with them. It’s amazing how much you can learn from someone with even a fraction more experience than you. Otherwise, find a buddy who’s up for a good adventure and wants to start backpacking as well. You can also check Facebook or Meetup.com for local hiking and backpacking groups. The Durango Hiking & Backpacking Group frequently has overnight trips in Southwest Colorado.
Get good beta
If you’re not sure where to go, head to a local outdoor gear store or public lands office to ask for advice. Ask about good routes for beginners, good campsites, water sources, and potential hazards. I’ve found that talking to someone with first-hand experience with an area is invaluable.
Your first backpacking trip will be full of learning experiences – good and bad – no matter how long the hike. Start small – say 10 or 15 miles over two days – to work out all those kinks with your gear, food, and logistics. There’s no need to have an epic on your first backpacking trip – just have fun!
Don’t pack more than you need
The tell-tale sign of a newbie is someone with WAY more gear than they could ever possibly use. A lot of first timers pack more clothes, food, and equipment than necessary because they’re not sure what they need. Spend some time at your local gear store talking to the staff. Find out what’s in their pack. Odds are, they aren’t carrying three rain jackets and five-days worth of food for an overnight trip.
When you’re a destination for every other mountain sport (skiing, climbing, and mountain biking, to name a few), it’s easy to get overwhelmed. But, if you’re looking to hit the trail for a good trail run, Durango has some incredible trails right in town for runners of all levels. Try out our favorites and let us know what you know think!
If you like the best views in town (and who doesn’t?) and burning thighs (and who doesn’t...), then Skyline is for you. The first 1.7 miles are essentially all uphill, with plenty of switchbacks through scrub oak and pine. The trail is fairly even underfoot, though watch out for tree stubs and roots. When you reach the top of Raider Ridge, the Animas Valley opens the northwest with distant views of the La Plata Mountains. Here, the trail is quite a bit rockier than before and can be technical in places. To access the Skyline Trail, park at the end of Jenkins Ranch Road in the Skyridge subdivision near Fort Lewis College.
This network of trails offers something for runners of every level, with short loops, long routes, technical climbs, and pleasant jogs through a mountain valley. Horse Gulch is flanked by Raider Ridge on one side and blank ridge on the other. Our favorite trails through the area include the Meadow Loop to Stacy’s Trail to Mike’s and back, a 6ish mile loop with plenty of uphill and rewarding downhill. Horse Gulch is easy access via the Horse Gulch Road at East 3rd Street or via the Skyline Trail.
Junction Creek to Gudy’s Rest
This is a Durango favorite for hikers as well as trail runners. The Southern Terminus of the 500-mile Colorado Trail, Junction Creek is located just on the outskirts of town. It offers a pleasant jog through the mountains, beside a rushing stream. With gradual ups and downs, the trail eventually crosses Junction Creek at 2.5 miles, where it then dashes uphill to the top of the ridge for another 1.5 miles. The top, known as Gudy’s Rest, offers one of the best views of the Animas Valley.
New to town? The Durango Running Club holds a group run every Wednesday night. It’s a great way to learn the trails and meet fellow runners. Check out their website for the full schedule.
There’s nothing worse than coming across a pile of used toilet paper in the backcountry or the remains of a big, messy campfire complete with partially melted beer cans. We’re big proponents of Leave No Trace – even on day hikes on the trails around town – to help keep the outdoors safe and clean for all users. Most people have heard of at least some of the LNT basics – Pack It In, Pack It Out, camp at least 200 ft. from a water source, and leave what you find – but many of the lesser known tenants are equally as important. Here are a few easy ones to try on your next hike.
- Travel on durable surfaces
Walk or bike on durable surfaces to reduce your impact upon the land. When there’s a trail, stay on it and avoid widenng it by hiking to either side of it. Rock, sand and gravel are all durable surfaces as are ice and snow.
- Avoid swimming in the desert
Yeah, this is a tough one! A cool desert oasis may seem impossible to resist on a hot summer day, but it really is an oasis for wildlife. Many of the oils and sunscreen on our skin can wash-off in the water and contaminate for our furry friends that rely upon it during the summer.
- Reduce the impact of fires
First off, aluminum foil doesn’t burn. But that doesn’t seem to keep people from trying based upon the number of messy fire pits we’ve seen in the backcountry. Reducing the impact of your campfire not only makes it safer (think Smokey the Bear) but also leaves a nicer campground for the next person. Keep your campfire small and easy to maintain. If possible, use a pre-existing fire ring. And be sure to make sure all coals are out before abandoning your campsite.
Do you know all seven of the LNT principles? Read up on their super informative website before hitting the trail.