The largest wilderness in Colorado, the Weminuche wilderness contains a significant portion of the extremely rugged San Juan Mountains near the towns of Durango and Silverton, Colorado. The area is known for exceptional scenic beauty and it’s landscapes are commonly found on postcards and calendars.
The Weminuche wilderness (pronounced ‘why-meh-nuke-ee’) consists of an area uplifted during a period of volcanic activity. The western end is extremely rugged, with exposed granite peaks making for scenic but strenuous hiking on foot. The area’s three fourteeners (Eolus, Sunlight, and Windom peaks) are all located here. The eastern end contains a portion of the Continental Divide and is characterized as having more gentle terrain.
Visiting the Weminuche
The towns of Durango, Silverton, and Pagosa Springs serve as the best jumping-off points for a trip into the Weminuche. The Durango-Silverton narrow guage railroad is a popular option for hikers and sight-seers to visit the western end of the area.
A pleasant time to visit the Weminuche wilderness is mid-July to early September. Winter snow can last until early July. During the summer monsoon season, stormy weather will affect your backcountry experience July through early September. Whenever visiting the Colorado high country, always be prepared for rain or even snow. See the Colorado Backpacking Guide for more information about Colorado backcountry safety and trip planning.
There are countless hiking and backpacking options in the Weminuche. I’ve selected a few popular options to show here.
Highland Mary Lakes
Majestic views of the Grenadier range are yours on this loop hike in the western Weminuche near the town of Silverton. The trail ascends above treeline to several high altitude lakes. The hike is miles in length and can be done as an overnight trip.
Directions: From Silverton, head east on State Hwy 110 (County Rd. 2) Right onto County Rd 4. CR Rd. 4 follows the Cunningham Creek valley up to its upper end. The hike begins from the trailhead at the end County Rd. 4.
Continental Divide Trail
The continental divide trail (CTD) is an excellent way to experience the Weminuche Wilderness. Because the Continental Divide Trail follows the spine of the Rocky Mountains and rarely dips below tree-line, spectacular views and countless miles of alpine scenery beckon the experienced backpacker. The CTD crosses the Weminuche from west to east following the spine of the San Juan mountains. For more information, see the CDTrail.org website.
Resources / Trip Planning
There are a plethora of hikes and backpacking trips to be enjoyed in the Weminuche Wilderness, in fact, too many to be mentioned here. Instead of listing some of the trails and their details here, I’m including the maps and books you can use to plan your trip below.
- Backpacker.com’s Adventure Guide to the Weminuche Wilderness
- Darren Kilgore’s Weminuche – Starvation Pass Trip Report
- Needle’s Traverse – Backpacker.com’s 50.5 mile trek through the rugged Needle Mountains is a another way to experience the Weminuche.
If you are planning a trip, I highly recommend this tear-resistant, waterproof trail map made by National Geographic. Trail Illustrated maps are topographic maps that show all the local trails as well as the details of the wilderness terrain.
We also have our own wilderness map showing the area surrounding the Weminuche wilderness with highways and towns in the area. Click on the image below to download the full map.
Hiking Colorado’s Weminuche and South San Juan Wilderness Areas
Donna Ikenberry’s book is an excellent resource for hiking and backpacking trip planners. Although printed in black and white, the maps and detailed trail descriptions are worth the money you spend on this paperback. Also included are elevation maps, and guides to finding the trailheads.