Engineer Mountain is one of the most iconic peaks in this area. If an advertisement for Durango doesn’t have a picture of the D&SNG train, it will undoubtedly feature this raw and spiny mountain. Engineer might not be a 14er – it maxes out at 12,968 ft. – but it’s a beautiful climb and is something every Durangatang and visitor alike needs to check off their list. The 5-mile out and back to the top of Engineer truly showcases our beautiful mountain ecosystem, from lush conifer forests to alpine tundra to bare rock and scree. And once you’re at the top, enjoy some of the best views in Colorado.
What Makes It Great
Engineer brings the best of both worlds into one amazing day-hike – a pleasant, albeit uphill, stroll through Colorado’s finest terrain and an adrenaline-pumping scramble to the top of the mountain. With easy access from US 550, this trail is popular with hikers and mountain bikers alike who enjoy a climb through cool conifer forests before reaching an open meadow, blossoming with Colorado’s classic wildflowers.
The trail to the base of Engineer is known as the Pass Creek Trail. Access it directly from US 550. From here, the trail climbs through a steep open field before entering the forest. Follow the switchbacks up, up and ever up until you reach tree line. This is where the magic happens: wide and open vistas with the sheer cliff walls of Engineer looming large in the foreground.
By now, you’ve reached nearly 11,600 ft. Many hikers will make this their turn-around point, relaxing in the alpine meadow after their climb. If you do, try not to stray off trail, as the tundra ecosystem is incredibly fragile and can take up to a thousand years to regenerate.
The trail up until this point is considered moderate if not easy, but once you start up the trail to the summit, you’re entering more difficult terrain. As you climb the exposed tallus ridge, you’ll pass steep glaciated cliff faces, which give Engineer its distinctive look. This last section to the summit requires care, especially at the crux where the holds are loose and crumbly, but once you reach the top you’ll find 360-degrees of unrestricted views.
Who is Going to Love It
The hike up to the base of Engineer can be achieved by most fit and acclimated hikers, but the climb to the summit requires experience in loose, uneven and exposed terrain. The scramble follows a narrow ridgeline to the top and is not for the acrophobic. In winter, this is a popular, but short, winter mountaineering climb. You can also snowshoe to the base quite easily during the winter months.
All in all, you will gain 2,378 ft. from your car to the top of Engineer.
Directions, Parking, & Regulations
Drive North on US 550 past the Purgatory Resort until you reach the top of Coal Bank Pass, roughly 34-miles from downtown. Shortly after the Coal Bank carpark and toilet, you will see a small dirt road on your left, just after mile marker 56. Turn in here and park in the cul-de-sac.
Seasonality Engineer can be tackled at all times of the year, but if you don’t want to tramp in the snow, it’s best to wait for it to melt, typically June or July through the end of September.
If hiking this during the summer, be wary of the monsoons, which roll in daily during July and August afternoons. It’s best to start early as foul weather moves in fast.