Okay, Weekend Warrior, you know the drill: It's almost midweek and you’re already thinking ahead to the weekend’s adventures. But where to go this time? When there are so many choices around Durango and beyond, it’s easy to fall back on the usual suspects. So why not try something new? Here, five awesome Durango backpacking trips to knock off the list before summer winds down.
A short drive from the historic mining town of Silverton, the Ice Lakes Trail is a classic day hike in the area. Extend it and spend the night in one of Colorado’s most breathtaking destinations. But don't underestimate this 2.5-mile hike up to the Lower Ice Lake Basin: With nearly 1,200 feet of elevation gain, it’s no leisurely stroll. You’ll be well rewarded for your efforts, though, with waterfalls cascading down the stone grey amphitheater-like walls and wildflowers carpeting the vast meadow where marmots squeak throughout the day. Pitch your tent above the lower lake for the night—there are several established sites on either side of the stream—and hike to the Upper Ice Lake the following morning.
There’s no better place to introduce the kids to backpacking than Spud Lake. This easy, one-mile trail leads hikers to a picturesque alpine lake set beneath the appropriately named Potato Hill. A small footpath leads around the lake where cozy campsites are nestled next to the water’s edge. Pack the fishing poles and enjoy the feeling of solitude while staying a comfortable distance from home. The trailhead is a short drive on the old Lime Creek Road just off US 550, though four-wheel drive or a high-clearance vehicle is necessary to reach it.
Feeling ambitious? Get an early start on this 24-mile round trip, because the final six-miles to Emerald Lake are brutal. If the hike-in doesn't take your breath away, the views from this massive alpine lake will. Follow the Pine River Trail as it traces the course of the lazy river through ranchland and eventually into the Weminuche Wilderness. After six miles, turn left onto the Emerald Lake Trail. Consider the hike up that point now a warm-up, because from here on out the trail is a steep and steady uphill trudge. There is a no-camping zone ¼ mile around the lake, but campsites abound on both the south and north end.
Vallecito Creek Trail
Easy to access and a pleasure to walk, the Vallecito Creek Trail is a local favorite for day hikes and extended trips alike. Though you could easily turn this into a multi-day excursion into the Weminuche Wilderness, this beautiful forest trail has several options for an easy out-and-back. The trailhead is some 30 minutes outside of town, near the rural community of Vallecito. Park at the Vallecito Campground and follow the trail up steep cliffs over the cascading creek. After five miles, you’ll find the first of several established campsites just past the bridge. Stop here or keep trekking until you find that perfect spot for a picnic. The trail is nearly 20 miles long, so you can walk as far as you like.
Highland Mary Loop
Big views, small miles: The Highland Mary Lake Loop is a mere 7.8 miles, and while that could easily be achieved in a day, slow down and take your time experiencing the unparalleled beauty of San Juan Mountain high country. Climb 1,300 feet from the trailhead to reach the first of the Highland Mary Lakes. Make camp here or keep hiking through alpine tundra to reach the Verde Lakes, where views of the Grenadiers might inspire you to stay forever. Briefly follow the Continental Divide Trail to the intersection of the Cunningham Gulch trail, where it’s a short walk back to the trailhead.