With a so-called “Godzilla” El Niño on its way, only a few weekends remain to explore the high country near Durango on anything other than a pair of skis. And while powder-hounds are counting down the seconds until the real snow hits, many outdoor enthusiasts are still clinging to the warm days of high-country hikes, bike rides, and climbs.
From Molas Pass to new climbing routes at RV Wall, the shoulder season of fall in Durango is the time to get your act in gear for some autumn adventures. Here, seven to check off the list before winter takes over.
1. Climbing: RV Wall
Never heard of it? Don’t worry; you’re not the only one. These new sport routes set on the band of cliffs below Coal Bank Pass were only recently added to Mountain Project and have seen very little use except by those “in the know.” Though there are currently only eleven routes, ranging from 5.7 to 5.11+, this super accessible and scenic spot is worth checking out before winter. Park at the Coal Bank parking lot and walk to the right, past the bathrooms. Follow an indistinct trail that leads parallel to the highway and then eventually cuts through the drainage and takes you to the base of the cliff band.
2. Trail Running: Ice Lake Basin
Better fit this one in quick, because the Ice Lakes trail will either be crazy muddy or nigh impassible after the next storm rolls through. Starting at 9,840 feet, the Ice Lakes trail gains 1,600 feet of elevation in the first two miles. Enjoy the incredible views at the Lower Ice Lake Basin, or keep running another 1.5 miles to the Upper Ice Lakes. This out-and-back is at most an eight-mile round-trip, with more than 2,000 feet of elevation gain: a brag-worthy way to wrap up the summer training season before chillier weather comes in.
3. Hiking: Cascade Creek
4. Mountain Biking: Dry Fork Loop
This super fun loop that includes a section of the Colorado Trail is great for riders of all levels. The entire Dry Fork Loop is roughly 8.6 miles with 1,000 feet of elevation gain and features like wide turns and short technical sections over rocks. It’s well suited for newbie riders looking to hone their skills or more experienced riders looking to enjoy the dirt as much as possible before the mud takes over.
5. Climbing: Lemon Reservoir
The perfect granite cliffs lining the banks of the cascading Florida River are home to some of the best sport and trad climbing in the Durango area. The Lemon Reservoir climbing area is divided in two by the river, splitting the 42 routes evenly between the east and west side with everything from 5.8 to 5.13a. On many of the routes, you can hike to the top and set up a top rope. This time of year, the river should be low enough to make crossing to the routes on either side easy enough. But don’t wait too long before hitting the rock: This scenic summer crag will soon see its season come to a close.
6. Backpacking: Spud Lake
By now, you should have had your fill of epics and are ready for a bit of R&R. The one-mile hike into Spud Lake is a pleasant stroll with very little climbing. Bring the camp chairs and a six-pack, and plan to spend the weekend chilling out by this picturesque alpine lake. With multiple pre-established campsites along the banks of the lake, you shouldn’t have a problem finding that perfect spot for a weekend getaway.
7. Trail Running: Animas Mountain
Okay, this isn’t exactly the high country, but Animas Mountain does shut down around December 15 for a seasonal wildlife closure. If you’re not ready to give up on trail running just yet for the season, get out to Animas before it’s too late. The first 2.5 miles is mostly uphill, with nearly 1,500 feet of elevation gain. Rough and rocky, this trail can be quite technical, especially for those making the transition from pavement to dirt. But with temperatures dropping daily, this six-mile loop can be enjoyed just about any time of day.