The American Backpacker

My Wilderness Adventure into the Weminuche Wilderness (Colorado)


August 2019

The Weminuche Wilderness is in the San Juan National Forest located in southern Colorado. I along with a friend, Christian, spent 4 days and 3 nights in this wilderness area.  Our adventure began from Orlando, and we flew into Albuquerque, New Mexico.  We drove 5 hours North into Durango, Colorado and spent the night there before heading out the next morning.  We parked at the Molas Pass Trailhead which is south of Silverton Colorado.  Thunderstorms and rain moved in as we began our trek to the Colorado Trail.  Once we made it to the Colorado Trail, also known as the Elk Creek Trail, we set up our first basecamp at the Elk Creek Trailhead.  

Top Left: Christian and I, Top Right: Our 1st Basecamp, Bottom: Durango Silverton Tracks near our 1st Basecamp

This trailhead also allows backpackers the opportunity to be dropped off and picked up by the Durango Silverton Steam Locomotive Train.  This old Steam Locomotive was founded by the Denver & Rio Grande Railway in 1879.  The Durango Silverton is a Narrow Gauge Railroad that provided transportation for both passengers and freight between Durango and Silverton.  It still operates today for those wanting to see the scenic beauties of the San Juan Mountains.  Incorporating this train ride into your adventure adds an exciting dynamic and overall experience to your adventure.

Silverton Durango Train

Durango Silverton Steam Locomotive at the Elk Creek Trailhead

While we were at this basecamp, we devised a plan to get on this train and take it to Silverton on our return trip.  Once at Silverton, we would hitchhike back to the Molas Trailhead where we parked. The night was quiet with some rain that lingered into the early evening hours.  On day 2 we continued heading east on the Colorado Trail toward the Continental Divide.  The weather was sunny with blue skies.  

The trail was very strenuous as we worked are way up to higher elevations.  We encountered several Debris Field caused by an avalanche during the winter months which were challenging but navigatable.  As we worked are way along the Colorado Trail we met other friendly hikers that gave us information on what was ahead.  We set up our second basecamp in an open meadow just past some Beaver Ponds off the Colorado Trail.  

Above 2 Pictures: Some Debris Fields We Encountered

Hikers and Backpackers we met on the Colorado Trail

We spent 2 nights at this basecamp which allowed us to see some great sunsets and sunrises.  That evening allowed me to explore the area next to a creek that flowed near our basecamp.  That evening brought some awildlife into our basecamp that I caught on my Flir Thermal Imager.  I observed them grazing about 25 to 50 yards from our tents.  These animals were either a Deer, or and Elk based on what I was seeing.  Two of the animals moved out while on large one stayed by the creek.  I am not sure what this animal was, and it could have been a bear due to its size and shape.  

Weminuche Wilderness

Flir Image at our 2nd Basecamp. Our tents in the background with a large rock structure and 2 animals near our tents.

Weminuche Wilderness

Flir Image at our Basecamp with some animals close to our tent by a Creek

On day 3 we headed to the Continental Divide.  As we were about 1 mile from the Divide a thunderstorm moved in.  We found a place to hunker down as we waited for the storm to pass.  We made it to the switchbacks ascending  to the almost 13,000 foot elevation with clouds and rain.  The 25 plus swithcbacks made the ascent much easier.  The temperatures dropped dramatically, and visibility was very poor.  I could not see much because of the weather, but it felt great to be on the Continental Divide. We stayed for a while and then worked our way back to our basecamp and had a nice and well deserved dinner.

The American Backpacker

On Day 4 we started our trek back to the Elk Creek Trailhead hoping to catch the train to Silverton. We were not sure if we would be able to but once at the trail head we spoke to a railway worker, aka Nacho, who operated a safety car before the train.  He explained many things about the railway and its operations.  He was very knowledgeable, and I learned allot about old steam locomotives.  The train pulled in and we were able to board it.  The fee to Silverton from his trailhead was $35.00 dollars a person, cash.  We payed our fair and enjoyed the scenic ride to Silverton.  

Once at Silverton we ate at the famous Brown Bear Café.  The meal was excellent, and we enjoyed the historic aspects of Silverton after our meal.  We were able to find a ride back to the Molas Trailhead and the rains moved in as we traveled in the back of a pick-up to our vehicle.  Once at our vehicle we began our long drive back to Albuquerque, New Mexico for our flight back to Orlando Florida.

Brown Bear Cafe (Silverton CO)


This adventure was my second trip to Colorado.  Colorado offers great opportunities for all types of outdoor adventures.  Navigating the Colorado trail from the Elk Creek Trailhead to the Continental Divide is a very strenuous adventure especially with the several Debris fields that you will encounter.  All of these debris’ fields have paths marked though them that have been worked on by the forestry services making it easier to navigate but challenging.  I wish I had better weather at the Divide, but I was still able to see and experience many great things on this adventure.  

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