San Juan National Forest
San Juan National Forest
Scenic alpine territory, containing some of the most rugged and majestic peaks in the continental United States, lies within the Weminuche Wilderness. Encompassing nearly 460,000 acres, the Weminuche is located in southwestern Colorado within the San Juan and Rio Grande National Forests. Extending along the Continental Divide from the East Needle Mountains to the headwaters of the West Fork of the San Juan River, scores of peaks rise to well over 13,000 feet in elevation. Windom Peak, 14,091; Mount Eolus, 14,086; and Sunlight Peak, 14,060, are the highest in the Needle Mountains. Their remoteness and challenging climbs have made the area a mecca for mountain climbers and outdoor enthusiasts seeking primitive conditions and a degree of challenge.
Numerous streams and lakes, waterfalls, canyons, colorful mountain meadows, and spruce covered slopes combine to make an unusually attractive landscape. Clear, placid lakes and cold, fast-moving streams blend with tranquil alpine meadows and high, snow-laden peaks to fashion a primeval retreat from the rush of urban life. Excellent trout fishing, big game hunting, scaling difficult peaks and pack trips reward the wilderness adventurer entering the solitude of the high country. Alpine meadows with high spruce stands are interspersed with large areas of sharp, bold, granite extrusions, rock slides and barren areas. Much of the area is above timberline with characteristic shallow soils.
The average elevation is greater than 10,000 feet and ranges from 8,000 to more than 14,000 feet. At higher elevations in July, expect to encounter some snow-banks. However, almost all trails will be open for both horse and foot travel by the first of July. Precipitation varies from 27 to 45 inches annually, and temperatures range from highs of 80 degrees Fahrenheit to lows of minus 30 degrees Fahrenheit. Much of the area experiences continuous frost and there are numerous semi-permanent snow packs.
The Lizard Head Wilderness, though smaller at 41,000 acres, also offers interesting and scenic trips. Open campfires are prohibited in the area around Navajo Lake. Within the wilderness, the San Miguel Mountains consist of two distinct clusters of peaks.
The eastern cluster, informally referred to as the Wilson Group, is the larger. It contains several peaks greater than 14,000 feet: Mount Wilson, 14,245 feet; El Diente Peak, 14,159 feet; Wilson Peak, 14,017 feet; and an unnamed summit on the spur south of Mount Wilson, known locally as South Wilson, 14,110 feet. Scarcely less imposing is Gladstone Peak, 13,913 feet. At somewhat lower elevation, about two miles east, is the spectacular landmark of Lizard Head, a nearly vertical rock spire which rises 300 feet from a conical base to 13,113 feet.
The Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad takes passengers on a historic ride from Durango to Silverton through the deep, gorgeous canyon of the Animas River. The Needle Mountains, a paradise for mountain climbers and one of the roughest ranges in the United States, lie within the Weminuche Wilderness. Three of these peaks rise to more than 14,000 feet above sea level. Within the Lizard Head Wilderness are three more peaks greater than 14,000 feet in elevation. These areas are accessible only by trail for foot or horseback use. Numerous campgrounds and picnic sites are scattered through the Forest.