Wilderness Access

Gain access to the San Juan National Forest and the Weminuche Wilderness for backpacking, day hikes, rafting, and fishing trips via the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad during the summer season.

“Wilderness Access” is only available during our summer season which runs May-October.

Please call 1-888-872-4607 to book.

Newsletter signup (Welcome General)

KNOW BEFORE YOU GO

We strongly suggest purchasing a Colorado Outdoor Recreation Search and Rescue (CORSAR) Card. Consider supporting Colorado Search and Rescue by purchasing a 1-year or 5-year CORSAR Card. For the cost of the card, you have helped ensure that trained and well-equipped search and rescue teams will respond should you become lost or in need of rescue and they will not have to incur undue expense due to your emergency. The card is not insurance. It does not pay medical transport which includes helicopter flights or ground ambulance. The card will allow reimbursement to county sheriffs for costs incurred on a mission. If the aircraft then becomes a medical transport due to a medical emergency, the medical portion of the transport is not covered. Colorado residents and visitors are well served by dedicated volunteer search and rescue teams, but mission costs are often in the thousands of dollars. By purchasing a CORSAR card you are contributing to the Search and Rescue Fund, which will reimburse these teams for costs incurred in your search and rescue. Funds remaining at the end of the year are used to help pay for training and equipment for these teams. Anyone who purchases a current hunting/fishing license, or boat, snowmobile, ATV registration already contributes to the fund.

All summits in the Rocky Mountains require varying amounts of mountaineering skills; those attempting any of them should be mindful of the hazards of afternoon thunderstorms, sudden drops in temperature, and precipitous terrain. Cell phone service is limited.

Additional information websites:
Weminuche Wilderness Trip Planning Information:
http://www.fs.usda.gov/goto/sanjuan/wilderness

HOW TO BOOK AND FLAG THE TRAIN

The 8:15am Silverton Diesel excursion will service all short stops for wilderness access. The Silverton Steam excursion departing at 9:00am will not service any wilderness stops.

Bookings must be made by phone. Online booking is not available at this time.

A cap of 15 people per party exists with a total cap of 9 parties per day at Needleton. Larger parties must book under one reservation. If you are making multiple payments, a group leader can book a reservation that other members of the party will call to add with their reservation number.

There are no southbound stops at Needleton for departures from Silverton.

Reservations and Ticketing:

Please call 1-888-872-4607 to book.

From Durango: Reservations should be made in advance through the Durango ticket office. Reservations can only be made for Durango or Silverton origination. Parties must book together. People may be added to a reservation but will need to supply the reservation number and let reservations know that they are adding to an existing reservation.
From Flag stops: Unless you purchased your round trip tickets in advance, flagstop tickets originating from either Needleton or Elk Park must be purchased from the conductor (exact fare) at the point of origin on a space-available basis. Unless you have a current Season Pass there is a freight charge per backpack ($15).

Boarding Time:

DURANGO DEPARTURES: Gear must be loaded in the boxcar 45 minutes prior to departure to allow you to be in your seats before the final boarding call. When departing from Durango, you must be in your assigned seat at least one half hour before train departure! Unoccupied seats will be sold as a “no-show”. Failure to have gear loaded by the appointed time could cause you to lose your seats.

SILVERTON DEPARTURES: You will be booked on one of the afternoon trips out of Silverton and arrive at Elk Park flag stop about 30 minutes after leaving Silverton. The only southbound option for wilderness access will be Elk Park. There is no southbound wilderness drop offs for Needleton. Only the Silverton Diesel Train is designated for flag stops. Please refer to the Short Stop Table (to be added) to determine which train will be stopping at your desired flag stop on the date you will be boarding. Be sure to check for both your SOUTHBOUND and NORTHBOUND trips!
SEATING: You will be booked SPACE in a standard-class car but specific seat assignments will be provided by the conductor when you board the train.

Flagging The Train:

You must flag the train to signal to the engineer that you wish to board. The correct method is by waving your hands horizontally across your knees. When flagging the train in either direction, you must be on the east side of the tracks. We strongly recommend advanced booking to assure seating.

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Backpacking the Chicago Basin in Colorado

I originally posted this on Our Paleo Life but have since relocated the post here.

Chicago Basin in the Weminuche Wilderness

Disconnecting from the real world with my son is one of my favorite things to do. On this particular trip we were joined by 6 other boys ages 12-16 + 2 adults on a mountaineering adventure. If you don’t have experience in the backcountry, don’t make this your first trip.

How do I get to the Chicago Basin?

You’ll board the Durango to Silverton train, it’s a national treasure, unique, and a once in a lifetime opportunity to step back in time.

Durango Train

This train has been in continuous operation since 1882! Your backpacking trip to the Chicago Basin in the San Juan mountains isn’t an option without the train (unless you want to hike a really long way and extend your trip an extra 5+ days).

Inside Silverton Durango Train

Open Air Silverton Durango Train

You’ll want to plan ahead and purchase your tickets to secure an opportunity to enter the wilderness area.

Taking the Durango Train to Hiking

The morning of your departure you’ll handoff your pack to a conductor and board the train. The trip from Durango to the Needleton stop is about 2.5 hours (the train is very slow). We arrived at about 11am on July 30th, 2019 at Needleton. All of the packs are unloaded and the train departs leaving you (and about 30 other people) all alone.

Getting off the train to Backpack to Camp

It’s about a half mile walk to the Needle Creek Trailhead where the majestic and challenging hike begins.

Heading Out to Chicago Basin CO

There’s no cell service, no amenities, just miles of incredible scenic views, the sounds of rushing water, and the excitement in what lies ahead.

Backpacking Break Time

From the trailhead to camp: 6 miles. The elevation gain to camp is over 4,000 vertical feet, get those lungs ready cause you’re over 10,000ft above sea level. The trail is well maintained and the hike is along a beautiful mountain stream with lots of great places to rest and and enjoy views and sounds.

Hiking along the stream

Plan on late afternoon to early evening before you get to camp. You won’t find good camping spots until you’ve hiked about 6 miles. In fact, don’t try to camp near the water (it’s not allowed) and you won’t find a good spot early on (you wouldn’t want to anyway) – the magic is just ahead…

Camping in Chicago Basin

Chicago Basin in the Weminuche Wilderness

This area tops my list for the most beautiful places on earth. #1. The cascading waterfalls, wildlife, avalanche remnants, and lofty peaks are breathtaking. The trails are incredible and there are a lot less people here than any other backpacking wilderness area I’ve been to. It’s said that over 10,000 folks visit the Chicago Basin each year. We saw people but it wasn’t even close to being a problem or aggravating (like some hikes can be).

Chicago Basin in Colorado Views

Wildlife

Get up close to some amazing (you won’t see these at home) animals. Avoid feeding animals (you’ll have the chance to get that close). The animals in the Chicago Basin (in my opinion) are safe, you really don’t need to worry about bears (like you would in other backcountry camping spots).

Marmots

Marmot

Oops… wrong focus.

Marmots are very common. Expect to have close encounters and plan where you store specific items. They are known to chew up gear and we experienced this firsthand. On one of our 14er ascents we left the poles behind… when we returned we caught a Marmot in the act of carrying away one of the hiking poles. Dirty little guy. When you leave camp just hang your poles and gear on a high branch, they don’t climb, you’re good.

Rocky Mountain Goats

Rocky Mountain Goats Chicago Basin

Rocky Mountain Goats are also very common. You’ll get close to the goats. Here’s the thing with the goats, they like your pee. That’s right, they’re going to mop up after you go. You’ve been warned.

Goats in the Rocky Mountains

These Rocky Mountain Goats will join you in camp and on your hike.

Colorado Goats

’ve also read that snowshoe hares are common but I didn’t notice any. Also: bears are possible but unlikely. We didn’t see any bears or any signs there had been bears. We did see Mule Deer but they were afar off, no good pictures and there wasn’t that many.

Cascading Waterfalls

Chicago Basin in Colorado

There are no shortages of water features in the Chicago Basin. Water is everywhere and it’s amazing.

Cascading Waterfall at Chicago Basin Colorado

Depending on when you go, you’ll probably get wet… either from the ground or sky. Worth it.

Climbing the Peaks

Weminuche Wilderness

The hike up to Mt. Eolus (looking back at the Chicago Basin)

Looking for an incredible climb with incredible views… there’s a lot offered here. The three 14ers available to climb are:

  • Mt. Eolus – 14,083 ft
  • North Eolus – 14,039 ft (Counting this and Mt. Eolus as 1)
  • Sunlight Peak – 14,059 ft
  • Windom Peak – 14.087 ft

To get to the peaks you’ll climb up to the Twin Lakes and from there branch off to which 14er you want to hit (you can do all in the same day).

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Twin Lakes Chicago Basin

On our first day we opted for Mt. Eolus which was a challenge (mentally, keeping an eye on (2) 12 year old boys).

Mount Eolus

Mount Eolus

The scramble up and down was fun and the views were incredible. We had to cross a few snow fields and even got to butt sled down a couple. Woot.

Climbing a fourteener

When we got back to Twin Lakes it was swim swim time.

Twin Lakes

Mountain Lake Swimming

Jumping in to mountain lake

Mountain Swim

Swimming in Mountain Lake

Weminuche Wilderness

Where exactly is the Chicago Basin? Located in the Weminuche Wilderness, the Chicago Basin is best accessed via the Durango to Silverton train. The wilderness area is the largest in Colorado at 499,771 acres. The Weminuche was designated by Congress in 1975, and expanded by the Colorado Wilderness Acts of 1980 and 1993.

The Chicago Basin in the Weminuche Wilderness is accessible via a stop on the Durango to Silverton train which is about 20 miles south of Silverton, CO and 30 miles from Durango, CO along the Animas River.

Chicago Basin in the Weminuche Wilderness

Backcountry Adventure Checklist

After several years of going in to the backcountry there are a few things I wouldn’t want to go without: flint and steel (no need for matches), plenty of treats, and a gravity water filter. The best advice I can give: travel as light as you possibly can. Traveling light makes the journey more enjoyable. This list is NOT in order of importance.

  • Rugged Backpack (fit to your body size)
  • Food (lightweight – freeze dried is a good option – plan your days – plan for snacks)
  • Very small backpacking stove with heat source (gas) to heat water (for freeze dried food)
  • Utensil to eat freeze dried food out of bag
  • Water Filter / Purification
  • Water bottles / reserves
  • Headlamp
  • First aid kit
  • Rain gear (not a must have – it’s nice to have if it rains)
  • Hiking Boots
  • Quality Socks
  • Clothing including hiking pants (no jeans)
  • Shorts (even if it’s cold, you’ll want shorts)
  • Sweatpants for sleeping
  • Warm clothing (for cold nights) – ie beanie + jacket
  • Tent or sleeping hammock
  • Sleeping bag or blanket / pillow
  • Pocket knife
  • Small poo shovel
  • Toilet paper
  • Camp Flip flops
  • Sunglasses
  • Flint and steel
  • Extra batteries for headlamp
  • Toothbrush and toothpaste
  • Large ziplock bags for trash
  • Insect Repellant

Chicago Basin (highly recommended)

I highly recommend the Chicago Basin for your next adventure. It’s a rugged and extremely beautiful area with an iconic mode of transportation to the trailhead. If you have questions, ask them in the comments!

Last Day of Camp

Last day of our backcountry Adventure (waiting for the train)

Backpacking the Chicago Basin in Colorado

I originally posted this on Our Paleo Life but have since relocated the post here.

Chicago Basin in the Weminuche Wilderness

Disconnecting from the real world with my son is one of my favorite things to do. On this particular trip we were joined by 6 other boys ages 12-16 + 2 adults on a mountaineering adventure. If you don’t have experience in the backcountry, don’t make this your first trip.

How do I get to the Chicago Basin?

You’ll board the Durango to Silverton train, it’s a national treasure, unique, and a once in a lifetime opportunity to step back in time.

Durango Train

This train has been in continuous operation since 1882! Your backpacking trip to the Chicago Basin in the San Juan mountains isn’t an option without the train (unless you want to hike a really long way and extend your trip an extra 5+ days).

Inside Silverton Durango Train

Open Air Silverton Durango Train

You’ll want to plan ahead and purchase your tickets to secure an opportunity to enter the wilderness area.

Taking the Durango Train to Hiking

The morning of your departure you’ll handoff your pack to a conductor and board the train. The trip from Durango to the Needleton stop is about 2.5 hours (the train is very slow). We arrived at about 11am on July 30th, 2019 at Needleton. All of the packs are unloaded and the train departs leaving you (and about 30 other people) all alone.

Getting off the train to Backpack to Camp

It’s about a half mile walk to the Needle Creek Trailhead where the majestic and challenging hike begins.

Heading Out to Chicago Basin CO

There’s no cell service, no amenities, just miles of incredible scenic views, the sounds of rushing water, and the excitement in what lies ahead.

Backpacking Break Time

From the trailhead to camp: 6 miles. The elevation gain to camp is over 4,000 vertical feet, get those lungs ready cause you’re over 10,000ft above sea level. The trail is well maintained and the hike is along a beautiful mountain stream with lots of great places to rest and and enjoy views and sounds.

Hiking along the stream

Plan on late afternoon to early evening before you get to camp. You won’t find good camping spots until you’ve hiked about 6 miles. In fact, don’t try to camp near the water (it’s not allowed) and you won’t find a good spot early on (you wouldn’t want to anyway) – the magic is just ahead…

Camping in Chicago Basin

Chicago Basin in the Weminuche Wilderness

This area tops my list for the most beautiful places on earth. #1. The cascading waterfalls, wildlife, avalanche remnants, and lofty peaks are breathtaking. The trails are incredible and there are a lot less people here than any other backpacking wilderness area I’ve been to. It’s said that over 10,000 folks visit the Chicago Basin each year. We saw people but it wasn’t even close to being a problem or aggravating (like some hikes can be).

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Chicago Basin in Colorado Views

Wildlife

Get up close to some amazing (you won’t see these at home) animals. Avoid feeding animals (you’ll have the chance to get that close). The animals in the Chicago Basin (in my opinion) are safe, you really don’t need to worry about bears (like you would in other backcountry camping spots).

Marmots

Marmot

Oops… wrong focus.

Marmots are very common. Expect to have close encounters and plan where you store specific items. They are known to chew up gear and we experienced this firsthand. On one of our 14er ascents we left the poles behind… when we returned we caught a Marmot in the act of carrying away one of the hiking poles. Dirty little guy. When you leave camp just hang your poles and gear on a high branch, they don’t climb, you’re good.

Rocky Mountain Goats

Rocky Mountain Goats Chicago Basin

Rocky Mountain Goats are also very common. You’ll get close to the goats. Here’s the thing with the goats, they like your pee. That’s right, they’re going to mop up after you go. You’ve been warned.

Goats in the Rocky Mountains

These Rocky Mountain Goats will join you in camp and on your hike.

Colorado Goats

’ve also read that snowshoe hares are common but I didn’t notice any. Also: bears are possible but unlikely. We didn’t see any bears or any signs there had been bears. We did see Mule Deer but they were afar off, no good pictures and there wasn’t that many.

Cascading Waterfalls

Chicago Basin in Colorado

There are no shortages of water features in the Chicago Basin. Water is everywhere and it’s amazing.

Cascading Waterfall at Chicago Basin Colorado

Depending on when you go, you’ll probably get wet… either from the ground or sky. Worth it.

Climbing the Peaks

Weminuche Wilderness

The hike up to Mt. Eolus (looking back at the Chicago Basin)

Looking for an incredible climb with incredible views… there’s a lot offered here. The three 14ers available to climb are:

  • Mt. Eolus – 14,083 ft
  • North Eolus – 14,039 ft (Counting this and Mt. Eolus as 1)
  • Sunlight Peak – 14,059 ft
  • Windom Peak – 14.087 ft

To get to the peaks you’ll climb up to the Twin Lakes and from there branch off to which 14er you want to hit (you can do all in the same day).

Twin Lakes Chicago Basin

On our first day we opted for Mt. Eolus which was a challenge (mentally, keeping an eye on (2) 12 year old boys).

Mount Eolus

Mount Eolus

The scramble up and down was fun and the views were incredible. We had to cross a few snow fields and even got to butt sled down a couple. Woot.

Climbing a fourteener

When we got back to Twin Lakes it was swim swim time.

Twin Lakes

Mountain Lake Swimming

Jumping in to mountain lake

Mountain Swim

Swimming in Mountain Lake

Weminuche Wilderness

Where exactly is the Chicago Basin? Located in the Weminuche Wilderness, the Chicago Basin is best accessed via the Durango to Silverton train. The wilderness area is the largest in Colorado at 499,771 acres. The Weminuche was designated by Congress in 1975, and expanded by the Colorado Wilderness Acts of 1980 and 1993.

The Chicago Basin in the Weminuche Wilderness is accessible via a stop on the Durango to Silverton train which is about 20 miles south of Silverton, CO and 30 miles from Durango, CO along the Animas River.

Chicago Basin in the Weminuche Wilderness

Backcountry Adventure Checklist

After several years of going in to the backcountry there are a few things I wouldn’t want to go without: flint and steel (no need for matches), plenty of treats, and a gravity water filter. The best advice I can give: travel as light as you possibly can. Traveling light makes the journey more enjoyable. This list is NOT in order of importance.

  • Rugged Backpack (fit to your body size)
  • Food (lightweight – freeze dried is a good option – plan your days – plan for snacks)
  • Very small backpacking stove with heat source (gas) to heat water (for freeze dried food)
  • Utensil to eat freeze dried food out of bag
  • Water Filter / Purification
  • Water bottles / reserves
  • Headlamp
  • First aid kit
  • Rain gear (not a must have – it’s nice to have if it rains)
  • Hiking Boots
  • Quality Socks
  • Clothing including hiking pants (no jeans)
  • Shorts (even if it’s cold, you’ll want shorts)
  • Sweatpants for sleeping
  • Warm clothing (for cold nights) – ie beanie + jacket
  • Tent or sleeping hammock
  • Sleeping bag or blanket / pillow
  • Pocket knife
  • Small poo shovel
  • Toilet paper
  • Camp Flip flops
  • Sunglasses
  • Flint and steel
  • Extra batteries for headlamp
  • Toothbrush and toothpaste
  • Large ziplock bags for trash
  • Insect Repellant

Chicago Basin (highly recommended)

I highly recommend the Chicago Basin for your next adventure. It’s a rugged and extremely beautiful area with an iconic mode of transportation to the trailhead. If you have questions, ask them in the comments!

Last Day of Camp

Last day of our backcountry Adventure (waiting for the train)

Source https://www.durangotrain.com/wilderness-access/

Source https://buckhorncliffs.com/backpacking-the-chicago-basin-in-colorado/

Source https://buckhorncliffs.com/backpacking-the-chicago-basin-in-colorado/

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