Hikes in San Juan Mountain Range
The San Juan Mountains of Colorado and northern New Mexico are a breathtaking collection of rugged peaks and serene alpine valleys that make for the perfect setting for a wonderful hiking excursion. This high and rugged subrange of the Rockies features 14 of Colorado’s 58 fourteeners, meaning that there is no shortage of amazing alpine terrain waiting to be explored.
In addition to dramatic mountain peaks, the landscape here is characterized by coursing rivers and vast swathes of woodlands, mostly made up of the San Juan and Uncompahgre National Forests. When combined with the booming adventure towns of Telluride, Ouray, and Silverton, there are countless opportunities to explore the Colorado wilderness in the San Juan Mountains.
15 Fantastic Hiking Routes In the San Juan Mountains
Whether you are looking to summit as many challenging fourteeners as you can or are simply content with strolling through tranquil forests and peaceful alpine meadows, the San Juan Mountains offer a wide range of hiking routes that are suitable for all ages and skill levels. Planning a hiking excursion in an unfamiliar territory can be a bit challenging, so we’ve gone ahead and put together the below list of 15 amazing hiking routes in the San Juan Mountains that we think you will enjoy:
- Piedra Falls Trail: The Piedra Falls Trail is a short and fairly easy hiking route near Pagosa Springs, Colorado that will lead you along the banks of the Piedra River to take in the natural beauty of a cascading waterfall.
- Black Bear Pass Trail: This hike follows along a pretty rough and rugged off-road vehicle route that will take you through a strikingly beautiful mountain pass for views of Telluride and the stunning Bridal Veil Falls.
- Lower, Middle, and Upper Blue Lakes Hike: A challenging route with wonderfully scenic views, the Lower, Middle, and Upper Blue Lakes Hike will lead you through forests and meadows to reach a series of lakes beneath the looming presence of Mount Sneffels.
- Lake Nighthorse Trail: Another quick and easy hiking route, this family-friendly trail will lead you along the shores of a beautiful lake for views across the water.
- Piedra River Trail: A longer hike along the winding banks of the Piedra River, this route will lead you through the forest for views of the surrounding landscape and chance to spot some wildlife.
- Chicago Basin Hike: While this hike may be long and challenging, it does offer some absolutely breathtaking views of the surrounding alpine landscape, including the serene Twin Lakes and three nearby fourteeners.
- Columbine Lake Trail #509: Another hiking route that leads up to a stunning alpine lake, this trail will see you traverse a series of 16 switchbacks, as you gain elevation and take in the scenic views of the surrounding mountains.
- Ice Lake Basin Hike: The Ice Lake Basin Hike is a tough adventure, but it offers hikers the chance to climb up into the San Juan Mountains for views of several alpine lakes, as well as the summits of Golden Horn, Vermillion Peak, and Fuller Peak.
- Ophir Pass Road Hike: While the surrounding terrain is fairly rugged, this hike utilizes an off-road vehicle trail to quickly cut across the dramatic landscape of a mountain pass while taking in the stunning views in all directions.
- Island Lake via Ice Lakes Trail: Another great trail leading up into the picturesque Ice Lakes Basin, the upper portion of this route breaks off in a different direction to visit the charming shores of Island Lake.
- Handies Peak Hike: A fairly steep climb up a rugged fourteener, the Handies Peak Hike is one of the easier fourteener routes when it comes to the nature of the terrain and its relatively short and direct route to the summit.
- Uncompahgre Peak Hike: This exceptional hiking route is challenging, but it will lead you up to the highest highest point in the San Juan Mountains and the 6th highest in the entire state of Colorado.
- Rainbow Hot Springs Hike: A fairly long hike through relaxed riverside terrain, this adventure offers the chance to soak your aching bones in a series of thermal pools at the endpoint of the trail.
- Mount Sneffels via Yankee Boy Basin Hike: Featuring some scrambling over loose scree slopes, this rugged hiking route will take you through the Yankee Boy Basin to reach the summit of a rugged fourteener known as Mount Sneffels.
- Lizard Head Trail: This beautifully scenic hiking route won’t take you right up to the summit of Lizard Head, but it will take you just below it before traversing another ridge that offers stunning views of the surrounding landscape.
When is the Best Time to Hike in the San Juan Mountains?
The best time to explore the rugged landscape of the San Juan Mountains for a fun hiking excursion is during the summer months after the ski season is over, the threat of avalanche conditions has gone away, and the hiking trails are mostly dry and free of snow. During the May-October window, most of the snow along the trails will have melted to reveal lovely alpine valleys and dramatic mountain peaks that have waited all winter to be climbed; however, some of the trails at higher elevations will only be accessible for a brief amount of time between July and August.
Other Outdoor Activities in the San Juan Mountains
While hiking is one of the more popular activities in the San Juan Mountains during the summer, there are countless other exciting excursions to try out in the area, such as horseback riding, mountain biking, swimming, fishing, canoeing, kayaking, and many more. When the landscape freezes over in the winter and the region is covered in a blanket of snow and ice, the focus of outdoor activities shifts largely to skiing and snowboarding on the rugged mountain slopes, as well as other pastimes like snowshoeing.
Fantastic Adventure Tours Near the San Juan Mountains
Exploring the stunning terrain of the San Juan Mountains is an amazing experience, and for some people, planning that adventure is all a part of the journey; however, if you have never been to the area and aren’t sure how to go about planning an action packed adventure it can be a tricky thing to navigate. If you are looking to explore the wild mountain landscape and take in the stunning alpine scenery of Colorado without the difficulties of planning every aspect of your journey, check out one of these spectacular adventure tours in Colorado and leave the planning to the professionals.
Frequently Asked Questions About the San Juan Mountains
Where are the San Juan Mountains?
The San Juan Mountains are a subrange of the Rocky Mountains, and can be found in the southern Part of Colorado and northwestern New Mexico.
What is the highest elevation in the San Juan Mountains?
At 4,631 m, Uncompahgre Peak is the highest point in the San Juan Mountains.
How many fourteeners are there in the San Juan Mountains?
14 of Colorado’s 58 fourteeners can be found in the San Juan Mountain Range of southwestern Colorado.
Find other spectacular Hiking regions in the Colorado
Best Hikes in San Juan Mountain Range
Piedra Falls Trail
The Piedra Falls Trail is a quick and easy adventure in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado that will take you to a stunning waterfall setting. While out hiking the trail, you will follow along the banks of the East Fork Piedra River and pass through some woodland terrain, before arriving at the sight of the cascading Piedra Falls. This is a fantastic trail that the entire family can enjoy on a fun weekend outing!
Black Bear Pass Trail
The Black Bear Pass Trail is a fantastic hiking route in the San Juan Mountains that offers views of the dramatic peaks and a nearby waterfall. While out hiking the trail, you will climb uphill through the rugged terrain of Black Bear Pass, enjoying the views of Telluride and nearby Bridal Veil Falls, before descending a steep switchback path. Hikers should take note that this is also an off-road vehicle route, so make sure to keep an eye out for passing vehicles and remember to share the trail.
Lower, Middle, and Upper Blue Lakes Hike
The Lower, Middle, and Upper Blue Lakes Hike is a spectacular adventure in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado that will take you up to a series of alpine lakes. While out hiking the trail, you will make your way uphill through the forests and meadows along the East Fork Dallas Creek, before arriving at the Blue Lakes and the imposing Mount Sneffels looming overhead. Although challenging, this is a fantastic route to experience some truly beautiful Colorado scenery.
Lake Nighthorse Trail
Hiking the Lake Nighthorse Trail is a fantastic family-friendly activity outside of Durango, Colorado that will lead you along the shores of a scenic lake. While out on the trail, you will meander along the water’s edge and take in the beautifully scenic views across the water. It may be a quick and easy route, but for the low level of effort required the views are outstanding!
Piedra River Trail
Hiking the Piedra River Trail is a great intermediate-length adventure in Colorado that will allow you to enjoy the scenic views along a winding river. While out on the trail, you will follow along the riverbank in a southwestern direction, enjoying the views of the surrounding trees and hills as you meander through the valley. Hikers should take note that bears and cougars are sometimes spotted along the trail, so be sure to bring bear spray and exercise all precautions.
Chicago Basin Hike
The Chicago Basin Hike is a challenging, but non-technical, adventure in the San Juan Mountains that will take you uphill for stunning views of the alpine terrain. While out hiking the trail, you will work your way through the forested basin alongside Needle Creek, before making the final push through the alpine landscape to reach the shores of the Twin lakes. Hikers should take note that, while this route isn’t overly technical, it will still require a good amount of hiking experience.
Columbine Lake Trail #509
Columbine Lake Trail #509 is a fantastic hiking route in the San Juan Mountains that will take you up to a breathtaking alpine lake with some of the best views in Colorado. While out on the trail you will work your way up a steep slope that features 16 switchbacks, before being greeted by an amazing alpine scene of rugged mountain peaks and strikingly blue water. Hikers should take note that, while camping is permitted at the lake, the alpine meadow ecosystem there is fragile, so take extra care and leave the area exactly as you found it.
Ice Lake Basin Hike
The Ice Lake Basin Hike is a tough and rewarding trail in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado that will take you up into the mountains for alpine views. While out hiking the trail, you will work your way uphill through forest and alpine meadows, before arriving at the Ice Lakes and taking in theory stunning natural beauty. Hikers should take note that the parking lot fills up very quickly, especially during peak season, so make sure to arrive early to secure a space.
Ophir Pass Road Hike
The Ophir Pass Road Hike is a straightforward adventure near Silverton, Colorado that will take you along a rugged road through the mountains. While out hiking the trail, you will traverse a rough and rugged road that leads through Ophir Pass, enjoying the views of the surrounding mountains as you trek from the starting point to the end point of this one-way route. Hikers should take note that this is a multi-use route that is popular with off-road vehicle enthusiasts, so make sure to keep an eye out for passing traffic and share the road.
Island Lake via Ice Lakes Trail
Hiking to Island Lake via Ice Lakes Trail is a popular outdoor activity in the San Juan Mountains that will allow you to experience truly stunning alpine scenery. While out on the trail, you will climb up the mountainside through serene forests and tranquil meadows, before taking in the beautiful mountain views from beside Island Lake. The parking area next to the trailhead does fill up extremely quickly, especially during peak hiking season, so be sure to arrive early enough to secure a space.
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