The forests of southwestern Colorado, nestled between Silverton and Telluride, are home to some of the most beautiful places in America. Their mountain peaks rise to heights over 14,000 feet, and their lakes are as pretty as any place in the world. This is the San Juan mountains. While backpacking the San Juans isn’t easy, it’s gratifying and gives you the ability to soak in true beauty. So as you plan your trips, add these colorado backpacking destinations to the top of your list. Lastly, these hiking trails in Colorado are incredibly well-maintained, and you’ll have no issues traversing these paths.
Gear to Use Backpacking
- Lightweight Tent
- Lightweight Sleeping Pad
- Warm Sleeping bag for mountain camping
- Water filter
- Sturdy Boots
- Satellite Communicator
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Colorado Backpacking the San Juans
Colorado Backpacking at Ice Lake Basin and Island Lake
One of the most recognizable hikes in Colorado, the Ice Lake Basin and Island Lake hike will transport you to another world. At eight miles for the loop, or six miles if you go to Ice Lake, you’ll feel the elevation gain as you climb higher and higher into thin air of Colorado. This is a great backpacking trip, but ensure you are experienced before heading up.
- Island Lake is less visited than Ice Lake and will give you more solitude.
- Camp behind the lake or by the streams to stay away from the crowds.
- Remember, you’re camping at over 12,000 feet. So be aware of the weather and know your body.
Backpacking Colorado – Blue Lakes
Another top-rated backpacking destination is near Telluride, Colorado. Blue Lakes – home to three amazing lakes – sits under the watchful eye of Mount Sneffels and the beautiful summits of the San Juan mountains. Only 6.5 miles in, the hike to Blue Lakes is rough for the first mile before becoming more manageable. It’s another higher elevation hike, but not as high as the other two here. When backpacking the San Juans, prepare for chilly evenings, even in the summer.
- This will fill up fast. Get there early if you plan to camp at the lower lake in the trees.
- Few people camp up higher. If you’re summiting Sneffels, I’d suggest camping up there. The only downside is no trees/shade/weather protection.
- You’ll want a bear box if you’re camping down low. I saw a bear, so they do exist.
Backpacking the San Juans at Columbine Lake
Columbine Lake is the highest of these three lakes, which sits at 12,700 feet. The first three miles of this hike are daunting, with the final mile being a brisk walk across rolling hills. Once at the lake, the blueness will blow your mind. It’s a genuinely memorable lake and one of the amazing hiking trails in Colorado. If you choose to camp, remember this is an alpine tundra zone, and find a place to put your tent that will have a minimal environmental impact. I camped on rocks that signaled a ‘camp spot.’
Backpacking in Colorado Tips:
- A bear box isn’t necessary, but you can bring it for extra caution
- Be mindful of weather changes when attempting Colorado backpacking
- There’s almost no protection from the elements if you camp by the lake
- Hike past the lake. The small lake beyond is super green-blue-ish
These three Colorado backpacking locations will blow your mind and create lifelong memories. I hope you enjoy backpacking the San Juan mountains. You won’t be disappointed!
Until next time adventurers, take care and be safe.
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