Stony Pass to Durango

Miles: 94.1
Segments: 24 to 28

If the Colorado Trail (CT) were a fireworks show, this part would be the grand finale. Tucked deep inside the San Juan Mountains, the trail crackles with incredible peak views, rushing creeks, carpets of summer wildflowers, and roaming elk, bighorn sheep, pika, and marmots. From the start in the Weminuche Wilderness’ needle-sharp summits to its big finish in Durango, this area should rank number one on every hiker’s highlight reel.

Best Dayhike

Indian Trail Ridge

On a long-distance trail packed with superlatives, these 5.6 miles are in the running for the CT’s finest. From the Kennebec trailhead outside Durango, the CT gains the ridge in about two miles, then tiptoes north along a rocky, 12,000-foot-high spine with nonstop views of the polychrome San Juan and La Plata mountains. In high summer, the tundra is splashed with alpine sunflower, phlox, and bluebells, and elk hang out on the green stretches below. “I actually went back [and hiked it again] because this was such a beautiful portion of the trail,” says thru-hiker Darrah Blackwater. Turn around at the junction with the Grindstone Trail for an 11.2-mile out-and-back that’ll go down in your personal hiking record books. Get an early start: There’s no cover from thunderstorms up here.

Best Campsite

Little Molas Lake

For once, here’s a CT view you don’t have to work for. With an access road navigable by the average Toyota Camry, the free, primitive Forest Service campground at Little Molas has 10 sites (five fit RVs) tucked in among the conifers ringing this lake that sits at 11,000 feet. Plus, it has far-range views east to the Weminuche Wilderness—which means an excellent sunset photo op. Expend the energy you’ve saved on a hike among legendary blooms of paintbrush, fireweed, and gentian in July and August along the CT heading west from the campground to Lime Creek, a 12.1-miler, round trip.

Best Long Weekend

Elk Creek To Molas Lake

One of the best vistas of the entire CT unfurls from the top of the Elk Creek drainage: The trail seemingly pours straight off a cliff into a multicolored canyon with the spires of the Grenadier Range peeking over it. Find the spectacular panorama at mile 7.4 of this 19.1-mile shuttle hike starting from Stony Pass trailhead and dipping into the Weminuche Wilderness; then grab your trekking poles and tackle the 28 switchbacks leading down to Elk Creek. Spend the night at one of the waterfront (side streams or a pond) campsites between miles nine and 11.6. If you have time, spend another day scouting out the hidden waterfall (near mile 9.6) and dayhiking some of the climbers’ trails to Grenadier saddles. Then cross the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad tracks and the Animas River before hauling yourself up a steep canyon face with views of 13,074-foot Mt. Garfield, dropping down to Molas Lake Park & Campground at mile 18.7 and your shuttle car. (For one more night under the stars, get a reservation at the campground.) “It’s a wildly beautiful roller coaster,” says thru-hiker Nika Meyers. Tip: Shorten your shuttle drive by taking the San Juan Backcountry Shuttle from Silverton to Stony Pass ($60 per person).

Arrow and Vestal peaks. Photo by Jack Brauer

Multisport Option

Llama Trekking

Ever dream about a backpacking trip that included a personal pack animal? Your wish comes true in the San Juans, where several outfitters can provide you with a big-eyed, fluffy llama to schlep your gear into the backcountry. (Redwood Llamas, based in Durango, rents llamas for $75 per day and offers guided trips starting at $1,600.)

Point of Interest

Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad

The locomotives that chug along this scenic railroad also offer a stop on the CT at Elk Park. It’s an alternate way to approach our selection for best long weekend at Elk Creek, and it’s easily the coolest ride to a trailhead in the state.

Trail Town Spotlight


Southbound hikers couldn’t ask for a better place to end their treks than historical Durango. Must-do’s: Pop Champagne at the Junction Creek trailhead, the CT’s endpoint; take a shower at Durango Community Recreation Center; grab pints at Ska Brewing; and take a soak at Durango Hot Springs.

Hiking along Segment 24 of the Colorado Trail. Photo by Take a Hike Photography

Trail Tales

The CT has a rep for being exceptionally well-maintained, thanks to dedicated volunteer crews that sling axes every summer (393 people contributed in 2022). Westminster’s Scott Smith and Laura Brieser-Smith have been leading crews that camp on the trail for up to a week at a time for the past nine years, starting after they finished their own CT section hike. “This is one way we can give back, but it’s also fun,” Smith says. “It draws out the inner child of playing in the dirt.” Brieser-Smith adds, “One of the big things about doing trail work is you will never hike the same way again.” Join the volunteer squad—no experience is required—at