Colorado Backpacking


Colorado $2,100(inclusive*) • September 18-23, 2023

West Ute CreekThe San Juan Mountains in southwest Colorado are not just a spectacular wonderland of forest, meadow, roaring streams and sky-scraping 14,000-foot peaks, but the Weminuche (pronounced Wem’-in-ooch) Wilderness is the largest protected area in the state. We will straddle the Continental Divide in this high altitude exploration of this rugged alpine domain. Beneath the peaks and vast slopes of alpine tundra are beautiful forests of quaking aspen, spruce and fir. Wildlife includes elk, moose, mule deer, bighorn sheep, black bear, moose, mountain lion and the endangered Canada lynx. Typically, there are warm sunny afternoons with frosty nights. We rate it fairly strenuous, and the trip base in Montrose, Colorado.

Our route is a loop within the San Juan and Rio Grande National Forests. Despite the proximity to our southwestern deserts, this is surprisingly lush, well-watered country. Gradients are generally mellow, but we’ll cover nearly 40 miles and the air is thin at these high elevations. In late September, autumn colors are spectacular! This is the best of the Colorado Rockies!


Trek Base: Montrose, Colorado. Hampton Inn Montrose, 1980 North Townsend; 970-252-3300.

Meeting Time: Pre-trip orientation including food and gear handout plus safety talk at 6 pm in motel lobby the evening prior to day one of the trip.

Transportation: Fly to Montrose and catch a cab for a very short ride to the motel.

Ute Ridge PeakTrip Rating: It’s Fairly Strenuous and at high elevations, with portions near and above tree line, and some routes include some off-trail hiking. There is usually a layover and the longest backpacking day is about 10 miles.

Elevations: 9,000 to 12,000 feet with optional day-hikes to higher summits. Maximum one-day elevation gain with backpack is about 2,000 feet.

Weather: Early autumn weather is usually crisp and clear with frosty mornings. However, some years, late summer afternoon thundershowers persist into early autumn.

Special Features: Spectacular autumn colors of multi-hued quaking aspens and willows. Majestic craggy peaks and a wonderful mix of forest and meadow. There are elk, bighorn sheep, and other mountain critters. These San Juan Mountains include 14,000-foot peaks, and this is a true alpine wonderland!

Quaking Hikers

Special tips: If you live near sea level, consider arriving in Grand Junction (elevation 4,500 feet) a day early to begin the acclimation process, since we’ll begin the trip at over 9,000 feet. The wilderness name is correctly pronounced “Wem’-in-ooch”.

Status: The Weminuche is the largest designated Wilderness area in Colorado.

Itinerary: Our primary route is a loop that crosses the Continental Divide, which also divides the Rio Grande National Forest on the east from the San Juan National Forest on the west. There will usually be one high elevation layover day.

Note: Mileages and vertical foot estimates are approximate, since we vary the route and camp locations from year to year due to changing conditions and varying group capabilities and interests.

*All trip prices include equipment (backpack, day-pack, tent, sleeping bag and pad, eating utensils), food and cooking (3 meals/day plus snacks), cooking gear, trip planning, comprehensive safety instruction, all user/permit fees, transportation from town to and from the trailheads, and our professional guide/naturalist staff. There is a $300 discount if you bring your own equipment.


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Have questions? Call (406) 823-0337

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Capitan Lake - photo from one of our backpacking treks

List prices include our complete gear package and there is a $300 discount if you bring your own (see our Canoeing List, Backpacking List, and/or Questionnaire for details – found here). Also, we offer a $300 discount for the second trip in a calendar year. Scheduled trips are for persons ages 14 and over. Exceptions to the age requirement will be made by us on a case-by-case basis.

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