Five classic backpacking trips to try in Colorado

Photo Credit: Abhijit Kamerkar (Flickr).

You’ve inventoried your gear, cleaned your water filter and replaced your boot laces.

And now that the snow is melting from the high country, it’s all about to pay off.

Here are five suggested backpacking trips – all of them Out There tested and approved – to reacquaint you with the mysteries and pleasures of Colorado’s rugged interior.

After a banner year of snowpack, be ready for bugs, bloated stream crossings and occasional snow- drifts, and let the wilds become your playground.

1. Blue Lake Loop near Monte Vista

Wild and remote, this 18-mile loop straddles the Continental Divide on a scenic tour of the South San Juan Wilderness, untamed country that hosted the last known Colorado grizzly, which was shot in 1979.

It begins at Three Forks Trailhead at the south end of Forest Road 247 and follows the Conejos River, El Rito Azul, Continental Divide and Middle Fork trails. Downed trees make portions of this hike extremely taxing, so come prepared for exertion.

Getting there: Head west on U.S. 24 and pick up U.S. 285 between Buena Vista and Nathrop. Head south to Monte Vista. At Monte Vista, continue south on Colorado Highway 15 (Gunbarrel Road) for 12 miles. Turn right, or west, on Twelve Mile Road, which eventually becomes FR 250, a dirt road. Stay on Twelve Mile Road and FR 250 for roughly 30 miles, following signs toward Platoro Reservoir. Turn right on FR 247 and drive 3.5 miles to the Three Forks trailhead.

2. Bear Creek Trail to Engineer Pass, near Ouray

Five classic backpacking trips to try in Colorado

Engineer Pass. Photo Credit: robert thigpen (flickr)

Get ready for an adventure. The Bear Creek National Recreation Trail winds past crumbling mines and camps, passes through fields of wildflowers and climbs along a rock shelf with a sheer drop-off mere feet away.

Find a place to camp before reaching Engineer Pass, which is located about 7 miles up the trail. This region is ripe for exploration.

Getting there: From Ouray, drive 2.3 miles south on U.S. 550 to where the road passes through a small tunnel. The trailhead is on the west side of the road immediately beyond the tunnel. It is well-marked. Parking is available on both sides of the road.

3. Four Pass Loop near Aspen

Five classic backpacking trips to try in Colorado

Crater Lake and Maroon Bells Trail, Colorado

The impossibly majestic Four Pass Loop delivers travelers over four mountain passes in the Maroon Bells Wilderness, clocking in at a stout but unforgettable 26 miles, with more than 10,000 feet of elevation gain.

The beauty attracts backpackers from all over the world, so expect company. Forest rangers recommend carrying bear canisters to secure food, and hikers are urged to pack out waste, including human waste. Allow four days for a comfortable tour.

As of late June, snow was still present at 11,000 feet and above, but the passes are expected to clear by mid-July.

Getting there: In Aspen, take Maroon Creek Road to the overnight parking lot just below Maroon Lake, on the left side of the road. Access to this lot after 8:30 a.m. requires a stop at the entrance station on Maroon Creek Road for an overnight pass. Hike to Maroon Lake, where you must decide whether to do the loop clockwise or counter-clockwise.

4. Macey lakes near Westcliffe

Solitude is a constant companion in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, which offer a bounty of high alpine lakes to enjoy, perched in separate canyons.

Surrounded by high rock walls and teeming with wildlife, the Macey lakes are an excellent destination for seasoned hikers and backpackers, particularly those seeking quiet. A waterfall, a rock staircase and copper-stained cliffs are among the attractions on the 7-mile hike up. Plenty of campsites are available, and visitors will relish the abundant wildlife.

Getting there: From Westcliffe, head south on Colorado Highway 69 for 3.4 miles and turn west on Schoolfield Road/County Road 140. After 1.7 miles, turn south on County Road 129. Continue nearly 2 miles and turn west on Horn Creek Road/County Road 130. Drive 2.4 miles to reach Horn Creek Ranch. Take the right fork and drive 0.5 miles to Horn Creek Trailhead and a large parking area, at 9,100 feet.

5. Sand Ramp Trail, Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve

Five classic backpacking trips to try in Colorado

Photo Credit: Cheri Alguire (iStock).

The 11-mile Sand Ramp Trail skirts the edge of the dune fields, offering a mix of sandy trails and forested glens along the way, not to mention majestic views of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, which glow red at dusk.

With no extended climbs, it’s also an excellent choice for those who want to savor the tranquility of backpacking without enduring miles of climbing. That’s not to say it’s easy, however. Remember to allow more time than usual to make up for slow going through the sand.

Campsites must be reserved in advance. Pay close attention to which site you reserve because some are up to a mile from the nearest water source.

Getting there: Head south on Interstate 25 to Walsenburg, then go west on U.S. 160. Reach the park by driving north on Colorado Highway 150. Begin your hike at the Point of No Return parking area.



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