|Nearest city||South Fork, CO|
|Area||499,771 acres (2022.5 km2)|
|Governing body||U.S. Forest Service|
The Weminuche Wilderness is a wilderness area in southwest Colorado managed by the United States Forest Service as part of the San Juan National Forest on the west side of the Continental Divide and the Rio Grande National Forest on the east side of the divide. The Weminuche Wilderness was designated by Congress in 1975, and expanded by the Colorado Wilderness Acts of 1980 and 1993. It is located 4 miles (6.4 km) southeast of the town of Silverton, 17 miles (27 km) northeast of Durango, and 8 miles (13 km) west of South Fork. At 499,771 acres (2,022.50 km2), it is the largest wilderness area in the state of Colorado. Elevation in the wilderness ranges from 7,700 feet (2,300 m) along the Animas River to 14,093 feet (4,296 m) at the summit of Windom Peak.
The Weminuche Wilderness is dissected by a narrow north-south corridor within the Animas River Gorge through which the Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad travels between Silverton and Durango. To the west of this corridor are the West Needle Mountains. To the east lie the Needle Mountains and the bulk of the wilderness. Two train stops within the gorge allow hikers access into the Needle Mountains.
The wilderness was named after the Weminuche Indians.
The surface geology of the Weminuche Wilderness is characterized by two geologic providences. The western third of the wilderness is within the Needle Mountains Proterozoic complex while the remainder of the wilderness is within the San Juan volcanic field.
The Laramide Orogeny, which began approximately 80 million years ago in the Late Cretaceous, resulted in significant regional uplift. A dome 100 miles (160 km) wide lifted rock more than 10,000 feet (3,048 m) in the western third of the wilderness. Pushed up were Proterozoic igneous and metamorphic rock and overlying, younger Paleozoic and Mesozoic sedimentary rock, as well as Cenozoic volcanic rock. Erosion has removed the overlying rock and today the Proterozoic rock is exposed, forming the high, jagged, Needle Mountains. The highest peaks in the wilderness are in the Needle Mountains. These peaks include three fourteeners: Windom Peak, Mount Eolus, and Sunlight Peak. Eolus granite is a common rock in the Needle Mountains and these fourteeners are composed of this intrusive igneous rock.
To the east lies the San Juan volcanic field. While this region was also uplifted during the Laramide Orogeny, additional mountain building occurred as Tertiary volcanism deposited lava and ash, which in some places was over 6,000 feet (1,829 m) thick. These volcanic rocks overlay Cretaceous sedimentary rock, which is exposed in only a few places on the southern edge of the wilderness.
The Weminuche Wilderness was glaciated during the Pleistocene and the current landscape is dominated by glacial landforms including horns, arêtes, cirques, tarns, moraines, and U-shaped valleys.
At lower elevations, particularly along the southern side of the wilderness, are montane forests with stands of ponderosa pine and Douglas fir and thickets of Gambel oak. Higher and widespread through the wilderness are subalpine forests dominated by Engelmann spruce and subalpine fir. Stands of aspen occur in the wilderness on historically disturbed sites in both the montane and subalpine zones. Above tree line, which in the wilderness is at an elevation of about 11,500 feet (3,500 m), is alpine tundra dominated by grasses and forbs, along with extensive thickets of willow.
Infestations of spruce beetle have ravaged the Engelmann spruce within the wilderness. Substantial outbreaks began in the late 1990s and have general moved from southeast to northwest through the wilderness. As of 2017, over 120,000 acres (490 km2) of forest had been impacted. In places, particularly in older stands, the kill has been nearly 100%.
The wilderness is known for its herds of elk. Other mammals include mule deer, bighorn sheep, moose, marmots, and pikas. Also present are black bears, mountain lions, re-introduced lynx, bobcats, and coyotes. Mountain goats have been introduced in the wilderness and are now common at higher elevations, particularly in the Needle Mountains. There are concerns over the environmental impact of these non-native goats, particularly their harm to native bighorn sheep populations. Current management in the Weminuche Wilderness allows the mountain goats to persist. This is in contrast to active efforts to eliminate or reduce non-native mountain goat populations in other protected areas such as Rocky Mountain National Park, Grand Teton National Park, and Olympic National Park.
Travel through the wilderness is limited to those on foot and horseback. There are nearly 500 miles (800 km) of interconnected trails in the wilderness, which provide for multiple options for both day and multi-day trips. Forming the backbone to this network is the Continental Divide Trail, which traverses the wilderness 83 miles (134 km) from Wolf Creek Pass in the southeast to Stony Pass in the northwest. This network of trails is accessed from over 30 trailheads located around the periphery of the wilderness. Two of these trailheads are the Needleton and Elk Park stops on the Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, which provide the most direct access to the highly visited Needle Mountains.
The most popular trail in the wilderness is the Needle Creek Trail (Forest Trail 504) which begins at the Needleton train stop and leads southeast 6 miles (9.7 km) up into Chicago Basin. From Chicago Basin, where camping is permitted, climbers can reach three fourteeners (Windom Peak, Mount Eolus, and Sunlight Peak) and several thirteeners via day hikes. Chicago Basin sees approximately 10,000 visitor use days each year, most seeking to climb one or more fourteeners, and the area can be crowded. Environmental impacts have resulted in use restrictions in the Chicago Basin area that go beyond regulations applied to the wilderness as a whole.
Beyond the Chicago Basin area, trails in the wilderness see much less traffic and solitude can be found. The Continental Divide Trail (CDT) is a 3,100-mile (5,000 km) National Scenic Trail that stretches from Mexico to Canada and passes through the length of the Weminuche Wilderness. The CDT enters the wilderness at Wolf Creek Pass on U.S. Highway 160. The trail then weaves northwest 83 miles (134 km) through the wilderness to Stony Pass on San Juan County Road 3 near Silverton. Following the crest of the San Juan Mountains, this trail offers hikers and those on horseback expansive views of nearby peaks and distant mountain ranges. This is a high path with an average elevation of 11,900 feet (3,627 m), and it rarely dips below tree line. Less than a quarter of the trail passes through forest. More common are long stretches across alpine tundra, rocky slopes and ridges, and subalpine meadows. The highpoint of the trail is at 12,850 feet (3,917 m) on the ridge below South River Peak and the lowest point is where the trail drops to the headwaters of the Los Pinos River at 10,500 feet (3,200 m). Altogether, there is 16,400 feet (4,999 m) of elevation gain and 14,700 feet (4,481 m) of elevation loss on a southeast-to-northwest trip.
The Stony Pass Trailhead is on a four-wheel drive road and has limited parking. To facilitate transportation, there are other nearby trailheads that can be used to exit the Weminuche Wilderness. These include the Elk Park train stop, the Molas Pass Trailhead, the Highland Mary Trailhead, and the Silverton Trailhead just outside the town of Silverton.
The San Juan Mountains is a high and rugged mountain range in the Rocky Mountains in southwestern Colorado and northwestern New Mexico. The area is highly mineralized and figured in the gold and silver mining industry of early Colorado. Major towns, all old mining camps, include Creede, Lake City, Silverton, Ouray, and Telluride. Large scale mining has ended in the region, although independent prospectors still work claims throughout the range. The last large scale mines were the Sunnyside Mine near Silverton, which operated until late in the 20th century and the Idarado Mine on Red Mountain Pass that closed down in the 1970s. Famous old San Juan mines include the Camp Bird and Smuggler Union mines, both located between Telluride and Ouray.
The Continental Divide National Scenic Trail is a United States National Scenic Trail with a length measured by the Continental Divide Trail Coalition of 3,028 miles (4,873 km) between the U.S. border with Chihuahua, Mexico and the border with Alberta, Canada. Frequent route changes and a large number of alternate routes result in the actual hiking distance to be between 2,700 miles (4,300 km) and 3,150 miles (5,070 km). The CDT follows the Continental Divide of the Americas along the Rocky Mountains and traverses five U.S. states — Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado, and New Mexico. In Montana near the Canadian border the trail crosses Triple Divide Pass (near Triple Divide Peak, from which waters may flow to either the Arctic Ocean, Atlantic Ocean or Pacific Ocean.
The Powderhorn Wilderness is a 62,050-acre (251.1 km2) wilderness area in Hinsdale and Gunnison Counties, Colorado, USA, located 5 miles (8.0 km) northeast of Lake City. Most of the northern part of the area, 48,115 acres (194.71 km2), about 77.5%, is located on Bureau of Land Management land and its southern portion, 13,935 acres (56.39 km2), about 22.5%, is located within the Gunnison National Forest. Elevations in the wilderness range from 8,500 feet (2,600 m) at the West Fork Powderhorn Creek to 12,661 feet (3,859 m) at the summit of Calf Creek Plateau.
Wilson Peak is a 14,023-foot (4,274 m) mountain peak in the U.S. state of Colorado. It is located in the Lizard Head Wilderness of the Uncompahgre National Forest, in the northwestern San Juan Mountains. It is the highest point in San Miguel County.
The San Juan National Forest is a U.S. National Forest covering over 1,878,846 acres in western Colorado. The forest occupies land in Archuleta, Conejos, Dolores, Hinsdale, La Plata, Mineral, Montezuma, Rio Grande, San Miguel and San Juan Counties. It borders the Uncompahgre National Forest to the north and the Rio Grande National Forest to the east. The forest covers most of the southern portion of the San Juan Mountains west of the Continental Divide. The forest contains two alpine wilderness areas; the Weminuche and South San Juan, as well as the Piedra Area. The Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad passes through the National Forest.
Mount Eolus is a high mountain summit of the Needle Mountains range of the Rocky Mountains of North America. The 14,090-foot (4,295 m) fourteener is located in the Weminuche Wilderness of San Juan National Forest, 27.4 miles (44.1 km) northeast by north of the City of Durango in La Plata County, Colorado, United States.
Windom Peak is the highest summit of the Needle Mountains range of the Rocky Mountains of North America. The prominent 14,093-foot (4,296 m) fourteener is located in the Weminuche Wilderness of San Juan National Forest, 28.2 miles (45.4 km) northeast by north of the City of Durango in La Plata County, Colorado, United States. The summit of Windom Peak is the highest point in La Plata County and the entire San Juan River drainage basin. The mountain was named in honor of Minnesota senator William Windom.
Sunlight Peak is a high mountain summit of the Needle Mountains range of the Rocky Mountains of North America. The 14,065-foot (4,287 m) fourteener is located in the Weminuche Wilderness of San Juan National Forest, 28.5 miles (45.8 km) northeast by north of the City of Durango in La Plata County, Colorado, United States.
Twilight Peak is the highest summit of the West Needle Mountains range of the San Juan Mountains System in southwestern Colorado.
Chicago Basin comprises the upper portion of the Needle Creek watershed in the Needle Mountains (Colorado), a subrange of the San Juan Mountains in the US State of Colorado. It lies within the Weminuche Wilderness, part of the San Juan National Forest. Needle Creek is an east-side tributary of the Animas River. The basin is a popular destination in summer for climbers and backpackers. The upper portion of the basin is surrounded by three fourteeners: Mount Eolus, Windom Peak, and Sunlight Peak. Columbine Pass lies to the east of the lower basin.
Pigeon Peak, elevation 13,978 ft (4,260 m), is a summit in the Needle Mountains, a subrange of the San Juan Mountains in the southwestern part of the US State of Colorado. It rises dramatically on the east side of the Animas River, 1.5 miles (2.4 km) west of the fourteener Mount Eolus. It is located in the Weminuche Wilderness, part of the San Juan National Forest.
Needleton is an unincorporated community in San Juan County, Colorado, United States. Its elevation is 8,277 feet (2,523 m).
Turret Peak is a high peak of the Needle Mountains, a subrange of the San Juan Mountains in the southwestern part of the US State of Colorado. It rises on the east side of the Animas River, 0.5 miles (0.80 km) southeast of Pigeon Peak. It is located in the Weminuche Wilderness, part of the San Juan National Forest.
Rio Grande Pyramid, elevation 13,827 feet, is a summit in the San Juan Mountains of southwest Colorado. The peak is in the Weminuche Wilderness of the San Juan National Forest northeast of Durango.
Arrow Peak is a high mountain summit in the Grenadier Range of the Rocky Mountains of North America. The 13,809-foot (4,209 m) thirteener is located in the Weminuche Wilderness of San Juan National Forest, 8.7 miles (14.0 km) south-southeast of the Town of Silverton in San Juan County, Colorado, United States.
Jagged Mountain is a high mountain summit in the Needle Mountains range of the Rocky Mountains of North America. The 13,830-foot (4,215 m) thirteener is located in the Weminuche Wilderness of San Juan National Forest, 12.2 miles (19.7 km) south-southeast of the Town of Silverton in San Juan County, Colorado, United States.
Jupiter Mountain is a high mountain summit in the Needle Mountains range of the Rocky Mountains of North America. The 13,836-foot (4,217 m) thirteener is located in the Weminuche Wilderness of San Juan National Forest, 27.7 miles (44.6 km) northeast by north of the City of Durango in La Plata County, Colorado, United States.
Cannibal Plateau is a summit in Hinsdale County, Colorado in the United States. The broad 12,533-foot (3,820 m) mountain is located in the San Juan Mountains and within the Powderhorn Wilderness, a protected area managed by the Bureau of Land Management Gunnison Field Office and the Gunnison National Forest.
The Hermosa Creek Wilderness is a 37,236-acre (15,069 ha) U.S. Wilderness Area in La Plata County, Colorado. It s located in the San Juan National Forest 12 miles (19 km) north of Durango. It was established by the Hermosa Creek Protection Act of 2014, which also created the adjacent Hermosa Creek Special Management Area, which shares its eastern border, Hermosa Creek. Elevation in the wilderness ranges from 7,500 feet (2,300 m) along Hermosa Creek to 12,338 feet (3,761 m) at the high point of Indian Trail Ridge.
Calf Creek Plateau is a mountain in the northern San Juan Mountains of the Rocky Mountains of North America. The mountain is located in Hinsdale County, and at an elevation of 12,661 feet (3,859 m), it is the high point of the Powderhorn Wilderness.