Chicago Basin Backpacking

Chicago Basin Backpacking

The Heart of the Weminuche Wilderness

Our 3 day 2 night Chicago Basin backpacking trip is an excellent introduction to wilderness backpacking, and a great way to see the incomparable Chicago Basin in a relatively short period of time. Along the way we’ll have the opportunity to climb a 14’er (Windom Peak), see wild mountain goats, hike on unbelievably well maintained trails, both above and below treeline, and see some of Colorado’s most beautiful wildflowers.

We utilize the historic Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad (D&SNGRR) to access the wilderness area. A relic of the mining trade of the 1880’s – 1930’s, the train is world famous as it is one of the few narrow gauge railroads left in existence. This is a unique experience and adds an interesting start and finish to our backpacking trips unlike any other in the US. Come and join us on a truly unforgettable trip in Colorado’s largest wilderness area!

Itinerary Options

We offer two itinerary options for the Chicago Basin Backpacking trip.  The Thursday – Saturday itinerary option gives you an additional day (Sunday) to travel home, enjoy Durango, or however you might like to use that day.  The Friday – Sunday option has been designed with the time conscious traveller in mind who might have limited time during the week to travel to Durango or take off work.  Either way, this 3 day trip is exactly the trip you’ve been looking for to experience one of Colorado’s iconic backcountry destinations!

Just a quick note to say thanks, again, for a great trip to Chicago Basin. Janet, Andrea and I loved the trip … and can’t wait for the next one. Matt provided great service as usual … even though he didn’t offer to carry my pack down the mountain this time! – Ted K.

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Chicago Basin Backpacking Itinerary


Day 0

We meet at the San Juan Mountain Guides’ office in the afternoon or early evening in order to go over equipment, food, and logistics issues for the following morning.


Day 1

We will meet at the San Juan Mountain Guides’ office at 0730 and then proceed to the Durango and Silverton Railroad Station where we board the historic Narrow Gauge Train. We ride the narrow gauge train to the Needleton stop, where our trek will begin. After adjusting our packs and preparing to hike we begin by hiking up Needle creek into the heart of the Chicago Basin.


Day 2

Today we’ll have the opportunity to explore Chicago Basin and potentially hike a 14’er, Windom Peak (14,083 ft.) if weather allows. A great day in one of Colorado’s most beautiful areas.


Day 3

On our final day we’ll hike to the top of Columbine Pass in the morning to enjoy some incredible scenery then pack up and hike out via the Needle Creek Trail where we’ll eventually meet up with the train at Needleton and the finish of our trek. What a trip!

Backpacking Equipment List

  • Backpack: Internal frame, 50-80 liters. Guides’ pick: Osprey Aether 60
  • Sleeping bag: Down or synthetic bag rated between 15-30 degrees with compression stuff sack. Guides’ pick: Neutrino Endurance 400
  • Sleeping pad: Guides’ pick: Thermarest NeoAir
  • Bowl, spoon, cup: Plastic/lexan
  • Pocket knife: 2-3 inch blade, simple, light
  • Small thermos: Optional, but nice to have
  • Water bottles: 2 liters combined capacity; bottles or bladder. Guides’ pick: Nalgene or Osprey
  • Water purification system: We recommend simple iodine tablets, but pumps are acceptable. Guides’ pick: Potable Aqua

Clothing and Personal Equipment

  • Hiking boots: Sturdy, waterproof, comfortable boots. Please contact us with questions or further recommendations.
  • Socks: 2-3 pair of medium weight wool or synthetic blend socks.
  • Base layers: Synthetic t-shirt and synthetic underwear
  • Soft shell pants: warm enough for cool mornings and nights, yet light enough for warm days. Guides’ pick: OR Ferrosi
  • Soft shell jacket: light weight. Guides’ pick: OR Ferrosi
  • Insulated vest: down or synthetic. Guides’ pick: OR Transcendent
  • Hard shell jacket: waterproof and breathable, no insulation. Guides’ Pick: OR Helium
  • Hats: one with brim, one for warmth
  • Sunglasses
  • Sunscreen and lip balm: water/sweat-proof
  • Headlamp: with extra batteries. Guides’ pick: Black Diamond Spot
  • Toiletries: Toilet paper, baggie for used TP, toothbrush/paste, wet wipes, hand sanitizer, etc.
  • Personal first-aid kit: for your personal meds/needs; guide will have a large one as well
  • Stuff sacks: for convenient packing
  • Camera
  • Lunch food: Everything you eat between breakfast and dinner. May include: bagels, dried meats, cheese, trail mix, candy bars, peanut butter, etc…

Training & Follow Up Programs

As always, being in excellent physical shape is an important component of our our programs. A good mixture of cardiovascular fitness, muscular fitness, and especially core strength will help you to maximize the potential rewards that are possible on a great trip.

1Before Your Trip

In order to successfully carry a 35 lb. pack up to 7 miles a day, endurance is key. Cardiovascular activities such as running, swimming, and cycling are great to build heart and lung endurance. Taking day hikes with your loaded backpack at a local park will help train your legs for the mileage you will do in the mountains.

2Follow Up Programs

Very professional. Nate’s guidance/knowledge was exceptional and contributed to making this trip the experience of a lifetime. Loved having the food taken care of after those long and tiring days! The pre-trip equipment checklist and phone conversations helped lots with ensuring having proper equipment. – Andrew G.

Durango, Colorado: Getting Here

Durango is located in the SW corner of Colorado, at the intersection of the sandstone towers of the desert, and the jagged, San Juan Mountains. A mecca for climbing, hiking, cycling, and foodies; make sure you plan to spend some time in town before and after your SJMG trip.


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Flights: The best option for flying to the area is to fly into Durango – La Plata County Airport. Multiple airline options exist, and most connections originate from Denver, Phoenix, or Dallas. The airport is a 20 minute drive from our office. Many hotels offer a free shuttle pickup. Buckhorn Limousine offers a shuttle as well.

Driving: Below are some approximate driving times if you’d like to drive to Durango. If you plan on renting a car, please consider the winter weather when selecting your vehicle and at a minimum choose something that offers either front wheel or all-wheel drive.

  • Denver, CO: 6 hours
  • Albuquerque, NM: 3 hours

Hotels: Durango has a number of great hotels, suites, and vacation rentals for you to stay in while you’re in the area. Give our office a call at 800-642-5389 if you have any questions about what would suite you best for this trip! Below are just a few options catering to different lodging styles and preferences.

Additional Information

  • Cost Includes:

  • Guides/trip leaders
  • All dinner and breakfast meals
  • Group camping and cooking equipment
  • D&SNGRR Train Tickets
  • Incredible mountain scenery

  • Not Included:

  • Hotel costs before or after the trip
  • 5% land use surcharge, trip cancellation insurance
  • Personal camping equipment
  • Trail lunches
  • Guide gratuity

  • Registration and Cancellation:
  • Advance Registration is required for this program.  You have the option to either call our office and register via phone, fill out our pdf Registration Form and send it in via fax or email, or utilize our secure Online Reservation System.  All participants must read and sign an Assumption of Risks/Liability Waiver and agree to our Reservations and Cancellations Policies.

Download the pdf Form

Register Now Online

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