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Alpine Lakes Traverse

Remote Wilderness Trekking

This six day five night trekking is a special trip that only San Juan Mountain Guides – with its over a quarter century of experience – can offer.  We take you into the highest, hidden, and most beautiful alpine lakes in the Weminuche Wilderness of the San Juan Mountains.  You will be traveling and camping in areas that very few people enjoy the privilege of knowing that they even exist, let alone have visited.  If you have an adventurous spirit and love camping by pristine alpine lakes below breathtaking peaks, then this is the trip for you. This is the true definition of “off-the-beaten path” and represents years of knowledge and information about the best routes through the heart of Colorado’s finest wilderness area.

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. Come and join us this summer on one of the most adventure packed and unique trips you’ll ever experience!

Itinerary Note

The Alpine Lakes Traverse trekking trip is offered from Monday – Saturday so that participants have the opportunity to travel to Durango the weekend prior to the start of the trip and then have Sunday to travel home, enjoy Durango, or however you might like to use that day.  Either way, this 6 day trip is exactly the trip you’ve been looking for to experience one of Colorado’s iconic backcountry destinations!

I couldn’t imagine a better way to spend a few days in the backcountry … great trip plans with friendly, experienced guides … my wife, daughter and I couldn’t have been happier. I wish we were there now! - Fred R.

Alpine Lakes Traverse 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 shortly thereafter board the Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge railroad for the Elk Park trailhead deep in the Weminuche Wilderness.  Our first days hike begins gently enough on a well established trail and then proceeds to ascend a climbers trail into the magnificent Vestal Peak basin where we will camp in proximity to the high and wild Vestal Lake.  From here on out our mileages will be short but the terrain rugged and all of our hiking off trail.

Day 2

Hiking dead west from our camp brings us up and over through the tiny gunsight notch of Trinity Col down to Trinity Lake and then up again to our campsite at Lake Silex in a small cirque directly below forboding faces of a trifecta of  giant peaks.  This is the heartland of the mountain gods.

Day 3

Today we will ascend and descent three high mountain passes passing nearly irresistible campsites by in upper stormy gulch where we will have lunch at Balsam Lake at nearly 12000.  After lunch we will cross up and over a high pass and far down into the upper reaches of Leviathan Basin and set up camp at the large green emerald that is Leviathan Lake.

Day 4

Right out of camp we will begin a long climb up a spectacular side basin over a saddle into the hinterlands of the famous “noname drainage”, passing over Jagged Col along the way.   After our descent a short climb brings us to another high mountain gem of a lake directly below the cirque of the seven  high mountain peaks that guard the entrance to our final destination – Ruby Lake.

Day 5

While our final camp will be made at the stunning Ruby Lake, this days hike is short enough that those who are interested in hiking up one of the state highest 13ers (Turret Peak) will have time to enjoy this brilliant side trip.  Although there is nothing technical about this summit it still possesses everything desirable – solitude, beauty, and commanding heights.

Day 6

Our final day’s hike winds down the primitive ruby lake trail and back down to the Animas River and the Durango and Silverton Narrow Guage Railroad, just a few miles south of where we begain our adventure.  The train will neatly ferry us into Durango just in time for dinner.

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.

1 Before 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.

2 Follow Up Programs


I could go on and on for this one! It was a fantastic trip all around. I would 100% recommend it to anyone and consider SJMG for my future treks. - Michele A.

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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rexerFlights: 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.

rexerDriving: 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

rexerHotels: 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, during, or after the trips
  • 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.