Breathtaking beauty abounds in the alpine meadows, creeks, and jagged peaks of Southwest Colorado’s Weminuche Wilderness. Flaunting 499,771 acres, the Weminuche (pronounced wem-in-nooch) is Colorado’s largest wilderness area.

The Weminuche features Colorado’s most vertical terrain, with elevations ranging from 7,700 feet at the Animas River to 14,093 feet at the summit of Windom Peak. Snowmelt on the west side trickles into the San Juan River and eventually the mighty Colorado River on its journey to the Pacific Ocean. The United States Forest Service oversees the management of these vulnerable ecosystems.  

It’s up to recreationists like you to leave no trace and practice responsible, low-impact activities while visiting this remarkable natural land.  

Where is the Weminuche Wilderness?

The Weminuche Wilderness sits between a ring of charming mountain towns, including Durango, Silverton, Creede, South Fork, and Pagosa Springs. The western boundary is a north-south corridor carved by the Animas River Gorge, where the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad travels between Durango and Silverton in the summer months. Wolf Creek Pass grazes the eastern border of the wilderness area.

What’s Special about the Weminuche Wilderness 

Chicago Basin in the Weminuche Wilderness

The Weminuche spans the Continental Divide, North America’s geological backbone. Waters divert to the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, making these high places some of the most essential headwaters in the country. The wilderness area is named for the Weeminuche band of Indigenous Peoples, the ancestors of the Ute Tribe that lived, hunted, and traveled along the Colorado Plateau 2,000 years ago.

As Colorado’s largest wilderness area, the Weminuche is home to some of the most valuable natural, cultural, and historical treasures in the Southwest United States.  

What to do in the Weminuche Wilderness 

The Weminuche is a bonafide, adventure-fueled paradise. Fly fishing, trail running, and backpacking: Thirty trailheads around the wilderness area provide access to nearly 500 miles of connected trails, opening to unparalleled single and multi-day excursions. In the southeast, the 3,100-mile-long Continental Divide Trail enters from Wolf Creek Pass. 

Hiking in the Weminuche Wilderness 

The Weminuche welcomes day hikers of all experience levels. Access the wilderness area from Molas Pass, Cunningham Gulch east of Silverton, or Vallecito Creek. Pack layers, a hardy lunch, and a pair of binoculars to explore evergreen forests with glowing aspen trees. Summer and fall provide the best opportunities for day hikes. 

Camping and Backpacking in the Weminuche Wilderness 

Backpacking in the Chicago Basin

Explore the Weminuche Wilderness via the Chicago Basin, Purgatory Flats, Molas Pass, Vallecito Creek, Transfer Park, or an entry point near Bayfield or Pagosa Springs, and discover the untouched beauty of Colorado's largest wilderness area. Whether you venture from Transfer Park to navigate the less-traveled paths or start your journey at Vallecito to ascend the challenging heights that overlook Emerald Lake, each access point offers unique vistas and experiences. 

Hunting and Fishing in the Weminuche Wilderness 

From elk and deer hunting in the fall to year-round fishing options, check out one of the local outfitters to purchase licenses, book a guide, and research regulations and best practices.  

Summiting and Climbing in the Weminuche Wilderness 

Standing on Sunlight Peak in the Chicago Basin

At an average of 10,000 feet above sea level, the Weminuche’s notoriously rugged terrain features hard-fought joy for anyone heeding the call of the mountains. And mountains are the name of the game in the Weminuche, which boasts three 14ers and dozens of peaks rising over 13,000 feet. 

What You Cannot Do in the Weminuche Wilderness 

Biking of Any Kind 

Bicycles are not allowed in the Weminuche Wilderness. Bikes can cause erosion, damage sensitive habitats, and disturb wildlife. 

Motorized Travel 

Motorized travel is strictly prohibited by the original Wilderness Act of 1964. This rule is intended to preserve the natural, primitive, and undeveloped aspects of a true wilderness setting (and excludes limited use of mechanical transport deemed necessary for wilderness area administration).

Flying or Using a Drone 

Buzz off! For the same reasons bikes and motorized vehicles are forbidden in wilderness areas, flying or using a drone disturbs wildlife (not to mention fellow humans hoping to enjoy a tech-lite experience). While they can be helpful in certain circumstances, drones can also ground aerial firefighting efforts.     

Care for Durango in the Weminuche Wilderness 

Hiking in the Weminuche Wilderness

Be Aware of the Remoteness of the Weminuche Wilderness 

As you’ve learned by now, the Weminuche Wilderness is out there. Before embarking on an adventure in the Weminuche, make sure you’re prepared for everything from lightning strikes and swinging temperatures to injuries incurred on the trail. Do not count on Search & Rescue as an outlet. Know where you’re going and how to get home.  

Be Aware of Weather

If you don’t like the weather in Colorado, wait five minutes. This might be a funny adage on the streets of your favorite mountain town, but when you’re in the wilderness, being unprepared for inclement weather is no laughing matter. Always check the forecast, anticipate afternoon storms, pack water and windproof layers, and keep an eye on the skies.  

Pack It In, Pack It Out

If it's in your backpack or pocket when you hit the trail, it must be in your backpack or pocket when you leave the wilderness. This includes bar wrappers, toilet paper and associated supplies, Band-aids, and all rubbish (for our over-the-pond friends). If you find micro-trash along the trails, feel free to add it to your collection.  

Poop Responsibly

There’s no need to panic if nature calls while you’re in the woods. Bring toilet paper or wipes and hand sanitizer. Prepare a sealable plastic bag (a Ziploc wrapped in duct tape for discretion works great!). Pack a trowel for digging a four-inch-deep hole at least 70 steps away from water or the trail. Do your thing, and place used TP in the bag. Cover the hole with the original dirt. Sanitize and move on with your life! 

Respect Wildlife

Marmot at Haviland Lake During Fall | Rhyler Overend | Visit Durango

You’re being an animal (besides your dog who must be kept on a leash). Marmots, rabbits, and pikas will want to nibble your food and gear. Cute as they may be, do not feed these animals by leaving your stuff unattended. As for the elk, mule deer, bighorn sheep, moose, mountain lions, black bear, lynx, bobcats, or coyotes, give them space—and be aware of your surroundings.

Have Good Camping Etiquette

Good camping etiquette begins and ends with preparation and self-awareness. Before you head into the Weminuche for a planned overnight stay, always check fire restrictions and weather forecasts. When you stake your campsite on a durable surface, keep it clean, dispose of waste properly, and leave it better than you found it. Be friendly with fellow campers and recognize that, like you, they’re here to enjoy the wilderness. 


If you haven’t picked up on it yet, we love the Weminuche Wilderness and want to do everything we can to protect it for future generations of the species that call this magnificent biome home. We hope you find time to stand in awe below a towering peak, watching a mountain goat navigate a chossy ledge. We imagine you’ll also enjoy chronicling the hundreds of wildflower species illuminating alpine meadows or fishing for trout in chilly lakes below swiftly changing sunlight. Take a plunge and savor the ultimate reset on life that these wild places provide.

Go forth and recreate responsibly.