Climbing Sunlight Peak | 14er Route Info, Map & Advice

Climbing Sunlight Peak Colorado is a difficult fourteener ascent, with a challenging class 4 summit block that has a lot of exposure. As a Chicago Basin 14er, Sunlight Peak requires either a multi-day backpacking trip or a train trip to reach this remote wilderness area. Many people setup a base camp in the Basin and try to climb several high peaks while they are in the area. Plan a climb of Sunlight Peak with my free route guide and info below.


Climbing Sunlight Peak Fast Facts

Climbing Sunlight Peak - South Face Route

It’s harder to get to the Needleton trailhead than any other 14er trailhead… the Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad provides train service to the location, which is how most people get there. Click here for information and buy tickets – make sure you call them and tell them you’re stopping at the Needleton stop. While you can do this trip without taking the train, it’s an extremely long backpacking trip only recommended for experienced hikers and backpackers. Follow the Purgatory Creek trail if you choose to try that option.

My route description begins at the Needleton train stop. You’ll see a few cabins and a bridge across the Animas River; grab your pack from the baggage car and hit the trail. Cross the bridge and take a right to get started climbing Sunlight Peak Colorado.

A little less than a mile along this well-built and maintained trail, stay left at a junction, and shortly after officially enter the Weminuche Wilderness area. 5 more miles of hiking will bring you to the Chicago Basin area. I recommend following Needle Creek to find a good campsite, somewhere between 10,500 feet and 10,800 feet. This is a good place to stop for the night before your summit attempt. Sunlight Peak will be visible above you at the end of the basin.

From your camp in Chicago Basin, continue along the trail towards the upper end of the basin. This is the same trail used to climb Mt Eolus Peak. Around 11,200 feet, take a left to reach the lower Twin Lake. Hike through the forest, over rock slabs, and then cross two streams that flow down from Twin Lakes. The crossings are at 11,700 feet and 12,300 feet. Then reach the lake at 12,500 feet, your last dependable water source while climbing Sunlight Peak Colorado.

Continue around the lake up through some rocks to reach a headwall blocking the upper basin. Follow cairns and bits of trail to reach this upper area around 13,000 feet. Continue east, then turn left to go northeast towards talus below a gully separating Sunlight Peak and Sunlight Spire. Keep moving northeast amid this talus, looking for cairns that lead you to the dirt-filled gully. Climb around 400 feet along its left side to reach a saddle at the top. From there, turn left to enter a notch.

The rest of the route is class 3 and 4, with some difficult navigation. From the notch, traverse below a series of cliffs. Scramble up to the ridge at a point where there is a hole you can pass through. An easier alternative is to continue left and climb an easier section of steep rock with cracks. Swing left near the top to enter a small chimney. 

Climb up the chimney to reach a hole at the top, and reach a ledge on the other side of the ridge. Turn left to walk up to the final summit pitch. It is an exposed block, but the rock is easy to grip if it is dry. Some people think this is the crux of climbing Sunlight Peak Colorado. Pick your line to gain the summit. Some find it easier to descend by jumping from rock to rock if you are comfortable with the exposure.

From the summit, enjoy the amazing views of the surrounding San Juans. Be sure to descend quickly enough to reach the tree line before afternoon thunderstorm risk becomes significant. I hope you found my Sunlight Peak route guide helpful and informative. Safe travels on the trail, and good luck climbing Sunlight Peak Colorado.

Sunlight Peak Route Guide

Anyone climbing Sunlight Peak Colorado should bring along a topographical map of the route within the Chicago Basin area. I recommend that you download this map on your phone or print out a copy to bring with you on your climb. Always bring some hardcopy map in case your digital version fails or breaks.

Use these two sources to check the weather conditions before climbing Sunlight Peak in Colorado. Consider the temperature high and low, wind speed, precipitation, and whether there are any storm systems on the horizon to be aware of. No Sunlight Peak Route Guide is complete without weather forecasts.

Mountain Forecast for Sunlight Peak

Below is a complete weather forecast for those climbing Sunlight Peak. Provided by the National Weather Service, it includes in-depth information and I recommend reading through it thoroughly before your climb.


If you are taking the railroad, be sure you arrive at the correct station. Double-check your ticket if you are not sure.


DURANGO: Long term parking in Durango is available in our large lot adjacent to the train yards. Parking is $10.00 per day for passenger cars and $15.00 per day for RV’s. You will need to pay for each day your vehicle will be in the lot. By city ordinance, overnight camping is not allowed in our parking lot. Click here for more parking information.
SILVERTON: You are invited to park your vehicle at the Silverton Depot on 10th & Cement Streets at no charge. (Note: D&SNG does not assume any responsibility for your vehicle.) This is a few blocks away from where you board the train. You may want to drop off the rest of your party and gear closer to the train and then park the car.

Camping near Sunlight Peak:

There are no organized campgrounds in the Chicago Basin area, however, dispersed camping is available below the lakes in the higher parts of the Basin. Please follow all signage and area closures while selecting a campsite.

Lodging near Sunlight Peak:

There are many cabins available via Airbnb and other services in Durango, Silverton, and the surrounding area, ideal for those climbing Sunlight Peak.

Sunlight Peak and the other Chicago Basin fourteeners are located in a pristine wilderness area that faces an increasing number of visitors each year. Help preserve these peaks for future generations by following these Leave No Trace practices while climbing Sunlight Peak.

  • Plan ahead, review the route and pick a weekday or day in September to hike.
  • Stay on the trail, and keep dogs leashed on and off-trail to reduce trampling of alpine grass.
  • Leave your Bluetooth speaker at home and let nature’s sound reign.
  • Urinate off-trail, and pack out your waste – a cathole won’t work at high altitude.
  • Give wildlife a wide berth – 100 meters if possible. If they approach, back up to keep space.
  • Take nothing but pictures, and leave nothing but footprints.

Safe travels, and good luck climbing Sunlight Peak! Learn more about LNT on 14ers here.

More info coming soon.

Climbing Sunlight Peak is an inherently high-risk activity – do so at your own risk, and use the following best practices to help keep yourself safe.

  1. Research your route and bring a compass & topographic map.
  2. Check the weather forecast and stay home during inclement weather.
  3. Bring the Ten Essentials and the knowledge/skill to use them.
  4. Leave your plans with someone back home along with a detailed itinerary.
  5. Start early, and end early: Be back at tree line by noon to avoid lightning.
  6. Bring a buddy on your first ascent, preferably someone experienced.


Climbing Sunlight Peak is an inherently high-risk, dangerous activity. There is a significant risk of injury or death, even with proper planning and experience. Those using my guide accept all risks associated with climbing 14ers and do not hold this website or any information they obtain from it liable for any accidents or injuries that occur while engaging in these activities on Colorado’s high peaks. It is each hiker or climber’s responsibility to research their route carefully, bring the ten essentials, and practice other safe practices, though even these precautions do not eliminate risk and danger. Visit these summits at your own risk.

Alex Derr, Creator of The Next Summit

Alex is an Eagle Scout and mountaineer living in Denver, Colorado. He created The Next Summit to help others stay safe exploring the mountains and advocate to preserve the peaks for the future. You can subscribe to his Next Summit Newsletter here.

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