Hiking Windom Peak | 14er Route Info, Map & Advice
Hiking Windom Peak is the easiest of the four Chicago Basin fourteeners, but that does not mean it is easy. The climb requires a significant hike up to the basin itself, which most people shorten with a trip along the Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad. Once you reach the basin and set up a base camp, the scramble to the summit never exceeds a challenging class two rating. If you plan on Hiking Windom Peak, you can learn more about the route, download a map, check the weather forecast and more below with my free Windom Peak route guide.
Hiking Windom Peak: Fast Facts
Hiking Windom Peak - Southwest Ridge
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. Most people hiking Windom Peak choose to take the train.
If you choose to hike, you should walk along the Purgatory Creek trail until you reach the Needleton Flagstop. 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 hiking Windom Peak
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. Windom 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 Sunlight Peak. Around 11,200 feet, take a left to reach the lower Twin Lake.
Continue along the trail, being mindful of a few rock slab sections where the route can be hard to follow. Finally get above tree line around 11,400 feet where you’re treated to a grand view of the route ahead. Follow the trail up the slope, working your way over two stream crossings before you arrive at Twin Lakes.
Work your way around the shoreline and head into the rocky ledges on the far side of the lake. At 12,600 feet, reach a large headwall that separates you from the upper basin near Sunlight and Windom Peak. Follow cairns or trail segments up the right side of this headwall. Around 13,000 feet reach the upper basin and views of the remaining route to continue hiking Windom Peak. Keep on a bit further east and turn right, using cairns and/or trail segments aiming toward the saddle on Windom’s west ridge. Ascend this slope to reach the saddle at 13,325 feet.
The remaining section is the crux of the route up the west ridge, the most difficult section of the Windom Peak hike. It’s scrambling from here on out, with not much of a trail to follow. Work your way up the left side of the ridge, aiming for a notch just below 14,000 feet. You can’t see the summit from here, but it’s there! Just below the summit, there is another small notch that allows access to the ridge’s south side. Drop through, turn and ascend the final pitch to the summit.
Once you make it up to the top, enjoy your accomplishment and the views of the San Juan range. Be sure you head down with plenty of time to reach tree line before afternoon thunderstorms become a risk. I hope you enjoy hiking Windom Peak. Safe travels on the trail!
Anyone hiking Windom Peak should bring a topographic map with them, along with the skills necessary to find their position and use it to navigate along the route. You may also consider bringing a compass and GPS app or unit along with you as well. These will also help with navigation and route-finding while hiking Windom Peak.
You should always check the weather before hiking Windom Peak, including the temperature high and low, the chance of precipitation, potential wind speed, and whether any major storm systems are moving in close to your climb.
Below is the complete forecast for Windom Peak from the National Weather Service. I recommend reading it thoroughly before you attempt hiking Windom Peak so that you can plan accordingly.
If you are taking the railroad, be sure you arrive at the correct station. Double-check your ticket if you are not sure.
DIRECTIONS TO THE RAILROAD PARKING LOTS:
There are a few types of gear you will need while hiking Windom Peak if you want to increase your chance of a safe and successful ascent. Here’s what I recommend bringing with you for this fourteener.
- A good pair of hiking boots for 14ers
- The ten essentials for mountain safety.
- A day pack to carry your gear, food, and water.
- Headlamps are helpful for early starts (and late nights).
- Good snacks to keep you fueled
- Trekking poles are optional but highly recommended
- A personal locator beacon might save your life.
Read all of my gear reviews and recommendations by clicking here.
Camping near Windom 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 Windom Peak:
- The Bent Elbow Hotel – Silverton
- The Avon – Silverton
- Comfort Inn – Durango
- Purgatory Village Condo Hotel
There are many cabins available via Airbnb and other services in Durango, Silverton, and the surrounding area, ideal for those hiking Windom Peak.
Windom Peak is located in a pristine wilderness area that faces an increasing number of visitors with each passing year. Help preserve these peaks for future generations by following these Leave No Trace practices while hiking Windom 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 hiking Windom Peak! Learn more about LNT on 14ers here.
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. It is one of the only fourteeners named after a non-Colorado politician, and is the easiest of the four Chicago Basin peaks to ascend. These are among the most remote and difficult to climb fourteeners in the state.
Hiking Windom Peak is an inherently high-risk activity – do so at your own risk, and use the following best practices to help keep yourself safe.
- Research your route and bring a compass & topographic map.
- Check the weather forecast and stay home during inclement weather.
- Bring the Ten Essentials and the knowledge/skill to use them.
- Leave your plans with someone back home along with a detailed itinerary.
- Start early, and end early: Be back at tree line by noon to avoid lightning.
- Bring a buddy on your first ascent, preferably someone experienced.
Hiking Windom 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.