14ers Near Durango | 11 Fantastic Peaks to Climb
Durango is nestled in the southern foothills of the San Juan Mountains, a gateway to the high peaks for thousands of people. The range to the north is home to many 14ers ranging from easy class one hikes to difficult class four climbs. They are spread across three main groups: the Chicago Basin, the Wilson Group, and the Northern 14ers. Here is a brief introduction to these eleven 14ers near Durango, including my best leave no trace tips and gear recommendations.
The Chicago Basin 14ers Near Durango
The Chicago Basin 14ers are a big of a paradox. On the one hand, they are by far the closest 14ers near Durango because you start your trip from the Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad. On the other, the trip is the most arduous of any of the 14ers near Durango, with a train ride to the Needleton station, followed by a 17-mile round trip backpacking trek to the summit just one of the four peaks in the Chicago Basin. It is a trip for experienced hikers and climbers able to self-support themselves for multiple days in the wilderness.
Mount Eolus - Start in Durango
Named after the Greek God of the Winds, Mount Eolus is a tough mountain to climb. The class three route takes you to the north rim of the Chicago Basin, including significant exposure and difficult route finding. It’s one of the moderate difficulty climbs in the area, and can be done along with North Eolus from a camp in the Basin in one day.
North Eolus - Start in Durango
While North Eolus is not an officially ranked peak (it lacks 300 feet of prominence), it is still officially named for historical reasons, so many people choose to climb it anyway. It is only a short distance from Mount Eolus and is also a class three scramble. I recommend taking time to climb it if the weather works and presents the opportunity.
Windom Peak - Start in Durango
The only class two 14er in the Chicago Basin is Windom Peak. Named after Senator Wells of Minnesota, a politician in the late 19th century, it is easier than the other three peaks in this area. With less exposure and easier route finding, it is a good choice for those looking for a less challenging option to get their feet wet.
Sunlight Peak - Start in Durango
Don’t let the sunny name fool you. Sunlight Peak is the most treacherous of the 14ers near Durango and the entire Chicago Basin. The class four climbing is located high up on the mountain near the summit, where you are the most tired and the air is most thin. Work up your way to this challenging peak. Rescue is a long way away if anything goes wrong.
The Wilson Group 14ers Near Durango
The Wilson Group is the closest group of 14ers near Durango, including two ranked 14ers and one additional unranked but named peak (El Diente Peak). These three routes are entirely class 3 and 4, which involves steep, exposed scrambling and climbing where a fall may be fatal. This area is also infamous for its rockfall, so wear a helmet. This is also not the best place for beginners. If you don’t have much scrambling experience yet, consider one of the northern San Juan 14ers near Durango listed further below.
Mount Wilson - 2 Hours & 10 Minutes from Durango
Mount Wilson is the second tallest of the 14ers near Durango, and arguably one of the most difficult and dangerous. The route up the north slopes is steep and loose, with sustained class four climbing for much of the summit ridge. While there are several routes and trailheads for Mount Wilson, the Rock of Ages and north slopes option is most popular.
Wilson Peak - 2 Hours & 10 Minutes from Durango
Wilson Peak is named after A.D. Wilson, a topographer with the Hayden Survey that visited the San Miguel Mountains in the latte 19th century. It is slightly easier to climb as a class three scramble along the southwest ridge. If you recognize the peak, it’s probably because you’ve seen it on a Coors beer can!
El Diente Peak - 2 Hours & 10 Minutes from Durango
El Diente Peak is another officially unranked peak, as it fails to rise at least 300 feet above its saddle with Mount Wilson. However it is a beautiful peak with an adventurous class three route, so most people choose to climb it too. Wear a helmet, as El Diente and the rest of the Wilson Group, are very prone to rockfall.
The Northern San Juan 14ers Near Durango
The 14ers in the northern San Juans are honestly not that close to Durango. However, if you are looking for a class 2 peak to climb, this is as close as you are going to get. Uncompahgre Peak, Handies Peak, Redcloud Peak, and Sunshine Peak are all good options for beginners. If you are ready for a class 3 climb, then Mount Sneffels or Wetterhorn Peak might be a good choice. Either way, these are some of the prettiest 14ers near Durango and you will not regret your decision. Here is a quick rundown on each of these northern Jan Juan 14ers.
Mount Sneffels - 2 Hours & 15 Minutes from Durango
Mount Sneffels is one of the state’s most rugged and beautiful fourteeners. It’s my personal favorite among the 14ers near Durango, with a fun class three climb up a large gully, followed by a short scramble up to the summit. It is one of the easier class three peaks, perfect for those transitioning from class two to three.
Uncompahgre Peak - 4 Hours and 10 Minutes from Durango
When you first see Uncompahgre Peak, you cannot help but notice its distinctive tiered shape. It’s one of the most recognizable 14ers near Durango. As a class two route without a long approach hike, it’s the best of the 14ers near Durango for beginners and those new to 14ers. The scrambling is minimal and very low risk. I highly recommend it!
Wetterhorn Peak -4 Hours and 20 Minutes from Durango
A lot of people say that Wetterhorn Peak is the best of all the 14ers, for a host of reasons. It’s easily accessible with a short approach hike that takes you through amazing wildflower blooms in July and August. The class three route is on solid rock and easy to follow, with amazing views from the summit. It makes a great first class three peak if you have some experience.
Redcloud & Sunshine Peak - 4 Hours and 20 Minutes from Durango
If you want to climb two 14ers near Durango in one day, you should take a look at Redcloud and Sunshine. The route to climb them both never exceeds class two, even though the peaks have significant vertical relief to the south. Sunshine Peak has the distinction of being the shortest fourteener… but that doesn’t mean it’s any easier.
Handies Peak - 4 Hours and 30 Minutes from Durango
Handies Peak is the only class one peak among the 14ers near Durango. With a hiking trail from the trailhead to the summit, it’s also very short – just 5.5 miles round-trip – if you have 4WD. While it is a long drive from Durango, this mountain isn’t very busy and you will typically have some semblance of solitude along the way.
Leave No Trace While Visiting the 14ers Near Durango
Thousands of people now hike these peaks and visit these trailheads each year. With more people comes a growing impact as littering, trampling, and other activity harms the local ecosystem. Make sure you practice leave no trace ethics while visiting any of the 14ers near Durango. As a reminder, the seven principles of leave no trace includes:
- Plan ahead and prepare
- Travel and camp on durable surfaces
- Dispose of waste properly
- Leave what you find
- Minimize campfire impacts
- Respect wildlife
- Be courteous to others in the outdoors
Most of the 14ers near Durango are located in a Wilderness Area. These protected areas have additional regulations and requirements, like leashing dogs and campfire rules. Research the area you plan to visit to make sure you follow local guidelines and limit your impact.
Pick the Appropriate Gear for these Mountains
To climb any of the 14ers near Durango, you will need a good pair of hiking boots. I recommend them over hiking shoes as they provide more ankle support. Pick a backpack with 15-30 liters of capacity, and fill it with the ten essentials:
- Navigational Aids (Map, compass, GPS)
- Headlamp and spare batteries
- Sunglasses and sunscreen
- Extra water (2-3 liters per person)
- Extra food (1,500 calories per person)
- First Aid Kit
- Extra layers
- Emergency Shelter (ten, blanket or bivy)
- Knife or Multi-tool
- Fire starting gear/kit
I recommend layering your clothes so you can adapt to changing weather conditions, as the temperature will drop (sometimes dramatically) as you near the summit. Don’t forget a rain jacket, as storms are common during summer afternoons.
14ers Near Durango: Now You Know!
Durango is surrounded by 14ers, but most of them are quite difficult, which makes it an ideal base camp for experienced climbers and peak baggers. While I recommend Wetterhorn Peak, any of these mountains are sure to provide a memorable experience and spectacular summit views. The San Juans are home to many of Colorado’s most rugged and impressive mountains, which makes the challenge worth the effort. Good luck hiking the 14ers near Durango, and safe travels on the trail!
More Resources About the 14ers Near Durango
Want to learn more about the 14ers near Durango? Here are some helpful resources I found that might help you get started. Good luck with your research!
Alex Derr, Creator of The Next Summit
Alex is an Eagle Scout, climber, and environmental policy expert located 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. Follow him on Linkedin or Twitter or click here to contact him.
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