Get Out! 3-for-1 deal
One campground gives three different options for backpacking
If you’ve been thinking all summer about taking that first real backpacking trip, there’s still time to get one in.
One area that has been our jumping off point for several backpacking trips is the Thirty Mile Campground/Rio Grande Reservoir area between Lake City and Creede. Located just outside of the Weminuche Wilderness, these areas provide three trail heads for trekking into the wild. The trails are part of the Rio Grande National Forest and are maintained by the Divide Ranger District in Creede.
Two of these trail heads are located right in the campground. A special parking area is provided for backpackers and day fishermen, and this parking is free. The great thing about starting your first backpacking trip here is if you decide, after one night that you hate it, you can hike back down and find a nice campsite in the campground.
The Weminuche Pass trail (No. 818) is the most popular of the three, both with day hikers and backpackers. The first two to three miles of this trail are fairly steep and will have you stopping to catch your breath frequently. After these initial miles, the trail levels out.
There are plenty of streams along the way for refilling your water supply and cooling off your feet. At about 4.8 miles, you’ll cross Weminuche Creek and reach the start of a vast valley. Weminuche Pass is 0.3 miles farther. At this point, the trail becomes the Pine River trail.
There are a few nice campsites in the trees along the way, but once you reach the valley there are great places to make camp as well. Near the junction with the Continental Divide Trail and the Rincon La Vaca is a wide meadow. If you’d prefer to have more seating options, just past this is a rocky knoll with room for a tent and plenty of rocks on which to sit or place your camp stove.
One view you won’t want to miss is the view of the Window and the Rio Grande Pyramid to the west. Standing almost 14,000 feet tall, the Pyramid watches over the Weminuche Valley from its ridge top.
Use this valley as a base camp and spend a day or two day hiking the nearby trails like the Rincon La Osa or just hiking further up the Pine River trail toward Divide Lake or Granite Lake.
If you’d prefer to truly backpack the whole time, you can do a great four-day, three-night trip up the Weminuche Pass/Pine River trail to Divide Lakes and back. Moose sometimes are spotted at Divide Lakes, and deer can be seen in the valley.
If solitude is more of what you’re looking for, and a steep trail doesn’t sound like much fun, try the Squaw Creek trail (No. 814). It starts from the same trail head as the Weminuche Pass trail, but aims southeast. This trail rolls along with small hills and dips, into the woods and back into meadows for six miles before its junction with the Squaw Lake trail. The creek is nearby most of the time, and you might even spot a moose.
Camping in the meadows near the Squaw Lake junction or in the trees just after turning onto the Squaw Lake trail is easy. The creek provides plenty of water for your camp, and the sounds of that same creek might be all you hear.
A couple of great day hikes, should you decide to make a base camp, are up to Squaw Lake (1.5 miles with 1,600 feet of elevation gain) or further up the Squaw Creek trail to Squaw Pass (3.7 miles one way). The trail climbs steeply at the end up to the junction with the Continental Divide trail, but you’ll be rewarded with stunning views. You’ll most likely encounter fewer fellow hikers than on the Weminuche Pass trail. You’ll also be likely to see deer, moose and maybe even elk or bears.
If you’re really looking for something remote, just a few miles down the road on the other side of the reservoir is the Ute Creek trail head. This opens up a whole other valley with many possibilities for longer trips.
Although these trails do keep you fairly close to civilization, at least for your first night, you should still be cautious. There are bears here, so make sure you know how to hang food bags and how to protect your camp from bears looking for a candy bar. You should also be prepared for afternoon scattered thunderstorms.
The National Geographic Weminuche Wilderness map provides detailed coverage of the trails in this area. Most are well-signed and well-maintained, though you might encounter some downed trees in the forests.