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Sitting on the edge of the Animas River in Colorado

San Juan Mountains, Colorado in 6 Days

Map tips: each color represents a different day. Click a marker to learn more about the spot, and click the star in the map header to save the entire map under Your Places in Google Maps.

Day 1: Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

  • Tomichi Point
  • Painted Wall View
  • Cedar Point Nature Trail
  • Sunset View

We flew into Montrose, Colorado and drove about 30 minutes to the south rim of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. There are many viewpoints along the out-and-back road and since we’d been there the year before (see that trip report here), we knew the good ones to stop at. Most are very close to the parking areas with Cedar Point being the furthest (0.3 miles RT).

We drove back to Montrose, picked up groceries at Safeway, and drove the remaining 45 minutes to our rental in Ouray.

Day 2: Ice and Island Lakes hike

  • Island Lake
  • V2 Mountain
  • Island Lake
  • South Fork Mineral Creek Falls
  • Bon Ton Restaurant

View the in-depth Hike Guide here

The hike to Island and Ice Lakes starts at the South Mineral Campground close to Silverton. It took an hour total from Ouray and the campground is about 15 minutes down a dead-end road that you take off of the Million Dollar Highway (550). The hike (~9 miles RT with 3,500 feet of elevation gain) took me 6 hours and then I ventured further down the main road that led to the campground to try and find the waterfalls.

From the parking lot of the Ice Lakes trailhead, walk straight on that main road (not the small loop around the campground), continuing in the direction you were headed on the drive in. The road will turn to the left and go over a culvert. Just past the culvert is a social trail on the left. Head down the short bank and follow the trail. There are many side trails and you’ll come across Clear Creek almost immediately – you can either cross there and take a right upstream or make a right without crossing and follow the creek. You’ll start to go uphill after 1-2 minutes and should hear the falls.

I realize these directions are not precise, but there are so many trails that you really just need to start heading upstream and you’ll find your way to the falls on either side of the creek. It should take no more than 5 minutes to get from the turn in the road to the falls. There are lots of trails that lead to the water and some of them are on the side of a cliff. Take caution when deciding where to descend to the waterfall(s).

Got back to Ouray in the early afternoon and walked across the street to the River Walk, which is a nice 2-mile loop that goes around the Uncompahgre River. There’s river access at multiple points and we loved wading in the water and playing around for a bit. Then drove into town for a good dinner at Bon Ton.

Day 3: Telluride

  • Cascade Falls
  • Telluride
  • 66 Eatery

We spent the morning in Ouray by going to Cascade Falls (5 minute walk from parking – not much water in September but still worth a visit) and comparing 4×4 rentals for the next day. After that, we then drove to Telluride (1 hour from Ouray) to take the free Gondola up to Mountain Village. We didn’t really do anything else but the drive to Telluride is beautiful and worth the trip.

Cascade Falls in Ouray

Day 4: Yankee Boy Basin

We rented 2 off-road vehicles (UTVs) from Colorado West Jeep and took one of the Jeep roads called Camp Bird Road into Yankee Boy Basin. The jeep roads are very popular and an awesome way to get up in the mountains without hiking – there are tons of options in the San Juans and Yankee Boy Basin is a good beginner one. We did a half-day rental and loved it – had a great experience with Colorado West and would recommend them.

Played in the river again in the afternoon and cooked dinner at the rental.

Day 5: Durango to Cascade Canyon train

We took the Million Dollar Highway (Route 550) for about 1 hour 45 mins to Durango and caught the shorter train (5.25 hours) to Cascade Canyon and back. There is also 9+ hour option that goes to Silverton and back. Both trains leave from and return to the same station in Durango and are expensive.

I wasn’t sure if this was going to be worth it and it definitely was. It takes about an hour before you get to the good parts but the views are spectacular. We sat in one of the open-air carts (still is covered) and would recommend those instead of the ones with windows. It doesn’t matter which side you sit on – the train turns around at Cascade Canyon (where you have an hour for lunch) so both sides of the train get to see both sides of the canyon. We packed our lunches but you can purchase boxed lunches online when you buy your train ticket, too.

Stopped for some amazing ice cream at Cream Bean Berry then took the Million Dollar Highway back to Ouray. Stopped at Red Mountain Overlook, a random small pond where a few people were pulled off and we saw our first moose ever, and Bear Creek Falls.

Day 6: Blue Lakes to Mount Sneffels

View the in-depth Hike Guide here

Drove just over an hour to the Blue Lakes Trailhead on County Road 7 outside of Ridgway. Blue Lakes to Sneffels is one of the best hikes I’ve ever done: multiple lakes, stunning and varied views, and a 14,150-foot summit that overlooks everything in all directions. It took me almost 10 hours total and is very challenging. It shows a bit over 13 miles with over 5,000 feet of elevation gain but felt like a lot longer than 13 miles.

Drove back for a monster meal at Colorado Boy Southwest Pub in Ouray. Fantastic way to end the trip as we flew home the next day. Love the San Juan Mountains!

Traveled in September 2022

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