Durango and Silverton Railroad Backpacker trains to Needleton & Elk Park
Please be aware that all summits in the Needle Mountains require varying amounts of mountaineering skills; and those attempting any of them should be mindful of the hazards of afternoon thunderstorms, sudden drops in temperature, and precipitous terrain.
In short, please be sure your are prepared before heading off into the mountains. And come prepared for all weather conditions, even in the heart of the Summer.
Needle Creek Trail
Originating at the former mining camp of Needleton, Needle Creek Trail climbs along an old stage road that follows its namesake seven miles into Chicago Basin. The trail is easy to follow but quite steep, ascending 3,000 feet before reaching the basin. A hike of around two to three miles will access several wooded camp spots in the lower half of the canyon. For those with more endurance, a hike to the upper reaches of the drainage is rewarded with spectacular views of open meadows and glades surrounded by towering alpine summits.
Johnson Creek Trail
Beyond the basin, the main trail climbs another 1,400 feet over two miles to Columbine Pass where it meets up with the Johnson Creek Trail, which drops into the Vallecito Creek drainage. A secondary route climbs steeply to Twin Lakes. From either vantage point, a commanding panorama of the Needle Creek drainage is possible.
Aside from its splendid hiking terrain, Chicago Basin also serves as a base camp for mountain climber's intent on scaling summits. The three tallest - 14,059 foot Sunlight Peak, 14,084 foot Mount Eolus and 14,087 foot Windom Peak are the most popular climbs, but there are many other peaks offering mountaineering challenges and scenic wonder.
Elk Creek Trail
This trail travels east from the railroad, climbing into the upper reaches of the Needle Mountains. Nine miles long, the route climbs 3,760 feet to the Continental Divide.
Continental Divide Trail
At the Divide, the trail connects with the Continental Divide Trail. Backpackers with plenty of time on their hands might hike the Divide Trail north to either Stony Pass or the Highland Mary Lakes area.
Vallecito Creek Trail
Heading south, the route leads to Hunchback Pass and from here to the upper end of the Vallecito Creek Trail. By following this drainage downstream for 8.5 miles, it is possible to hike up Johnson Creek for a little over five miles to Columbine Pass. From Columbine Pass it is nine miles down to the Needleton trail head and civilization. This hike covers 34 miles and involves more than 8,000 feet of climbing. Be prepared to spend on average 5 days to complete the loop, and make the proper arrangements.