4 Most Scenic Backpacking Trips in the American West

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 2. Chicago Basin, Colorado

PHOTO: Will Rochfort

If you are interested in peak bagging during your next backpacking trip, look no further than Chicago Basin. Nestled in the Weminuche Wilderness in the San Juan National Forest in southwest Colorado, Chicago Basin is a gem. It’s not much of a secret though, and its popularity continues to grow each year. A word to the wise: avoid this trip in July and August to avoid the crowds.

Chicago Basin is a classic due to its proximity to three towering fourteeners (peaks above 14,000 feet): Sunlight Peak, Mount Eolus and Windom Peak. Hikers can choose to hike the entire way into the basin, beginning at the Purgatory trailhead and then hooking up with the Needleton train stop. This is a 15-mile approach. However, most backpackers choose to take the Durango-Silverton Narrow Gauge Train to the Needleton train stop, and then hike the remaining six miles into the basin.

Regardless of which route you choose, Chicago Basin is a beauty. Mountain goats are frequent visitors and the San Juan mountain range is truly special.

Trip Details: 12 miles/30 miles roundtrip, depending on how you handle the approach. There is 3,000 feet of elevation gain from the Needleton train stop to the basin, so it is not an easy hike. The basin itself is situated at 11,200 feet so hikers should use caution with the high altitude.

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