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Crater Lake

A walk in Colorado's largest wilderness area

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The Twilight Peaks rise to the south of Crater Lake. This out-and-back trail is enjoyed by hikers, runners, and backpackers.
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The Twilight Peaks rise to the south of Crater Lake. This out-and-back trail is enjoyed by hikers, runners, and backpackers.
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A Colorado Tansy Aster sways in the breeze at the water’s edge of Crater Lake.
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A Colorado Tansy Aster sways in the breeze at the water’s edge of Crater Lake.
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Amanita muscaria mushrooms are common along the trail. While this species is poisonous, other edible varieties flourish in the area.
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Amanita muscaria mushrooms are common along the trail. While this species is poisonous, other edible varieties flourish in the area.

Crater Lake is a beloved destination for hikers, runners and backpackers in southwestern Colorado.

This high country trail wanders through cool forests and open meadows while flirting with stunning views of the surrounding San Juan Mountains. It quickly enters the 488,210-acre Weminuche Wilderness Area, the largest designated wilderness in the state.

Beginning at the picture-perfect Andrews Lake, where Osprey hunt and anglers gather 42 miles north of Durango or eight miles south of Silverton, this 11- mile plus out-and-back starts just under 11,000 feet and reaches almost 11,800 feet at its height.

The initial one and a half-mile approach though tall conifers is the steepest portion of the trail, then the trail gently rolls, save a few switchbacks.

Hikers will get immense views of 13,077- foot Snowdon Peak, dominating the east, its unmistakable Naked Lady Couloir begging to be negotiated by climbers. Engineer Mountain, Greysill Mountain and the Turksheads form the skyline to the west and south as the trail makes its way to the lake at the northern base of the 13,000-foot and rising Twilight Peaks.

Several water crossings call on careful footing, and the limestone steps scattered throughout the length of the trail are many, but never too difficult.

Overall, the trail remains somewhat tame considering the terrain it crosses. Marshes, fallen timber, dense and dark forests and fields of summer wildflowers are everywhere. Mushrooms and strawberries flourish, and the serene lake itself is quintessential Colorado – a pristine, clear glass body of water below a gray jagged crown.

Runners bob over the creeks and boulders, while families of hikers picnic in meadows and backpackers set up camp in glorious surroundings.

In the vicinity of its shore, climbers may wish to achieve the ridge line that stands over the water, where there seem to be a number of options. Anglers may choose to cast a fly.

Runners make it out and back in as little as four hours, or less, while hikers may take up to six or more hours.

Much of the hike is in heavily forested areas, but the mountains are never far away.

However it is traveled, Crater Lake is a rewarding exploration of Rocky Mountain wilderness.

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