As the largest designated wilderness in Colorado, the Weminuche is hard to beat. With meadow-covered ridges in the north, 14ers in the west, early snowmelt in the south, and solitude in the east, there’s something for just about any mood. The hike up Ute Creek leads to multiple loop possibilities, with trails running along creeks, passing lakes, climbing the Continental Divide, and meandering through lush meadows. And when we hiked this trail in late summer, we saw considerably more bear scat than we did people.
The trailhead for Ute Creek is relatively easy to get to, and any 2WD car shouldn’t have any problem getting to the trailhead. From Grand Junction, head south on Highway 50 towards Montrose. In Montrose, continue on 50 towards Gunnison. On the east side of Blue Mesa Reservoir, before Gunnison, turn south on Highway 149 towards Lake City. Continue about 75 miles (with a stop in Lake City for the last chance for gas and hot food) to County Road 18/ Forest Service Road 520. The road will be on the right, and there should be signs for the Rio Grande Reservoir. Continue about 19 miles to the Ute Creek trailhead on the opposite side of the Rio Grande Reservoir. The trailhead is located at 37.75925,-107.34424.
The loop described here requires leaving a shuttle car at the Squaw Creek Trailhead located at the Thirtymile Campground at 37.72239,-107.25918, or a 6.5 mile road walk. But there are plenty of semi-loops that can be done from Ute Creek, and other loops that can be done from Squaw Creek.
There is no fee for parking at the trailheads.
This guide describes a hike I did in 2012 from Ute Creek to Weminuche Creek. But there are many different loop options from those two trailheads, so it would be easy to adjust this itinerary and add or subtract miles to accommodate your particular trip requirements.
Starting from Ute Creek, you quickly get your feet wet crossing the Rio Grande near its headwaters. From there, the trail soon heads into the woods, and Ute Creek enters a fairly narrow mountain canyon. There are not many views for the next few miles as the trail ascends the canyon, but the trail is easy and we only saw two people the whole day. We did see, however, lots of bear scat and lots of bear marks on trees.
There is a brief but fairly steep ascent just before arriving at Black Lake, a little over 6 miles from the trailhead. Less than half a mile past Black Lake, the trail for West Ute Creek comes in on the right. If you’re doing a hike that takes you back to the Ute Creek Trailhead, this is a good option for a lollipop loop that includes the Continental Divide Trail (CDT) and West Ute Lake. For this guide, continue on the Ute Creek Trail to the left at the intersection. A little less than a mile from the last intersection, and about 7.3 miles from the trailhead, you come to another intersection in a wide valley. The Ute Creek Trail continues on the right fork, and the Ute Lake Trail heads to the left. Both trails, like the Middle Ute Trail, head up to the CDT…so just decide how you want to get to the Divide. Ute Creek takes you by Twin Lakes and Ute Lake if you head south on the CDT, and West Ute Lake if you head north. For this guide, take the left turn onto the Ute Lake Trail.
The Ute Lake Trail soon crosses Middle Ute Creek. If you go a little up river from the trail crossing, we found an old bridge that we were able to use. There is a short ascent in the forest before the trail opens up into a nice valley. For the next couple of miles or so, the trail gradually ascends through a valley that, like the beginning of the trail, had lots of bear sign. As the trail approaches the CDT it begins to get steeper, and the last half a mile to the Divide are steep as the trail nears treeline.
The trail tops out at the Divide at about 12,100 feet about 11 miles from the trailhead. From here you have several options: you can turn right on the CDT and head back to either the Ute Creek Trail or the West Ute Creek Trail and descend back to your car. Or you can turn left on the CDT and head to the Weminuche Trail; this option has lots of elevation ups and downs as the CDT traverses the Divide. For this guide, we’re going to turn right on the CDT for just a few yards, and then turn left and head down the Rincon La Osa Trail on the opposite side of the Divide. This trail descends steeply off the Divide to the Rincon La Osa valley in about a mile. This valley is absolutely gorgeous. There are nice campsites overlooking the valley about halfway down from the Divide…you’ll likely pass water on your way down, so take the opportunity to get the water if you’re going to camp above the valley so you don’t have to ascend back up to the water.
At the bottom of the valley, turn left and enjoy the wonderful valley. About a mile after reaching the bottom of the valley, the trail heads into a nice, narrow canyon. After the canyon, the trail makes a long and very steep descent to the Los Pinos River, as it parallels the CDT high above. At the bottom of the descent, arrive at the Pine River Trail about 15.8 miles from the trailhead. Turn left and you’ll soon have an easy crossing of the Los Pinos. The trail soon makes a steep ascent in a canyon of the Los Pinos, but then opens up to a wide, boulder-strewn valley. At about 17.5 miles, the trail crosses the CDT soon after crossing Rincon La Vaca. You could turn right onto the CDT and make a loop that takes you to the Squaw Creek Trail and back down to the Squaw Creek Trailhead. For this guide, we’ll continue straight on the Weminuche Trail.
At about 18.5 miles the trail crosses Weminuche Pass that is so low that you’ll totally miss it if you’re not paying attention. There are nice views from here, though, of the mountains to the north. At about mile 20.5 the trail begins a very long, very steep descent down to the Rio Grande…I would not want to climb up the Weminuche Trail. The trail soon enters the forest and even passes through some very lush areas.
At mile 23.5, the trail reaches the Squaw Creek Trailhead at Thirtymile Campground. You’ll need a shuttle car for the 6.5 miles of road back to the Ute Creek Trailhead.
While 23.5 miles sounds like it could be done as an overnighter, we took 3 nights to do it. We were going slow, but I would suggest spending at least 2 nights to do this loop.
Permits & Regulations
No permits required.
This is Colorado, so be mindful of summer thunderstorms. Don’t be on exposed ridges in the middle of the day, and keep your rain gear handy. The elevations are generally higher than you see in Utah, and certainly much higher than you see outside the Rocky Mountains, so be prepared: drink lots of water, Ibuprofen is your friend, and take your time if the elevation takes its toll on you. It’s always a good idea to spend a day in the mountains acclimating before you hit the trail if you’re coming from outside the Rockies.
Relevant Books & Maps
Trails Illustrated Map – Weminuche Wilderness