San Juan Mountains, Colorado

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San Juan Mountains

The San Juan Mountain’s jagged volcanic summits reach high into the sky and cast shadows over the region’s historic towns, stunning backcountry and wild forests.

  • Colorado's San Juan Mountains are some of the most rugged in the country with six peaks reaching higher than 14,000 feet.
  • There are no major cities here, only charming history-rich mountain towns.
  • The San Juan Skyway is a 236-mile drive through the heart of the mountain range.

The San Juan Mountains are one of North America’s most rugged and rocky ranges with six peaks reaching higher than 14,000 feet. The mountains stretch across roughly 1/8 of Colorado’s land and hold some of the state’s most diverse terrain. Lakes, rivers, waterfalls, volcanic peaks, alpine meadows, deep pine forests and aspen groves make up the environment here.

The lack of any nearby population center means these mountains are still wild, and if you’re looking for space, you’ll find it here.

Location & Information

Historic mining-era towns were built during the mining boom and now rely on tourism. Telluride, Ouray, Lake City, Creede, Pagosa Springs, Durango and Dolores all sit on the cusp or in the mountains. Two highways, CO-145 and 550, make up much of the “San Juan Skyway,” a 236-mile scenic loop through the mountains.

Winter brings heavy snowfall here, and summer is often marked by hot days and chilly nights. Weather changes fast at high elevations, so no matter what time of year it is, come prepared for (almost) anything.

Winter Activities

The San Juan Mountain Range is known to have some of the best—although dangerous--backcountry skiing in the world. Steep slopes, combined with consistent sunshine, gusty wind and heavy snowfall, create ideal avalanche conditions. Don’t worry, though, as the area’s ski resorts have some of the best preventative measures anywhere and keep the snow in check. Telluride and Silverton are known for their challenging terrain, while Wolf Creek and Durango Mountain Resort offer good snow and milder slopes.

Other winter activities include cross-country skiing, snowshoeing,

Summer Activities

The relative remoteness of the range makes the summer an ideal season to enjoy the unspoiled beauty of the San Juan Range. Many of the regions hiking trails are surprisingly untracked, and beautiful alpine lakes and rivers are scattered across the range.

The San Juan Skyway, a 236-mile loop circling Telluride, Cortez, Durango and Silverton among others, is a great drive if you want to get a grasp of the terrain.

Mountain biking, horseback riding, whitewater rafting, kayaking, and mountain climbing are also all popular summertime activities.

Other San Juan Mountains Resources

Mountain Studies Institute

Mountain Studies Institute is based in Silverton and is dedicated to teaching and encouraging sustainable use of the San Juan Mountains.

Poison Spider Mesa

Rock feature and popular recreation trail near Moab Utah.