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Emerald Lake: Durango’s Best Kept Secret

A Dazzling Destination In The Weminuche Wilderness

Nestled away in the Weminuche Wilderness, Emerald Lake is a breathtaking site. This stunning alpine lake offers soul stirring views of pristine waters. The rocky formations of the San Juan Mountains, lush alpine greenery and crystal waters truly make Emerald Lake a sight to behold.

Getting to Emerald Lake

You’ll need to lace up your hiking boots to get to Emerald Lake. The Weminuche Wilderness covers 500,000 acres and features seemingly endless opportunities to take in natury in all its glory. Emerald Lake is located in the Weminuche Wilderness 10 miles from the Pine River Trailhead near Vallecito Reservoir. You’ll find the trailhead 15 miles northwest of Durango, with parking for the hike located adjacent to the reservoir.

Hiking to Emerald Lake is 20 miles round trip, so many turn their hike into an overnight trip. The trail is perfect for novice and experienced backpackers alike. You’ll reach an elevation of more than 2,000 feet on the hike to Emerald Lake. It is best to make the hike from June to October. Dogs are allowed on the trail.

Hiking The Weminuche Wilderness

The hike to Emerald Lake can be quiet, making it a perfect place to reflect and take in nature. The trail is moderately trafficked, so you might occasionally run into fellow hikers. The Weminuche Wilderness is full of animals and wildlife. You might see porcupines, bears or even a moose on your hike to Emerald Lake. The hike is moderately easy for the first 6 or 7 miles, with only 200 feet in elevation changes.


The following leg of the 10-mile hike to Emerald Lake can be a bit more grueling, with steeper elevation changes and rocky terrain. It is well worth the extra effort, as the views at Emerald Lake are glorious to behold. It is wise to be prepared for your hike to Emerald Lake.

About Weminuche Wilderness

Emerald Lake is just one of the Alpine lakes in the Weminuche Wilderness area. Weminuche Wilderness is part of the San Juan National Forest and is the largest Wilderness in Colorado. Weminuche Wilderness was created by the Wilderness Act of 1964 and was officially founded by Congress in 1974. Weminuche Wilderness was expanded in 1980 and 1993 to reach the expansive size it is today.

Weminuche Wilderness

Colorado's Wild Area's

The Weminuche spans the Continental Divide. This means headwaters reach both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. The average elevation in the Weminuche Wilderness is 10,000 feet, but reaches 13,000 feet in some parts.Thousands of visitors explore the Weminuche Wilderness each year, with many making the hike to Emerald Lake.

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