Gain access to the San Juan National Forest and the Weminuche Wilderness for backpacking, day hikes, rafting, and fishing trips via the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad during the summer season.
“Wilderness Access” is only available during our summer season which runs May-October.
KNOW BEFORE YOU GO
We strongly suggest purchasing a Colorado Outdoor Recreation Search and Rescue (CORSAR) Card. Consider supporting Colorado Search and Rescue by purchasing a 1-year or 5-year CORSAR Card. For the cost of the card, you have helped ensure that trained and well-equipped search and rescue teams will respond should you become lost or in need of rescue and they will not have to incur undue expense due to your emergency. The card is not insurance. It does not pay medical transport which includes helicopter flights or ground ambulance. The card will allow reimbursement to county sheriffs for costs incurred on a mission. If the aircraft then becomes a medical transport due to a medical emergency, the medical portion of the transport is not covered. Colorado residents and visitors are well served by dedicated volunteer search and rescue teams, but mission costs are often in the thousands of dollars. By purchasing a CORSAR card you are contributing to the Search and Rescue Fund, which will reimburse these teams for costs incurred in your search and rescue. Funds remaining at the end of the year are used to help pay for training and equipment for these teams. Anyone who purchases a current hunting/fishing license, or boat, snowmobile, ATV registration already contributes to the fund.
All summits in the Rocky Mountains require varying amounts of mountaineering skills; those attempting any of them should be mindful of the hazards of afternoon thunderstorms, sudden drops in temperature, and precipitous terrain. Cell phone service is limited.
Additional information websites:
Weminuche Wilderness Trip Planning Information: http://www.fs.usda.gov/goto/sanjuan/wilderness
The 8:15am Silverton Diesel excursion will service all short stops for wilderness access. The Silverton Steam excursion departing at 9:00am will not service any wilderness stops.
Bookings must be made by phone. Online booking is not available at this time.
A cap of 15 people per party exists with a total cap of 9 parties per day at Needleton. Larger parties must book under one reservation. If you are making multiple payments, a group leader can book a reservation that other members of the party will call to add with their reservation number.
There are no southbound stops at Needleton for departures from Silverton.
From Durango: Reservations should be made in advance through the Durango ticket office. Reservations can only be made for Durango or Silverton origination. Parties must book together. People may be added to a reservation but will need to supply the reservation number and let reservations know that they are adding to an existing reservation.
From Flag stops: Unless you purchased your round trip tickets in advance, flagstop tickets originating from either Needleton or Elk Park must be purchased from the conductor (exact fare) at the point of origin on a space-available basis. Unless you have a current Season Pass there is a freight charge per backpack ($15).
DURANGO DEPARTURES: Gear must be loaded in the boxcar 45 minutes prior to departure to allow you to be in your seats before the final boarding call. When departing from Durango, you must be in your assigned seat at least one half hour before train departure! Unoccupied seats will be sold as a “no-show”. Failure to have gear loaded by the appointed time could cause you to lose your seats.
SILVERTON DEPARTURES: You will be booked on one of the afternoon trips out of Silverton and arrive at Elk Park flag stop about 30 minutes after leaving Silverton. The only southbound option for wilderness access will be Elk Park. There is no southbound wilderness drop offs for Needleton. Only the Silverton Diesel Train is designated for flag stops. Please refer to the Short Stop Table (to be added) to determine which train will be stopping at your desired flag stop on the date you will be boarding. Be sure to check for both your SOUTHBOUND and NORTHBOUND trips!
SEATING: You will be booked SPACE in a standard-class car but specific seat assignments will be provided by the conductor when you board the train.
You must flag the train to signal to the engineer that you wish to board. The correct method is by waving your hands horizontally across your knees. When flagging the train in either direction, you must be on the east side of the tracks. We strongly recommend advanced booking to assure seating.
The two main access locations are at Needleton, the entrance to Chicago Basin; and Elk Park, access point to the Colorado Trail. The only southbound option for wilderness access will be Elk Park. Please refer to the timetable below to find the dates & times of the train scheduled to allow pick up and drop off at these flagstops. Call our reservation office for dates and times of other flagstops. Elevations range from 8,000 feet at trailheads to over 14,000 at the peaks. Trail conditions often change rapidly; please be well prepared! For information regarding trail conditions, to acquire a trail map, or to purchase back country insurance (highly recommended), contact the U.S. Forest Service at 970-247-4874. Passengers must abide by any camping, fire, or other restrictions per USFS regulations and are responsible for understanding any policy impacting the area they are visiting.
Needle Creek Trail: Originating at the former mining camp of Needleton, Needle Creek Trail climbs along an old stage road that follows its namesake seven miles into Chicago Basin. The trail is easy to follow but quite steep, ascending 3,000 feet before reaching the basin.
Johnson Creek Trail: Beyond the basin, the main trail climbs another 1,400 feet over two miles to Columbine Pass where it meets up with the Johnson Creek Trail, which drops into the Vallecito Creek drainage. A secondary route climbs steeply to Twin Lakes. From either vantage point, a commanding panorama of the Needle Creek drainage is possible.
Chicago Basin: Aside from its splendid hiking terrain, Chicago Basin also serves as a base camp for mountain climber’s intent on scaling summits. The three tallest – 14,059 foot Sunlight Peak, 14,084 foot Mount Eolus and 14,087 foot Windom Peak are the most popular climbs, but there are many other peaks offering mountaineering challenges and scenic wonder.
Elk Creek Trail: This trail travels east from the railroad, climbing into the upper reaches of the Needle Mountains. Nine miles long, the route climbs 3,760 feet to the Continental Divide.
Continental Divide Trail: At the Divide, the trail connects with the Continental Divide Trail. Backpackers with plenty of time on their hands might hike the Divide Trail north to either Stony Pass or the Highland Mary Lakes area.
Vallecito Creek Trail: Heading south, the route leads to Hunchback Pass and from here to the upper end of the Vallecito Creek Trail. By following this drainage downstream for 8.5 miles, it is possible to hike up Johnson Creek for a little over five miles to Columbine Pass. From Columbine Pass it is nine miles down to the Needleton trailhead and civilization. This hike covers 34 miles and involves more than 8,000 feet of climbing. Be prepared to spend on average 5 days to complete the loop, and make the proper arrangements.
Schedule and flagstop information:
Backpack Fee: $15
Unless you have a current Season Pass OR originate in Silverton, there will be a freight charge per backpack. Please inform a reservation agent at time of booking as to the number of backpacks in your party. Groups can not exceed 15. Packs will be loaded and stored in a boxcar under the supervision of the train crew. Other articles such as groceries and extra equipment will be also be handled as freight and additional charges will apply based on weight. To prevent damage to your own and other’s equipment, we require objects such as ice axes, crampons, and fishing equipment to be enclosed in a protective covering. All freight items must be properly tagged with ownership and destination.
Passengers are not permitted to carry firearms on the train. Backpackers and hunters may arrange for firearms to be transported as freight. Please contact Special Handling in the Reservation Office at 970-385-8832 to make arrangements.
United States Department of Agriculture regulations prohibit the D&SNGRR from transporting live animals. Except for service animals accompanying their master/trainer, we will not carry any live animals in any cars on our train.
Chicago Basin Trip Planning Guide
San Juan National Forest information
DURANGO: Long term parking in Durango is available in our large lot adjacent to the train yards. Parking is $10.00 per day for passenger cars and $15.00 per day for RV’s. You will need to pay for each day your vehicle will be in the lot. By city ordinance, overnight camping is not allowed in our parking lot. Click here for more information on parking.
SILVERTON: You are invited to park your vehicle at our Silverton Depot on 10th & Cement Streets at no charge. (Note: D&SNG does not assume any responsibility for your vehicle.) This is a few blocks away from where you board the train. You may want to drop off the rest of your party and gear closer to the train and then park the car.