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Highland Mary Lakes Loop, CO
mini location map2021-07-11
17 by photographer avatarAugustWest
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Highland Mary Lakes Loop, CO 
Highland Mary Lakes Loop, CO
Hiking9.24 Miles 2,547 AEG
Hiking9.24 Miles   6 Hrs   43 Mns   1.72 mph
2,547 ft AEG   1 Hour   21 Mns Break
1st trip
Partners none no partners
Route Scout Route Recorded  on Route Scout Popup | MapDEX
Staying up in Purgatory north of Durango for the week with Elizabeth and this seemed like a good hike from all descriptions. My expectations were blown away by one of the most diverse and beautiful explorations I have ever taken.

It had been since the late 90's that I had been to Southwestern Colorado. When looking for a place to escape for a week it surprised me that Durango was closer to the valley than Moab, Santa Fe and Taos. I had previously spent time in Telluride and Crested Butte, but had never been to Durango and the San Juan's. The 7-1/2 hour drive was easy, if not a little dusty and boring.

The hike begins Southeast of Silverton down County Road 4 which continues way up to the Highland Mary Mine past the Trailhead. The parking lot was pretty full, but right off the bat we met a number of backpackers coming off the trail that gave us their opinion that clockwise was the best way to run the loop. We took that advice and I think it was for the best.

The clockwise loop starts on the Continental Divide Trail (#813) which I couldn't find a way to link to this triplog. The trail is steep and we stopped a lot to take in perhaps the most abundant and diverse display of wildflowers that I have ever seen. This side of the loop starts a little above 10,000' and rises to above the treeline to about 12,500'. Once above the treeline the wildflowers calm down a bit, but the scenery of the surrounding San Juan's open up with each new rise.

The Continental Divide trail splits off and stays high while the Whitehead Trail starts down a deep gorge for a little over a mile with the best mountain views of the day. Highland Mary Lakes takes off at Verde Lakes, which begins the high alpine lakes that are the namesake of the final stretch of the trail.

Once moving down through the various lakes, the Highland Mary Lakes Trail drops down into Cunningham Creek. The creek features waterfalls and some rocky tread, but once the trail enters the trees for the final couple of miles things are purely magical.

There were a moderate number of people using these trails. We saw more backpackers than day hikers. We did run into a trail running couple from Anthem that basically ripped through the loop that took us 6 hours in under 2 hours. The woman had run a race up Kendell Mountain that morning. We found out she runs sub-3 hour marathons pretty regularly. Everyone we ran into through the loop was so happy to be in this amazing area.

Temps were probably in the mid-60's at the highest sub-alpine stretches of the trail and in the upper 70's at the end of the day at the trailhead.

The San Juan's and the Wenimuche Wilderness present such an stunning and diverse landscape. So excited to explore further!!
wildflower observationwildflower observationwildflower observationwildflower observationwildflower observation
Wildflowers Observation Extreme
Wildflower seed in the sand and wind
May the four winds blow you home again

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