Backpack to Crater Lake in San Juan National Forest

11 miles 870 ft gain  - Out-and-Back Trail

Added by Abby Vohaska

Easy access trailhead from HWY 550 just south of Silverton, Co! Moderate hike to Twilight Peak as well as access to Snowdon Peak!

Reaching this trailhead actually begins off of Andrews Lake - you will see signs for Andrews Lake off HWY 550. I will provide directions from both Durango and Silverton at the end. 

The trailhead is extremely well marked the entire way. The mileage from Andrews lake to Crater lake one way is 5.5 miles +/- a little.The first two miles provide the greatest elevation gain, starting at roughly 10,730 ft and reaching 11,330 ft. Your end elevation will be roughly 11,696 ft. I'm always worried when I come from Phoenix that the altitude will demolish me no matter how easy or hard a hike, but this was not bad to push through with a pack. 

After about 1 mile, you dip down and lose some elevation gain, but after that its a up the rest of the way. After the main traverse up, you come to an impressive opening with a visual of Snowdon Peak. Here the trail splits - you have the option of heading East to Snowdon or South to Twilight. If you choose to follow the trailhead to Crater Lake and Twilight Peak, stay to your right. 

From here the trail is interchanging between open field and wooded areas. I personally enjoyed when the trail opened up because you had 360º views of peaks. I could not help but start scouting for other areas I wanted to explore. 

After mile 2, you begin to see the beautiful north face of Twilight. Now a little background info on this hike, I had just driven up from Phoenix which was a solid 8 hour drive, so to say I was chasing daylight was an understatement. I remember at about mile 3 tired from my drive yelling, "YOU TEASE" - simply because for the entire rest of the way you keep thinking you're almost there when in reality you still have a few miles ahead of you. 

You will know you are almost there when you roll into a section of the trail where every tree around you is dead. I found this eerie and impressive. There were trees totally uprooted and on their sides or crisped by lightening. Whatever took place there was a reminder that Mother Nature is the boss. 

Finally, when you arrive to Crater Lake, your jaw will drop and if t does not - you have zero appreciation for beauty. The water is known for being incredibly still and reflective of Twilight Peak, a photographers happy place. I was stunned in disbelief of the quiet and calmness that took place there, I felt like I was in a soundproof room & I had it all to myself. 

I arrived right as the sun was setting around 6:15 PM. It was the last weekend of October and pretty freaking cold. I set up camp pretty quick at the North East side of the lake. With little light left, I snapped a few photos, slipped into my sleeping bag, ate my dinner and soaked in the views. 

I was impressed that there was absolutely no wind here. ZERO wind at 11,696 ft and choosing a spot with little tree protection. This made for one peaceful night sleep with 25ºF temps.

There are some other options when you arrive to Crater Lake. If you follow the little trail that looks more like a game trail that leads South East, its about 0.4 miles to the saddle. Here you can get a fantastic view of the Needles. If you wish to continue to the top of Twilight, its an easy Class 3 scramble on up from the saddle.

Ultimately after this trip, I went home - broke my lease agreement and found a place to live in Durango starting December 1, 2016. This Pocket of Colorado stole my heart.

One suggestion that I have for this hike is be prepared for some mud if you go in the fall or after a rain - my boots were covered. 

This recreation area is open May - October.. If you go during season there are bathrooms at Andrews Lake, if you go out of season be sure to find facilities before you hit the trail!

  • Distance: 11.0 miles (round trip) to Crater Lake11.8 miles (round trip) to Saddle above Crater Lake
  • Elevation: 10,770-ft. at Trailhead11,640-ft. at Crater Lake11,770-ft. at Saddle above Crater Lake
  • Elevation Gain: 870-ft. to Crater Lake 1,000-ft. to Saddle above Crater Lake 
  • Difficulty: easy-moderate

Driving Directions From Durango: 39.2 miles

Take Main ave North which turns into HWY 550. Take this 39 miles north. You will see a sign for Andrews Lake - make a right (County road 29). For parking use the top lot if you plan to spend the night. 

Driving Directions From Silverton: 7.9 miles

Head south on HWY 550 for 7.3 miles. Look for signs to Andrews Lake, and make a left on County road 29. 

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Dog Friendly
Easy Parking


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Overall rating: 

Level trail, has it all

Occasionally, sections of the trail get washed out - right now there is one small part where you’ll have to walk through shallow water. Hiking boots are better than running shoes for this trail!

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