The Highland Mary Lakes in the San Juans of southwestern Colorado are a great introduction to the high peaks of the Weminuche Wilderness in Colorado’s San Juan Mountains. The wildflowers are bigger there than anywhere else I’ve been, the trails are higher, and the scenery is breathtaking. Hiking above 12,000 feet is pretty darn breathtaking, too. It took me a few days to get used to that part!
The Highland Mary Trail starts east of the old mining town of Silverton (which is worth a visit itself.) You drive about four miles through Cunningham Gulch on an increasingly rough road that includes a creek crossing at the end. The trail starts at 10,480 ft., and climbs 1,600 ft. to the first lake. The first time we did this we planned to backpack about 5 miles, but I needed to rest so often during the first 2 1/2 miles to the first lake that we decided to set up camp at the lakes. It turned out to be an excellent option: the lakes are a perfect spot to set up a basecamp and spend a few days exploring. Hiking without a heavy pack made a huge difference in my ability to enjoy my surroundings. The hiking season is short, though: there’s often snow until mid-July, and snow again by mid-September. But it’s been surprisingly uncrowded the two times we’ve been there, which was a nice surprise.