The title says it all, “From the Airport to the Alpine”, this series is all about getting to and from Colorado trailheads and towns via Denver International Airport (or perhaps smaller regional mountain airports) without the need of renting a vehicle by using public transportation and other creative methods. With gas prices going up and trailheads overcrowded, these transportation choices look to ease your wallet and lesson your frustration of traveling to new areas. In the first few installments, we will focus on the infamous, 500 mile, Denver to Durango, Colorado Trail. This post will focus on segments 21 through 28. Always check with these services before heading out, schedules and prices can fluctuate and services may not always be available.
Take note, at Twin Lakes in Seg 11, one must decide to go either Collegiate East or Collegiate West. Though it is also possible to use the East and West segments to take on the 160 mile Collegiate Loop, using any TH to begin and end. In this installment of From the Airport to the Alpine, we will focus on the traditional East route. Stay tuned for future posts, after the Colorado Trail we will begin covering other great trails, trailheads, towns and amazing alpine experiences. Don’t forget to view the previous posts for the Colorado Trail, Segments 1 – 5, Segments 6 – 11, Segments 12 – 15 and Segments 16 – 20
Also noteworthy are the apps used by the transportation companies listed below, they can be very useful in planning, finding the times for the next ride and any updates about routes. We highly recommend downloading the apps before heading out on the trail and becoming familiar with them.
Segment 21: Traveling to/from DIA and San Luis Pass TH
As we get deeper into the Colorado Trail, many of these trailheads become more remote and require a bit more traveling to get to. We will do our best to find the best routes possible. In some cases this may require more walking, starting at trailheads that are accessible when the CT is not or hiring an outfitter to take you on more difficult 4×4 roads.
For Segment 21 we are going to have to throw out all the choices, no matter how ridiculous they may be, it is either that or we can cry uncle on this segment! Our research on this leg is far from over, we will continue to look into options, we do love a good mystery and challenge. A good example of why this may be a difficult logistical point, Black Hills Stage Lines offered service between Alamosa and Creede, but at this time it appears that service has been discontinued. We will have to wait, watch and see if it returns. Unfortunately this seems to be the norm as gas prices surge and companies restructure routs to fit demand and costs.
Creede being the ultimate goal here, as it is in close proximity to the Colorado Trail, it would appear that unless you are will to spend a small fortune to hire a private charter flight into the Creede airport, you will need to get to Alamosa and then make your way over to Creede, but we did say we will throw everything out there on this one, well, maybe not everything, our research did show that if you have no limits then there are definitely some amazing and very expensive options.
After your arrival at Denver International Airport find your way to the Main Terminal and Baggage Claim. To get to Segment 21 of the CT, head to the train platform outside of the south end of the main terminal, look for the large hanging American flag above the doors. Once outside, go down the escalators and the train platform will be right in front of you.
Take the Regional Transportation District (public transportation) A-Line Train to downtown Denver at Union Station ($10.50). Once at Union Station head downstairs to the Bustang bus, use the Outrider Crested Butte Bus to Salida ($29.00). In Salida transfer to the Bustang Outrider Bus to Alamosa ($14.00). Once in Alamosa you will need to secure a ride to Creede (68.4 miles), we wouldn’t rule out just about any option here, hitch, Uber, private taxi or CT Shuttler. Once in Creede to CT is roughly 10 miles via FS 503 (8 miles) and connecting trail 882 (1.5 miles) to the CT along the Continental Divide. It is likely you could get a ride out of Creede to the trailhead as the area is quite active with hikers, 4×4 enthusiasts and tourists heading up to the old mines.
Alternate methods, fly into Alamosa from Denver International Airport, currently only one airline services Alamosa, Denver Air Connection. You could also fly into Gunnison on United Airlines or use the Bustang Bus service into Gunnison and then make your way over to Creede by hitch, CT Shuttler or perhaps a commercial shuttle. There are quite a few commercial services out there, some of which are quite pricey, some not so much, that do offer CT hikers rides and services, such as Buckhorn Limousine, more about them in segments 22 – 28. At this point it is also considerable to begin looking at Durango as an option to fly into and that if you could get a ride from there to Creede you could easily hike back!
Segment 22: Traveling to/from DIA and Spring Creek Pass TH
Unlike the last few segments, this one will keep you on the pavement. Back to Gunnison on this one. There are two options to get to Gunnison. Option 1: A-Line Train from DIA to Denver Union Station ($10.50), Bustang from Denver Union Station Union Station to Gunnison ($40) then CT Shuttler, Uber or hitch to Lake City. Option 2: Fly into DIA and make a connection on United Airlines to Gunnison Regional Airport and then look for a ride to Lake City. Lake City is 55 miles from Gunnison, another 17 miles to the trailhead, via US 50 and State Hwy 149.
It is possible to continue past Lake City to the TH at Spring Creek Pass, but you would be missing out on a great little Colorado town with a big heart for CT hikers. Most likely you’ll want to start fresh in the morning, especially with treeline fast approaching on Seg 22. There are plenty of great places to stay in lake City and a free shuttle to and from the TH every day. We opted for a full zero in lake City and thoroughly enjoyed our stay, got fully rested up and resupplied before heading back out. Commonly used places to stay in Lake City, Raven’s Rest Hostel and our favorite, Town Square Cabins, both located centrally to everything including the FREE shuttle pickup and drop-off.
One more alternative from Segment 22 to 28 will include the ability to use a commercial ride service that can drop you at key CT locations from Durango; Junction Creek, Kennebec, Hotel Draw, Bolam Pass, Molas Pass, Stony Pass and Spring Creek Pass. Contact Buck Horn Limousine for details or call 970-769-0933.
Segment 23: Traveling to/from DIA and Carson Saddle
Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the water…the Carson Saddle appears. if you remember, it wasn’t that long ago that we dealt with a similar situation at Sargents Mesa, though that would prove a much easier terrain. The Carson Saddle, on the other hand, is a mountainous, rugged and exposed walk above treeline. It is breathtaking! To get here we’ll need a ride out of Lake City, follow directions in Seg 22 to get to Lake City, After which, a ride will be needed from an outfitter, CT Shuttler or a hitch as the area is frequented by many travelers. It is back to being creative, so don’t lose your sense of adventure just yet.
Option 1: Just outside of Lake City (south) is Rd 20, follow this for 2.5 miles to the Alpine Gulch TH, follow this trail for 5.2 miles and then continue on the Williams Creek Trail for 7.5 miles. You will come to Rd 30, cross and head up the Camp Trail #476 for 4 miles to the CT Yurt in Seg 22 of the CT, yeah, we’re backtracking here, but it is an option. There is 8.5 miles from here to the end of Seg 22 and start of Seg 23.
Option 2: Head south out of Lake City on CO 149 to county Rd 30, follow 30 for 7 miles to the Camp Trail #476 TH. This trail is an uphill battle, but in 4 miles you will arrive at the CT Yurt found in Seg 22, yeah, we’re backtracking here, but it is an option. There is 8.5 miles from here to the end of Seg 22 and start of Seg 23. Both option 1 and 2 could be put together to form a loop back to Lake City, just a thought for a great outing in the area.
Option 3: Use the same directions out of Lake City and follow Rd 30 all the way beyond the Camp Trail TH and on to FS 568 / Carson Rd, a 4×4 road which is frequented by many. Follow this rough 4×4 road for nearly 5 miles to the Carson Saddle and the beginning of Segment 23. Thank your ride immensely!
Option 4: As stated before, the Buck Horn Limousine service is no stranger to these parts. Though travel will most likely need to take place from Durango. Please check with them first to make sure of all arrangements and pricing.
Segment 24: Traveling to/from DIA and Stony Pass
If we weren’t having fun yet, we should be now, the adventures in this area are one after another. After we finish with the CT series on Airport to Alpine, this area will certainly be coming up in future outings, as you will soon see in the last few segments. The options for Seg 24 have us arriving in Silverton to start out, a great town with plenty of options for the traveler. How do we get there you ask? Here we go!
Option 1: Fly into Denver, take the A-Line Train to Denver Union Station ($10.50), take the Bustang West Line to Grand Junction ($43.00). In Grand Junction take the Bustang Durango Bus to Ridgeway ($15.00). From Rideway it would be an easy hitch on Hwy 550 to Silverton (34.1 miles) and some epic scenery along the Million Dollar Hwy. Once in Silverton you will need to find a ride “up” to Stony Pass by CT Shuttler, hitch or an outfitter in the area.
Option 2: Fly into Denver, take the A-Line Train to Denver Union Station ($10.50), take the Bustang West Line to Grand Junction ($43.00). In Grand Junction take the Bustang Durango Bus to Montrose ($11.00). In Montrose there are various commercial ride services to Silverton, both on and off airport grounds. That said, you can alternatively fly into Montrose from Denver (or other city) instead of the Bustang Bus. Once in Silverton you will need to find a ride “up” to Stony Pass by CT Shuttler, hitch or an outfitter in the area.
Option 3: As stated before, the Buck Horn Limousine service is no stranger to these parts. Though travel will most likely need to take place from Durango. Please check with them first to make sure of all arrangements and pricing. They will take you direct to the trailhead at Stony Pass and or Molas Pass. See option 4 for an interesting loop using Buck Horn to and from Durango.
Option 4: Any of the above to Silverton, a bit more adventurous, OK, a lot more adventurous, but now we can just start hiking, a loop hike to and from Silverton. We wouldn’t tell if you got a hitch on the parts that are not considered the CT. In Silverton, E 14th St becomes FS 33, follow this for nearly 3 miles to a fork and continue right for an additional 2 miles to another intersection, go right for about 1/4 mile to the Whitehead Trail #764. Back on single-track, follow this trail to the intersection of the Highland Mary Lakes Loop Trail, take the loop to the left to complete the nearly 8 mile loop or stay on the Whitehead trail #764 to the CT Seg 24, turn right and follow the CT back towards Silverton, Molas Lake and Pass at Hwy 550. This should be an epic alpine loop hike in anyone’s book!
Option 5: Yep, you read that right, “5” just because there are plenty to choose from, none of which are at the least boring!!! Welcome to the wild west and the Durango – Silverton Railroad. Get yourself to Silverton by any of the above means or use Durango, the train goes between both with hiker stops along the way. Yeah, this sounds cool! There are quite a few options here, train from Durango to Silverton, hike back to Durango or various points in between, it is up to you how much you want to do, check out their wilderness packages for further information.
Segment 25: Traveling to/from DIA and Molas Pass
OK, we’ll have to cool the engines a bit here, the previous segment might have blown a fuse or something with so many incredible and adventurous options. This is a straight approach on pavement. See Seg 24 for getting to Silverton, Molas Pass is just outside of town 6 miles on Hwy 550 an easy hitch, CT Shuttler or possibly Uber if there is one. Buck Horn Limousine service also can take you to the pass from Durango.
Segment 26: Traveling to/from DIA and Bolam Pass
It is only fitting we drop back into no mans land again as we look to finish up the CT segments. This is, again, remote and not so accessible, though there are some options.
From DIA take the A-Line train to downtown Denver Union Station ($10.50) then the Bustang West Line from Denver Union Station to Grand Junction ($43.00) and transfer to Bustang Durango Bus to Rico ($27.00). From Rico it is 15 miles on CO 578. You will need a CT Shuttle, or hitch.
Alternatively, fly into Durango and take the Bustang bus north to Rico ($16.00). Another option, Buck Horn Limousine service also can take you to the pass from Durango, call for times, fees and details.
And, yet, we were able to come up with a wildcard, fly into Telluride on Denver Air Connection from DIA and use the Smart Bus to Rico ($3.00), very limited schedule. It is also possible to use the Bustang from Denver to Grand Junction, then transfer to Telluride Bustang Bus instead of flying and use the Smart Bus to Rico. From Rico it is 15 miles on CO 578. You will need a CT Shuttle, or hitch.
There is also a trail in between Rico and Telluride that could be used to access Seg 26. North out of Rico 12 miles or 17 miles south out of Telluride is the Cross Mountain TH. Use the East Fork Trail #638 (6.6 miles) to Hermosa Park Rd 39 near the end of Seg 25 and beginning of Seg 26. You will need to secure a ride to the Cross Mountain TH, a hitch is probably doable or a CT Shuttler.
Segment 27: Traveling to/from DIA and Hotel Draw Road
Rico is still a good starting point here, but now is only 9 miles away using Hwy 148 south out of town to CO Rd 550 and then out to the trailhead. A CT Shuttler or hitch are your best options. See Seg 26 for getting to Rico from Denver.
Alternatively, fly into Durango and take the Bustang bus north to Rico ($16.00). Another option, Buck Horn Limousine service also can take you directly to the trailhead at Hotel Draw Rd from Durango, call for times, fees and details.
Segment 28: Traveling to/from DIA and Kennebec TH
Here we are, the final leg. We will begin looking into the Collegiate West soon, as well as other incredible trailhead, towns and adventures in Colorado.
It is super obvious that Durango is the place to start from for Seg 28. The Bustang operates all the way from Denver or you can fly directly to Durango. Let us not forget, Buck Horn Limousine service also can take you directly to the Kennebec TH from Durango.
You could also just hike up to Kennebec TH from Durango and get a ride back, it is a very busy trailhead. Hiker beware, this is a long tough climb that can be quite warm in the afternoon. There are equally many trail offerings in this area, one could easily find a suitable trail and make a loop out of the whole adventure. We could easily begin listing trail options here, but there are so many, a good study of the area will show that and allow you to become familiar with your options and needs. Durango is a great place to begin and adventure and an awesome hiker friendly city! Equally, it is also an amazing place to end an adventure! With so many options, just like starting the CT in Denver, there is no lack of whatever you will need in this area. The CT Shuttlers here are awesome, too!