Crater Lake

Round Trip Distance: 11.2 miles
Difficulty: Strenuous
Elevation: 10,743 - 11,706 feet
Cellphone: 0-1 bars
Time: 6 hrs. 30 mins.
Trailhead: Andrews Lake
Fee: none
Attractions: Scenic lake, backpacking

Crater Lake is located in the Weminuche Wilderness Area of the San Juan National Forest near Silverton, Colorado. Nestled in a basin on the east side of a rugged ridge that is dominated by Twilight Peak (13,158 feet) the scenic lake is fishable for cutthroat trout using flies and artificial lures. (Fishing regulations change from time to time so be sure to check for updated information before heading out.)The popular trail receives a heavy amount of traffic from both day hikers and backpackers during the summer months.

To get there drive 47 miles north of Durango on US - 550 or 7 miles south of Silverton and turn at the sign for the Andrews Lake Day Use Area. Follow the narrow paved road for about 1 mile to the parking areas. Horse trailers will need to park at the upper trailhead and follow the connecting trail from there.

At the lower parking area next to Andrews Lake start by following the paved trail near the restrooms.

After the trail crosses the bridge and passes the first wheelchair accessible fishing platform watch for an unmarked trail that branches off on the right where the hiking route and the horse trail both meet up.

You will know that you are going the right way when you come to an information kiosk for the Crater Lake trail. The official distance for the trail of 5.5 miles was probably measured from this point whereas our measurement of 5.6 miles began at the trailhead.

The trail is a pleasurable hike as it works its way through the forest and up the mountain.

Just past the 1 mile point the trail begins leveling off somewhat and comes to a trail register. The register is used by Search and Rescue whenever they get called into an area and makes their job a lot easier. After one member of your party enters your information stay to the right to continue toward Crater Lake. The trail to the left leads over to a tarn that is in the direction of Snowdon Peak (13,077 feet).

Over the next half mile or so the trail gives back almost 200 feet of elevation gain as it travels mostly in the open across a few scenic meadows. As the trail once again begins climbing it crosses into the Weminuche Wilderness Area around the 2 mile point from the trailhead.

Taking into account the hills that have to be climbed on the return trip brings the total round trip elevation gain to around 2,613 feet. The average grade is only 8% which is pretty gentle for a trail in the San Juan Mountains.

The next high point tops out around 11,353 feet before the trail once again begins giving back some elevation until it gets back down to 11,080 feet. At that point it crosses the small meadow in this photo which is 3 miles from the trailhead leaving only 2.5 more miles to Crater Lake.

As the trail climbs steadily toward Crater Lake there are two prominent peaks that attract your attention. The closest one is the aptly named Potato Hill and the other is Engineer Mountain which has already popped into view several other times since leaving the trailhead. (Isn't it cute that in Colorado you can have an 11,840 foot peak referred to as a 'hill').

Crater Lake is in a pretty setting with Twilight Peak in the background. Most of the backpackers that we noticed were camped in the trees on the south and west sides of the lake.

We had 4 college age boys with rock helmets pass us up that were planning to bag Twilight Peak. There were also 3 backpackers that were camped at Crater Lake that started up that way but turned around before they got to the saddle of the ridge.

Currently there is no day use fee at Andrew Lake. Most of the vehicles at the trailhead in this photo were for day hikers and backpackers. More than a half dozen of them were families that were there just for Andrew Lake to picnic and do some fishing. As far as the hikers go, other than a baby in a carrier on its daddy's back, there were kids around 8 to 10 years old and adults of most every age including at least one apparent septuagenarian. For us the trail was a bit easier than we had planned on it being after having studied the elevation profile before hand. If you would like to see it for yourself then all you have to do is 'Take a hike'.