Regulations and Recommended Practices
Please be aware that Chicago Basin is a heavy use area within the Weminuche Wilderness. Each year this area receives about 10,000 visitor use days, mainly because the majority of visitors are there to climb three 14-ers bordering the basin. The combination of convenient access via the narrow gauge train to Needleton and the attraction of climbing the 14-ers attracts visitors from around the world. Consequently, Chicago Basin has some special management issues:
- Crowding — During the peak summer period (mid-July to mid-August), as many as 150 people are camped in the basin at any one time, and most campsites are taken, so there is little solitude to be found.
- Rocky Mountain Goats — The basin is overpopulated with these goats, which are obsessed with obtaining salt from human urine. The goats do a lot of damage to the ground and vegetation in their pursuit of urine.
- Wear and Tear — Because of heavy human and goat activity, the campsites and surrounding areas are heavily worn.
- Human Waste — The normal Leave No Trace method for disposing of human waste is digging a 6-8″ cathole and burying it, and packing out toilet paper. If you bury your toilet paper, goats may dig it up. Also, be advised that you will likely find toilet paper and human waste under rocks and logs surrounding most campsites. For these reasons, we strongly recommend that you at least pack out toilet paper, and further consider taking a human waste containment bag (usually available at the Needle Creek Trailhead) and packing out your human waste.
- Water Contamination — Because of the issues above, water from Needle Creek should be filtered or chemically treated to be sure it’s safe for drinking.
- Camp Fires — are not allowed because wood gathering and disposal of ashes in campsites severely impact the basin, and future visitors.
The following regulations are strictly enforced by Wilderness Rangers who frequently visit the area.
Regulations specific to Chicago Basin Area:
- Camping is not allowed in Twin Lakes Basin (north of Chicago Basin). This includes the entire area bounded by the three 14-ers.
- Campfires are not allowed in the Needle Creek drainage. This includes Chicago Basin, Twin Lakes Basin, and the alpine basins below Columbine Pass.
Regulations for all of the Weminuche Wilderness:
The Chicago Basin area is within the Weminuche Wilderness, so all of the following regulations must be followed. The regulations are designed to help ensure the protection of the wilderness environment.
- Maximum group size is limited to 15 per group, with maximum combination of people and stock not to exceed 25.
- Camping is not permitted within 100 feet (approximately 35 adult steps) of streams or lakes, except as designated or posted.
- Disposal of human waste and wash water is prohibited within 100 feet (35 adult steps) of any water source.
- Pack out and properly dispose of all trash. Do not bury it.
- Shortcutting of switchbacks is prohibited.
- Pets must be under voice control or physical restraint.
- Recreational livestock are prohibited from being restrained within 100′ (35 adult steps) of water.
- All livestock feed must be certified weed free.
- Possession of motorized equipment and mechanized means of transport are not permitted.
- On April 7, 2014, the San Juan and Rio Grande National Forests announced that they will be postponing implementation of a required registration program for the Weminuche Wilderness, which was slated to begin the summer of 2014. The project was postponed due to budget constraints on the Forests.
Regulations for the National Forest:
Chicago Basin is within the San Juan National Forest, so National Forest regulations must be followed.
- Cutting or damaging live trees is prohibited.
- Caching of equipment for more than 14 days is not permitted.
- Permits ARE required if you are outfitting or leading a group of any size for monetary or other compensation, even if you are doing so for a nonprofit organization. Contact the USDA Forest Service to confirm that your outfitter has a permit.
- Hunting is regulated by the Colorado Parks and Wildlife.
Other regulations: Click here for regulations in other areas of the Weminuche Wilderness as well as San Juan National Forest forest-wide regulations.
Because Chicago Basin is a heavy use area, it is very important to minimize your impacts so visitors that follow you can enjoy the area as much as you. The USDA Forest Service and San Juan Mountains Association strongly recommend that you follow Leave No Trace Principles when you visit the Chicago Basin area.
- Plan Ahead and Prepare—Pack a camp Stove and fuel. Get a Colorado Outdoor Recreation Search and Rescue Card.
- Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces—Don’t skirt puddles or mud.
- Dispose of Waste Properly—Carry out toilet paper and all trash.
- Leave What You Find
- Minimize Campfire Impacts—Remember campfires are not allowed in Chicago Basin or in the Needle Creek Drainage. Be sure to check on forest fire conditions regarding any campfire restrictions in effect in surrounding areas.
- Respect Wildlife
- Be Considerate of Other Visitors—Do not camp in open meadows.