Chicago Basin Trip Planning Guide

“Wilderness is a place where the imprint of humans is substantially unnoticeable, where natural processes are the primary influencers and human activity is limited to primitive recreation and minimum tools.”   Wilderness lands “are protected and valued for their ecological, historical, scientific, and experiential resources.” Wilderness requires that the visitor be mentally and physically prepared to take nature on its own terms and to be able to travel without mechanical transport. As a visitor, you must be able to exist with what you can take in (and out) and rely on your own outdoor skills.

Chicago Basin is a small part of the 487,912-acre Weminuche Wilderness, which in turn is part of the San Juan National Forest. Owing to its easy access via the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, its proximity to three of Colorado’s 14-ers, and its scenic beauty, Chicago Basin is a very popular backpacker destination in the Weminuche Wilderness. During its peak period of use (July 4th through Labor Day), Chicago Basin is “crowded” by wilderness standards, and campsites can be hard to find. If you are planning a trip to the Chicago Basin area, especially during the peak period, you will have to share your wilderness experience with quite a few other people.

Because Chicago Basin is a heavy use area, the USDA Forest Service has instituted certain special regulations and recommended practices to help protect the area. These are in addition to the overall Weminuche Wilderness and Forest Wide Regulations. By following the Wilderness regulations and practicing Leave No Trace Principles, the Chicago Basin area may not need more restrictive regulations in future years. Backpackers as a group are known to be among the  most compliant public land users. We commend you and count on you to help inform other users of the importance of minimizing impacts.

Chicago Basin Trip Planning Guide

We have put together a variety of resources and information to help you make the most of your visit to Chicago Basin.  Please click for Chicago Basin related maps and guidebooks.

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:

We have put together a variety of resources and information specific to trip planning for backpackers to Chicago Basin including information about planning for weather, for human waste, the best seasons, access info and much more.

We have put together access information specific to Chicago Basin.  Chicago Basin is unique in that it is accessed by riding the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad so learn more about how to get there.

Nearly 75% of the visitors to Chicago Basin plan to climb the nearby “Fourteeners”: Mount Eolus (14,083′), Windom Peak (14,082′), and Sunlight Peak (14,059′). This section provides information to help you plan a safe climb.

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 so, consequently, Chicago Basin has often has special notices so learn more here.

Weminuche (whem-a-nooch) is the name of one of the seven bands of Ute people who made the Southwest Colorado Rockies their home. They hunted, fished, and held sacred the land that now bears their name… Learn more.

We have put together a variety of useful links and resources that extend beyond the comprehensive information on the above trip planning guides.  Learn more from these other resources.