Highland Mary and Verde Lakes Trail

The Essence: The Highland Mary and Verde Lakes located are well above 12,000-ft in high alpine. The hike encompasses an expansion of wildflowers and five crystal clear lakes, all of which offer beauty beyond compare. Individuals can hike 3 miles to the Highland Mary Lakes or a full 6 mile adventure past the Highland Mary Lakes to the Verde Lakes and back. 

Getting there: From 32nd Street in Durango drive 46 miles north along the Million Dollar Highway (U.S. 550) to Silverton. Drive straight through the town of Silverton and make a right turn onto San Juan County Road 2. After 2 miles, the road will split, you will head straight. After driving another 4 miles turn right onto County Road 4 here you will see a sign directing you to Mine Tour and Stoney Pass. Here bear right for 1.7 miles and do not take the road to Stoney Pass. At another split in the road bear right for another 3.7 miles and cross Cunningham Gulch. Follow this road and turn left on a road leading to a stream crossing. If you do not want to cross the stream in your car there are a few spaces for vehicles to park before the crossing. 

The Route: The trail begins to ascend southerly 0.2 miles from the parking lot. Stay straight where a marked stock sign trail splits left and cross a creek. After 0.8 miles into the hike you will see an entry sign into the Weminuche Wilderness. Follow this trail for a little over a mile until you hit a rock face. Scoot around the face on the right side and cross the small creek. Soon you will see a sign marked Highland Marys Trail. Stay along this trail (to the right of the stream) and work your way up the slope. Soon you will reach the first (smallest) of the three High Land Mary Lakes. From here there are trails circling the lower lakes and spectacular views of vistas from every direction. If you wish to experience more, the two Verde Lakes are just another mile south. As you get closer to the Verde Lakes you will see a sign marked Continental Divide. This route closely follows the Divide which will lead you back to a marked trail junction that connects back to the Highland Lakes. 

Comments: This hike is considered difficult from the very steep climbs, water crossings (depending on the time of year), and the rolling tundra to the Verde Lakes. Late July through August is ideal for wildflower viewing but be mindful summer thunderstorms occur often and this hike is well above treeline, so plan accordingly! Also a 4x4 cars are required on these road crossings. 

Lower Cascade Falls

The Essence: Tucked deep in the canyons of the San Juan National Forest is a beautifully hidden 15 foot waterfall at the end of the Cascade Creek Trail. This hike down can be done year-round depending on hiking expertise. In the summertime, an array of beautiful native wildflowers surrounds you as you descend down into the roaring canyon. Or in the winter, snowshoe down into the blissful, (sometimes) untracked path along the slow trickling stream. Also in the winter, you're likely to encounter ice climbers and caves but, be mindful the path can not only be slick but hidden at times!


Getting There: From Durango drive north 28 miles on U.S. 550 until you pass Purgatory Resort and Cascade Village. After passing Cascade Village, you will make an immediate hairpin turn over Cascade Creek at which, you will make a right turn into a dirt parking lot. Park here and begin to walk east along the dirt road, past the emergency cabin, and red-colored cattle guard.


The Route: On your right after the cattle guard and before the large road access informational sign, a trail head should begin traversing you down into the canyon. After a half a mile hike down, make your first left by some trees and begin hiking along the side of the canyon path. If you look up and closely you will find metal spikes (pitons) nailed into the rock which help climbers traverse safely across the surface. Follow the sound of the roaring waters along the path for a little over a mile until you reach the destination. 


Comments: This is considered an easy hike in the summertime but can be considered moderately difficult in the winter, due to the slick and uncertain trail conditions. In the winter, the parking lot is icy and not plowed so it is recommended to have a car with all wheel drive.