If you like alpine tundra, you will love McMillan Peak, a fuzzy green mountain covered with vast fields of wild flowers.
McMillan Peak, along with Red Mountain #3 (12890 ft) to the north, Ohio Peak (12673 ft) and Anvil Mountain (12537 ft) to the south, form a chain of 12ers that runs north-south on the east side of Route 550 between the town of Silverton and the Red Mountain Pass in the San Juan Mountains of southwest Colorado. Except for McMillan Peak, the rest of these mountains have red scree slopes above the treeline. When viewed from the nearby mountains, McMillan appears as an inviting oasis that interrupts the continuity of the barren screelands.
The western slopes of McMillan are grassy and gentle. These slopes can be reached via a four wheel drive road that starts at the Red Mountain Pass on Route 550 and and heads south over the slopes of McMillan and Ohio Peaks before returning to Route 550 a few miles south of the Red Mountain Pass. There seems to be some private property to the northwest of McMillan Peak so you may want to avoid this area altogether. To the southwest, Big Horn Gulch (and US Basin above it) can provide good access. The hike starts at the treeline (11520 ft). There is no trail but you can easily go up the beautiful grassy slopes that continue all the way to the summit. As you go higher, you will get better views of the long chain of 13ers that rise to the west of Route 550.
The summit of McMillan Peak consists of two small hills that have roughly the same elevation. The east hill is a few feet higher and and is the official summit. Only the west summit is visible from a short segment of Route 550 south of the Red Mountain Pass. The east summit is recognizeable by the giant communications tower that has been erected on top of it. This tower can be seen from the town of Silverton 5 miles to the south.
Unlike its gentle western slopes, the eastern slopes of McMillan drop steeply into the valley of Cement Creek. While from Route 550, the terrain appears as "rolling hills", from the east, McMillan appears as a prominent mountain that dominates the view.
McMillan Peak is rarely climbed. In good weather, you can have a great day all alone on top this beautiful mountain. You will find yourself completely surrounded by 13ers in every direction.
For a discussion of private property issues in this area look under "Additions & Corrections" for what Aaron Johnson has added.
From Silverton, drive 12 miles north (or 11 miles south from Ouray) on Route 550 to the Red Mountain Pass (11018 ft). A few hundred feet south of the pass, you will find a four wheel drive road on the east side of the highway (this road will require 4WD but it is easy to drive). Turn onto this road and then make an almost immediate right turn. Follow the road through a Pine forest until you see a gated private road on the left (that goes to the summit of Red Mountain #3).
Continue on the main road and cross the first and then the second creek. At 1.3 miles from Route 550, you will reach the third creek in an area just above the treeline (11520 ft). This is the Big Horn Gulch and will serve as your trailhead.
Backcountry SkiingMcMillan Peak area is a wonderful place for backcountry skiing. See this album by Liba Kopeckova. You can also check out this site:
Red TapeNo fees or permits needed for day hikes. For road conditions call San Juan National Forest, Durango, CO (970)247-4874.
When To ClimbEasiest in summer.
CampingCamping and lodging available in Ouray and Silverton.
Mountain ConditionsSee the forecast for the nearby town of Silverton.
Additions and Corrections[ Post an Addition or Correction ]