South San Juan Range, Colorado

South San Juan Range, Colorado

Page Type: Area/Range
Lat/Lon: 37.61641°N / 106.43005°W
Activities: Hiking, Scrambling
Elevation: 13300 ft / 4054 m


     A look at four of the seven highest peaks in the range, on the Continental Divide

     Host to three counties' highpoints (Archuleta, Conejos, and Rio Grande), the "South San Juan Range" could be loosely defined as the portion of the San Juan Range south of Wolf Creek Pass, bounded by highways 160 and 285 down to New Mexico.  The range sees relatively few visitors, and is somewhat remote, although access is available via an abundant array of forest roads.  Aside from county highpoint enthusiasts and not-too-common 13er peakbaggers, the area does not see too much overall hiking activity.  Indeed, the lack of 14ers or high 13ers often translates to solitude, and there is an unending supply of pristine wilderness to be explored.  There are 55 ranked peaks higher than 12,000', and 16 peaks with more than 1,000' of prominence.  Many who visit for the three county highpoints (which can be accomplished in a single day) may choose not to return, but there are those who will not be able to resist the lure of the area.  Some of the most lush tundra in the state with huge expanses above treeline and incredible vistas of the Continental Divide make this a special place. There are many rugged and obscure high peaks at the southern and eastern end of the range, with at least one peak known to be technical (Squaretop Mountain - 11,766').  Three population centers provide entry to the South San Juans - Del Norte, South Fork, and Pagosa Springs, all reached via/located on highway 160.  A southern portion of the range lies outside public lands, some encompassed by Banded Peak Ranch. From 12,065' south to Chama Peak is within the historic Tierra Amarilla Land Grant.   Be cognizant of the boundaries are when exploring this area.

Tobacco Lake near Conejos Peak - photo by Alan Ellis

     The Board of Geographic Names does not recognize the area as a separate range, although the area is largely designated a wilderness area bearing the name "South San Juan Wilderness", and is among the most rugged wildeness areas left in the state.  The "range" could just be considered a southern cell of the San Juan Range.  Railroad Pass is the true lowpoint between the core of the San Juan Range and the South San Juan Range, as opposed to a seemingly more obvious candidate, Wolf Creek Pass.  Railroad Pass is the key saddle for Summit Peak, the highest peak in the South San Juans.  The Piñon Hills to the east of the contiguous peaks of the range have been intentionally omitted since hey can be considered a separate subrange.  The Rio Grande River (and its South Fork) bound the range on the north and east side, and highway 160 parallels them.  On the west side of the range begin the headwaters of the San Juan River, flowing to New Mexico and on to Utah.  Water seems abundant nearby from just about anywhere within the range, and it is host to a myriad of waterfalls, one of which is the destination of a short hike off highway 160 below Wolf Creek Pass on the Pagosa Srings side.

Spectacular Treasure Creek waterfall - photo by shknbke

Beautiful Columbines seen on approach to Conejos Peak

Interesting Recent History/Facts
     The last grizzly bear sighting in Colorado was within the South San Juan wilderness in 1979 (killed during a dramatic attack involving self-defense with arrow in hand), and some speculate that grizzlies may still roam the area.
Ghost Grizzlies or if unavailable see this text version
Reintroduction of Grizzlies to CO?

     Extensive mining at Summitville has had environmental consequences and was the focus of much research and national debate in the early 1990's highlighting revision of mining activities on public lands.  Cyanide was used to extract silver and gold from mined rock and began to leak in 1986.  Additionally, open pit mining activity exposed sulphide-rich rock that had oxidized and entered water drainages, increasing pH levels to the point where fish in the Alamosa River, ponds, and Terrace Reservoir disappeared.  Efforts have been made to contain the drainage and Summitville was taken over authority of the EPA as a superfund site in 1994 and total cost has been estimated over $100 million.
Environmental Protection Agency Publication

Acid-rich drainage seen below South Mountain at Summitville

Interactive Google Map of South San Juan Range Peaks

Scenery and Setting

Summit Peak - The Monarch

Spring snow clings to Cropsy Mountain and Conejos Peak

"The Unicorn" beckons many a climber destined for Summit Peak

Rugged Peaks on the Continental Divide south of Summit Peak

Long Trek Mountain isn't necessarily a long trek, but delivers the views

Lookout Mountain A sits well guarded by steep loose talus

Bonito Mountain is a tantalizingly close meadow stroll from FR 14

Horseshoe Mountain is among the first to welcome travelers from Del Norte

Chama Peak seen from New Mexico during a thunderstorm

Peaks > 12,000'

392Summit Peak13,300'Summit Peak2,760'37.3506-106.69682
485Bennett Peak13,203'Jasper1,743'37.4833-106.43402
505Conejos Peak13,172'Platoro1,912'37.2887-106.57092
524Montezuma Peak13,150'Summit Peak690'37.3731-106.69142
624"The Unicorn"13,020'Summit Peak440'37.3666-106.69932
7271288712,887'Summit Peak1,578'37.2867-106.6845
741Long Trek Mountain12,866'Elwood Pass566'37.3859-106.68032
759Pintada Mountain12,840'Jasper620'37.4967-106.4023
772Snow Benchmark12,815'Summit Peak715'37.2652-106.6892
801Banded Peak12,778'Chama Peak1,313'37.1045-106.6271
816North Mountain A12,754'Summitville1,214'37.4507-106.60452
S1274112,741'Summit Peak281'37.2752-106.6939
8391272712,727'Summit Peak547'37.2590-106.6860
8661269012,690'Summit Peak590'37.3419-106.6544
889Velvet Benchmark12,657'Summit Peak797'37.3076-106.6541
9051263612,636'Summit Peak376'37.3314-106.7065
921Grayback Mountain12,616'Summitville476'37.4616-106.55732
930Windy Mountain12,608'Jasper543'37.4661-106.4020
952Cropsy Mountain12,578'Summitville1,078'37.4088-106.5964
9551256912,569'Summit Peak309'37.3285-106.7009
9561256812,568'Elwood Pass388'37.4468-106.6256
SSouth Mountain A12,555'Summitville295'37.4192-106.6012
96412550 A12,550'Elwood Pass530'37.4038-106.67462
9861250712,507'Summit Peak327'37.2826-106.6984
98912505 C12,505'Platoro365'37.2902-106.5908
994Blackhead Peak12,500'Blackhead Peak800'37.2889-106.7742
S12500 E12,500'Summit Peak280'37.2541-106.6784
9991249812,498'Elwood Pass366'37.4008-106.66352+
100312494 B12,494'Elwood Pass434'37.4637-106.6308
10071249212,492'Summit Peak592'37.3001-106.6768
1008Sheep Mountain H12,492'Jasper392'37.4627-106.4381
1035Lookout Mountain A12,448'Summitville628'37.3895-106.5928
1059Silver Mountain E12,420'Jasper452'37.4311-106.4214
1065Sand Mountain A12,410'Blackhead Peak590'37.3184-106.7755
10661241012,410'Summit Peak510'37.3360-106.7320
1072Del Norte Peak12,400'Del Norte Peak1,020'37.5897-106.56342
1078Quartz Ridge North12,390'Blackhead Peak330'37.3410-106.7720
108512381 A12,381'Summitville441'37.4733-106.6188
109012380 B12,380'Victoria Lake360'37.1722-106.5938
10961237312,373'Summit Peak353'37.3208-106.6659
1111Gramps Peak12,340'Victoria Lake560'37.1600-106.6169
1154Cornwall Mountain12,285'Jasper1,744'37.3811-106.4920
1163Hogback Mesa South12,260'Del Norte Peak800'37.5041-106.5751
Prospect Mountain B12,245'Elwood Pass145'37.3850-106.6271
11851222512,225'Summit Peak445'37.3254-106.7475
1186Hogback Mesa North12,224'Del Norte Peak404'37.5329-106.5671
1201Flat Benchmark12,187'Archuleta Creek927'37.0897-106.5213
1204Bonito Mountain12,181'Summitville481'37.4470-106.5331
12391213012,130'Blackhead Peak310'37.3160-106.7526
1241Fets Peak12,127'Elephant Head Rock747'37.1744-106.6459
1242Marble Mountain B12,124'Jasper424'37.4614-106.4824
Burro Mountain A12,110'Summitville250'37.4453-106.5162
12701206512,065'Elephant Head Rock485'37.1925-106.6477
Nipple Mountain B12,060'Blackhead Peak200'37.2965-106.7716
12811205012,050'Elwood Pass419'37.4347-106.6803
1289Chalk Benchmark12,031'Elephant Head Rock1,971'37.1418-106.7500
1295Chama Peak12,021'Chama Peak1,281'37.0403-106.6289
1298Red Mountain G12,018'Red Mountain1,518'37.3442-106.4400
13031201012,010'Elwood Pass310'37.4228-106.6554

Summit Peak 13,300'

Bennett Peak 13,203'

Conejos Peak 13,172'

Montezuma Peak 13,150'

"The Unicorn" 13,020'

12887 12,887'

Long Trek Mountain 12,866'

Pintada Mountain 12,840'

Snow Benchmark 12,815'

North Mountain A 12,754'

12727 12,727'

12690 12,690'

Velvet Benchmark 12,657'

12636 12,636'

Grayback Mountain 12,616'

Windy Mountain 12,608'

Cropsy Mountain 12,578'

12569 12,569'

12568 12,568'

South Mountain A 12,555'

12550 A 12,550'

Blackhead Peak 12,500'

12498 12,498'

12494 B 12,494'

Sheep Mountain H 12,492'

Lookout Mountain A 12,448'

Silver Mountain E 12,420'

Sand Mountain A 12,410'

Del Norte Peak 12,400'

12381 A 12,381'

Cornwall Mountain 12,285'

Sheepshead 12,260'

Hogback Mesa South 12,260'

Bonito Mountain 12,181'

12050 12,050'

Chama Peak 12,021'

Peaks < 12,000'

Poison Mountain11,999'Horseshoe Mountain179'37.5108-106.4486
13241197611,976'Summit Peak316'37.3592-106.6398
1354Willow Mountain11,906'Red Mountain406'37.3258-106.4273
1355Coal Benchmark11,905'Blackhead Peak925'37.3248-106.8259
13621189111,891'Summit Peak351'37.2569-106.6372
13831185511,855'Chama Peak475'37.0536-106.6400
1389Handkerchief Mesa11,847'Elwood Pass427'37.4792-106.6495
13941183511,835'Elwood Pass455'37.4514-106.7021
Elephant Mountain11,829'Summitville209'37.4131-106.5612
1423Squaretop Mountain11,776'Blackhead Peak1,116'37.2585-106.8063
Jarosa Peak11,766'Cumbres226'37.0700-106.4609
14361175511,755'Elephant Head Rock975'37.1806-106.7303
1467Charleys Peak11,677'Victoria Lake337'37.1708-106.6177
Cornwalls Nose11,644'Jasper184'37.4064-106.4882
S1162611,626'Elephant Head Rock286'37.1678-106.6527
149511601 A11,601'Platoro781'37.3697-106.6155
1520Klondike Mountain A11,561'Platoro581'37.3567-106.5795
15261155011,550'Blackhead Peak330'37.2694-106.8030
15361153311,533'Horseshoe Mountain313'37.5276-106.4262
1538Fox Mountain A11,530'Beaver Creek Reservoir1,350'37.5060-106.7437
1540Beaver Mountain A11,528'Del Norte Peak558'37.6011-106.6253
15421152611,526'Del Norte Peak346'37.5926-106.5310
15641147211,472'Wolf Creek Pass452'37.3776-106.7758
1568Flattop Mountain D11,463'Elephant Head Rock363'37.2050-106.7292
1610Mammoth Mountain B11,385'Platoro765'37.3364-106.5131
167511223 B11,223'Cumbres323'37.0952-106.4255
16851120611,206'Del Norte Peak506'37.5196-106.6182
1686Telluride Mountain11,205'Summitville385'37.3847-106.5464
16881120311,203'Horseshoe Mountain463'37.5373-106.4489
1689Black Mountain D11,201'Spectacle Lake981'37.1748-106.4190
1709Green Ridge A11,163'Greenie Mountain943'37.4440-106.2822
Greenie Mountain11,157'Greenie Mountain217'37.4400-106.2689
17131115311,153'Del Norte Peak544'37.6087-106.5145
17331110011,100'Elwood Pass520'37.3928-106.7336
1734Lion Point11,096'Greenie Mountain316'37.4486-106.3212
1746Forest King Mountain11,076'Platoro416'37.3422-106.5416
S11037 B11,037'Platoro297'37.2686-106.6247
1788Pinorealosa Mountain10,984'Cumbres764'37.0603-106.3767
1818Horseshoe Mountain B10,926'Horseshoe Mountain466'37.5668-106.4102
1822Ribbon Mesa10,912'Beaver Creek Reservoir852'37.5328-106.6773
1833Neff Mountain10,888'Cumbres508'37.0301-106.4391
18471086410,864'Spectacle Lake324'37.2365-106.4549
1867Cattle Mountain West10,842'Beaver Creek Reservoir942'37.5731-106.6995
18771081210,812'Chama Peak312'37.0656-106.6573
1881Cattle Mountain East10,807'Beaver Creek Reservoir585'37.5759-106.6777
1915Osier Mountain10,746'Osier366'37.0214-106.3198
19391069510,695'Greenie Mountain435'37.4453-106.3437
1941Demijohn Peak10,690'Beaver Creek Reservoir750'37.5608-106.6711
19491067110,671'Terrace Reservoir571'37.3434-106.3459
19511066910,669'Terrace Reservoir329'37.3501-106.3298
19681062510,625'Horseshoe Mountain485'37.5405-106.3819
19851059210,592'Greenie Mountain372'37.4401-106.3556
McIntyre Peak10,561'Osier61'37.1189-106.3522
20131055210,552'Terrace Reservoir332'37.3621-106.3642
20341051510,515'Greenie Mountain415'37.4137-106.3617
20651043410,434'Greenie Mountain542'37.3966-106.3637
20991037610,376'La Jara Canyon316'37.1410-106.3428
21341029910,299'Greenie Mountain599'37.3881-106.3499
216010256 A10,256'Greenie Mountain396'37.4258-106.2928
218010220 A10,220'Horseshoe Mountain560'37.5594-106.4549
2189Grouse Mountain C10,195'Beaver Creek Reservoir495'37.5922-106.7009
219110190 A10,190'Spectacle Lake330'37.1302-106.4228
223810127 B10,127'Dog Mountain302'37.5064-106.3414
22391012410,124'La Jara Canyon304'37.1710-106.3276
S1011810,118'Terrace Reservoir298'37.2674-106.3427
22731006810,068'La Jara Canyon328'37.1845-106.3250
S10060 F10,060'Jackson Mountain280'37.3334-106.8835
1568Elephant Head Rock9,963'Elephant Head Rock463'37.1369-106.7140
S99559,955'Dog Mountain295'37.5332-106.3516
Bald Ridge9,900'Terrace Reservoir76'37.2512-106.3208
241198329,832'Horseshoe Mountain332'37.6077-106.4864
2419Mogotes, Los9,818'Fox Creek668'37.0777-106.1720
24229810 B9,810'Blackhead Peak310'37.2681-106.7583
Alamaditas Mesa9,804'La Jara Canyon144'37.1380-106.2877
Johnson Mountain9,777'Elephant Head Rock277'37.1507-106.6638
249896769,676'La Jara Canyon333'37.2301-106.2871
2513Dog Mountain9,658'Dog Mountain1,038'37.6050-106.3464
2519Chiquito Peak9,641'Centro1,021'37.3512-106.2447
256695639,563'Dog Mountain336'37.5704-106.3601
Shaw Mesa9,535'South Fork East49'37.6608-106.5585
26239487 A9,487'Terrace Reservoir307'37.2687-106.2850
2643Jacobs Hill9,445'Terrace Reservoir465'37.3363-106.2697
278792239,223'Horseshoe Mountain563'37.6182-106.4084
280491919,191'Dog Mountain371'37.6062-106.3337
28099181 A9,181'Centro401'37.3681-106.2471
Flat Top E9,170'Vicente Canyon200'37.1617-106.1812
S9140 E9,140'Dog Mountain280'37.5473-106.3255
291590259,025'Blackhead Peak325'37.2793-106.8685
2990Blue Mountain E8,895'Harris Lake675'37.1957-106.8599
299488938,893'Del Norte628'37.6356-106.3525
30288850 B8,850'Fox Creek340'37.0334-106.1400
Pup Peak8,790'Dog Mountain210'37.6221-106.3128
310287578,757'Indian Head302'37.6553-106.3891
Bishop Rock8,741'Greenie Mountain81'37.4859-106.2764
3143Hott Benchmark8,706'Jackson Mountain366'37.2941-106.9125
3325Lookout Mountain I8,475'Del Norte400'37.6712-106.3598
3353Bear Mountain I8,425'Harris Lake325'37.1787-106.8578
3367Winter Hills HP8,419'Serviceberry Mountain493'37.1772-106.8878
3475Serviceberry Mountain A8,271'Serviceberry Mountain411'37.1572-106.9233
3508Winter Hills South8,231'Serviceberry Mountain371'37.1582-106.9117
3548Eightmile Mesa8,176'Serviceberry Mountain796'37.1715-106.9973
3609Perkins Benchmark8,071'Serviceberry Mountain371'37.2456-106.9500
3736Turkey Mountain7,858'Serviceberry Mountain318'37.1792-106.9520
3828Reservoir 2 Benchmark7,690'Jackson Mountain510'37.2612-106.9999
386776107,610'Oak Brush Hill350'37.2181-107.0033
39177515 A7,515'Oak Brush Hill455'37.1366-107.0485

Hikes and Trailheads

Hiking Conejos Peak - photo by tacoturner

     With 158,790 acres of designated Wilderness Area, the South San Juan area has a multitude of trails and good access to many of the peaks. Long ridge runs are possible combining several peaks together such as Summit Peak and two ranked 12ers on its southern flank and five ranked 13ers/12ers to the north via the Treasure Creek approach. Many peak combinations are also possible near Summitville and more lengthy outings can be had combining rugged 12ers west of Platoro Reservoir.  A significant portion of The Continental Divide Trail lies within the South San Juan Wilderness, providing for long treks above treeline and outstanding scenery.

US Forest Service trailhead descriptions and maps - Pagosa Springs/West Side trails

US Forest Service trailhead descriptions and maps - Rio Grande NF/East Side trails

For more in-depth information on peaks at summitpost, see these pages:

Summit Peak Page

Bennett Peak Page

Conejos Peak Page

"Montezuma Peak & "The Unicorn" Page

Access, Actitivies, Camping and Conditions

South Fork info:

Del Norte info:

Pagosa Springs info:

Parks and Camping:
South Fork Area

Del Norte Area

Pagosa Springs Area

Wilderness Info:
South San Juan Wilderness

Cumbres and Toltec Railroad
Perhaps the most popular tourist activity in the southern end of the range - Official Site

Weather and Conditions:
Current Conditions and Forecast

The South San Juan Range can melt out late, and Forest Roads may be closed into June.
Current Snowpack

Impassable snow on road to Treasure Creek, late May 2005