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An Autumn Hike in San Juan National Forest

Updated: Jul 5, 2021

October 13, 2020

Hiking in the San Juan National Forest with Dogs

Ever head out on a spontaneous hike without researching the trail? That’s typically not me. I do research--like a deep dive into trail reviews, Google satellite images, and descriptions on National Forest or Park websites. I like to know where I’m headed and what’s in store for me.

Choosing the right trail is especially important for me with my Ankylosing Spondylitis. I find that my hike is more pleasant with fewer consequences if I choose a trail with minimal to moderate incline and elevation gain. Hiking with my dog Texie, her arthritis, intolerance to heat, and her clumsiness, means we have to filter our trail choices even further: trails with access to water help motivate her along, trails with steep drop-offs are terrifying with Texie on or off the leash, and any trail without shade is a hard no (except in the winter).

American Bulldog hiking

But there’s something to be said about spontaneity. Full of excitement brought on by the onset of autumn (and with a bad case of cabin fever), Stacia, the dogs and I set out to spend the weekend in Durango, Colorado. The town of Durango itself is well-worth the visit, nestled within the Animas River Valley and neighboring San Juan Mountains, with an abundance of outdoor recreation opportunities closeby, and the late 19th century mining town feel and history of downtown.

Even though downtown Durango is a cool place to visit, we were there to explore some trails and catch some fall foliage. So we headed north on the Million Dollar Highway with the intention of making it to Silverton, but the lack of guardrails on this highway as it winds through a mountain pass was concerning (not to mention the sight of first responders along the side of the road dealing with what I can only assume was a vehicle that drove off the road and down the steep mountainside), so we cut our drive short and headed back toward Durango.

In Hermosa, we followed a sign for the Haviland Lake State Wildlife Area to Wagon trail. A plaque at the trailhead explains how this trail originated as a wagon route (hence the name) used by miners.

Hiking Wagon Trail in San Juan National Forest

The trail was beautiful, though was a bit short on the autumn yellow aspen groves we were hoping to see. Instead, the trail makes its way gradually down and around rocky terrain, every now and then giving way to a window view of the surrounding mountainsides. To the east, aspen trees blanketed the mountainside in a golden yellow that was clouded by residual smoke from several wildfires in the northern reaches of the state.

We traveled a little over four miles total on Wagon trail, with no destination in sight and little appeal to the trail other than the smell of pine and shedding oak leaves, and the relatively quiet nature of this lightly-used trail. Texie and Aspen managed to discover Elbert Creek less than a mile in, and made sure to lead us back to the creek on our way out.

Two hiker dogs on the trail
Texie, our American Bulldog, and Aspen the mystery mutt posing for a picture

All in all, this was a nice and unseasonably warm hike for October. No big elevation gains or difficult portions of the trail, which made it ideal for both Texie and I.



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