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Chicago Basin Approach
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Difficulty:
 Class 1 
Risk Factors:Exposure: Low
Rockfall Potential: Low  
Route-Finding: Low  
Commitment: Low  
 
Trailhead:Needleton
Start:8,220 feet
Stop:11,000 feet
Total Gain:2,800 feet
RT Length:12.00 miles
Duration:User Climb Times
Author:BillMiddlebrook
Updated:6/2019
Weather:NOAA Forecast
Conditions:72 reports
Cell Signal:7 reports
Sheriff:La Plata: 970-247-1157
Forest:San Juan
Wilderness:Weminuche
Quad. Maps:Log In to View
Camping:On Google Maps
Eats:On Google Maps
Downloads:Log In to Download
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Trailhead

Drive to Durango and follow signs to the Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad. It's near McDonald's and has a large parking area nearby. Buy a ticket for the train that stops at Needleton and ride the train 2.5 hours (~30 miles) to the Needleton stop. The train will drop you off next to a suspension bridge that crosses the Animas River. From here, it's a 6 mile hike to reach Chicago Basin. Note: you can also take the train from Silverton and be dropped off at Needleton.

Route

NOTICE: For 2019, only trains starting from Durango will drop hikers off at the Needleton stop.

Contact the Durango Silveton Narrow Gauge Railroad to reserve your tickets ahead of time. You must tell them you're stopping at Needleton because it's a different train from the normal Durango-to-Silverton roundtrip ride. Train information can be found at www.durangotrain.com but don't book your tickets on the website - their system does not allow you to specify the Needleton train. Take a look at their Wilderness Access page which provides a schedule for the Needleton train and helpful information for the process. Also, leave your dog at home because pets are not allowed on the train.

Leaving the Durango station - 1. From Durango, the ride is only 30 miles but it's a long 2.5 hours of slow travel along the Animas River - 2 and 3. Roll into the Needleton stop ( 4, 5, 6) and grab your pack after it's unloaded from the boxcar. Cross the Animas River on a suspension bridge, turn right and begin your hike toward Chicago Basin. There is a great trail all the way to the basin. After approximately 0.8 mile, stay left at a junction and continue up Needle Creek - 8. Shortly after the trail junction you'll reach the Weminuche Wilderness - 9. Hike another 2 miles and cross a small bridge spanning the steam running out of New York Creek - 10.

Grind out 3 more miles to reach the start of Chicago Basin - 11. Continue along the left side of Needle Creek to a camp location of your choosing. Taken near 11,000' in the basin, 12 shows much of the basin and views to the northeast. Many people camp along the trail, but there are also campsites in the trees not far away. If you go all the way to the end of the basin, locate the trail junction for Twin Lakes. Available camping ends in this area and you shouldn't camp higher.

Notes

IMPORTANT: This route enters the Weminuche Wilderness area. Wilderness areas have special regulations and restrictions for party size, dispersed camping, campfires, etc. Also, dog owners should read the wilderness information carefully because some wilderness areas prohibit dogs to be off-leash and/or limit how close dogs can be to lakes and streams. If you have questions about the wilderness area, please contact a U.S. Forest Service office for the National Forest(s) listed above.
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