Backpacker Magazine Durango, CO: Engineer Mountain via Pass Creek Trail 

Gaining 2,300 feet in just 2.6-miles, this out-and-back climbs the slopes of Engineer Mountain and rewards with high-altitude wildflowers and views of a rare rock glacier.

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Author: Backpacker Magazine
Date: 7 Apr 2009 3:43:34 PM
Activity: Hiking
State: Colorado (CO)
Distance: 5.64 mi  (Change units)
Survey Elevation: Total Gain: 1990 ft
Total Loss: 1990 ft
Net Change: 0 ft
Difficulty: 6 / 10
USGS Topo Map: Engineer Mountain
Tags: Colorado, Durango, San Juan Mountains, Silverton
Rating: Unrated   Rate it

In the summer, this high-altitude hike hosts an amazing array of wildflowers—and hikers—en route to one of the San Juan's most distinct and photographed peaks: Engineer Mountain. Though this route stops short of the distinct double summit, energetic hikers can add the 0.6-mile out-and-back that climbs an additional 700 feet to the 12,968-foot summit.

From the Pass Creek Trailhead, the trail winds east and north across a steep, grassy slope. The climb intensifies as the trail enters the spruce-fir forest and turns left, rounding the eastern edge of the mountain onto its northern slope and skirting a small lake just a mile from the trailhead. Continue climbing past treeline and turn right at the signed junction with the Engineer Mountain Trail. Panoramic views reward as you climb the increasingly rocky and steep trail—be sure to notice the rock glacier “flowing” beneath the north slope. The narrow, exposed ridge leading to the summit requires scrambling and sure-footedness to navigate to the top, so follow the line of hikers heading up, or turn around when you've had your fill.

-Mapped by Erinn Morgan

TO TRAILHEAD: From Durango, CO, take CO 550 to Coal Bank Pass. The trailhead parking lot is on the left side of the road just after the rest area for Coal Bank Pass on the right.

Position Format: Datum:

Engineer Mountain

Distance: 5.64 mi Points: 415
Total Time: none Speed: 0.0 mph Pace: 0:00 / mi
Active Time: none Speed: 0.0 mph Pace: 0:00 / mi
Engineer Mountain

Points of Interest


Location: 37.699062, -107.778717
This hike begins at the Pass Creek Trailhead, 70 yards west of CO 550. Though there aren't any facilities here, the rest area on CO 550 has public restrooms. Follow the trail on the north side of the lot to begin a steady climb.


Location: 37.704968, -107.779216
The trail levels briefly as it skirts the northern shore of a small lake. Continue straight on the trail, following a sharp turn to the right about 500 yards ahead.


Location: 37.704509, -107.795084
The forest ends here and the landscape turns to delicate sub-alpine meadows.


Location: 37.703813, -107.798442
Continue straight (north) toward a sloping hillside picnic spot above Coal Creek.


Location: 37.705571, -107.799182
This picnic spot is just 200 yards north of the main trail. Try to stick to the trail and tread lightly in this delicate alpine environment. Next, return to the Waypoint 4 and turn right (west) onto Engineer Mountain Trail. Begin the steep, rocky climb toward the summit.


Location: 37.701199, -107.802208
This route tops out at 12,200-feet (only 768 feet and 0.3 mile shy of the summit). Turn around and retrace the route to the trailhead. If the weather is holding, continue uphill, navigating the scree field along mountain's eastern razor edge.


Location: 37.699747, -107.779055
Mid-summer hiking reveals waist-high wildflowers. © Erinn Morgan

Trail near Coal Bank Pass

Location: 37.700838, -107.778840
Early risers can beat the inevitable mountain monsoons; mornings deliver bluebird skies and cooler temps. © Erinn Morgan


Location: 37.701674, -107.778250
Abundant wildflowers flank the trail heading uphill. © Erinn Morgan


Location: 37.701547, -107.776094
© Erinn Morgan

Summit View

Location: 37.704560, -107.795577
The first view of the Engineer Mountain Summit as the trail leaves the forest. © Erinn Morgan


Location: 37.704807, -107.795813
Colorado's state flower, the Columbine, makes an appearance on this high-altitude trail. © Erinn Morgan


Location: 37.703644, -107.797068
Nearing the top, expect to see snow fields well into the summer. © Erinn Morgan

Engineer Mountain Trail

Location: 37.703499, -107.798088
The Engineer Mountain Trail is marked and easy to follow through the alpine meadows. © Erinn Morgan

Rocky Trail

Location: 37.703389, -107.799826
The steep, rocky, and loose trail toward the top of the mountain. © Erinn Morgan

Rock Glacier

Location: 37.702481, -107.801542
Looking northwest toward Engineer Mountain's rock glacier on the summit-bound trail. © Erinn Morgan

San Juans

Location: 37.701853, -107.801971
Panoramic trail views of the majestic San Juan Mountains. © Erinn Morgan


Location: 37.701199, -107.802068
The summit is within reach, but the trail turns to mountain-goat territory and the exposed razor's edge can be unsettling. © Erinn Morgan


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