Needle Creek (504)

The Needle Creek Trail #504 is a wildly popular trail that brings backpackers from either the Animas River Trail #675 or the Needleton train stop into Chicago Basin. NOTE that on an average summer day, 50 people will disembark from the train to head to Chicago Basin—a beautiful, but crowded, backpacking destination.

From the Durango Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad stop travel less than a mile to the junction with Animas River Trail. From this junction, the trail climbs almost 3,000 feet in 5 miles along the creek until it reaches the lower end of Chicago Basin. At 6.5 miles you begin the steep climb to Columbine Pass. There are switchbacks for the next 2 miles and an ascent of 1,500 feet. The top of Columbine Pass is the end of Needle Creek Trail and beginning of Johnson Creek Trail #821, which descends over 3,500 feet in 7 miles to Vallecito Creek.

There are no camping spots until you reach Chicago Basin. There is a permanent fire ban for Needle Creek and all of its headwaters.

The alpine meadows are full of blooming wildflowers in late July and August. This area has excellent views and photographic possibilities. Water can be found off the trail in most of the tributaries, but due to Giardia it should be filtered. As with all high-altitude areas, storms can move in rapidly, bringing severe wind, lightning, rain, snow, or hail at any time of the year. Plan accordingly.

  • Distance (one-way):
    • 5 miles to Chicago Basin
    • 8.9 miles to Columbine Pass
  • Minimum elevation: 8,230 feet (Needleton train stop)
  • Maximum/ending elevation: 12,680 feet (Columbine Pass)

At a Glance

Best Season: Summer and Fall
Restrictions: This trail is located in the Weminuche Wilderness. Please review the Weminuche Wilderness Regulations for full list of regulations and restrictions. Regulations include:
  • There is a permanent fire ban for Needle Creek and all of its headwaters therefore there is no campfires or wood stoves in the Needle Creek/Chicago Basin area.
  • Camping restrictions around Twin Lakes (accessed from Chicago Basin).
  • Possession of motorized equipment or motorized means of transport are not permitted.
  • Mechanized means of transport are not permitted (mountain bikes).
  • Flying drones is not permitted over congressionally designated wilderness areas or primitive areas as many people seek these places for the opportunities for solitude and quiet that they provide.
  • Group size is limited to 15 people.
  • Combination of people and stock = 25.
  • Dogs under control.
  • No unattended campfires.
  • Camping is not allowed within 100 feet of any water source.
  • Outfitter-guides who receive any form of compensation must obtain a special-use permit to operate on public land.
  • Check trailhead signs or Forest Service Offices for site-specific camping, campfire, and livestock regulations.
  • Practice leave no trace ethics.
Closest Towns: Durango, CO
Water: Purification recommended
Restroom: Practice Leave No Trace
Information Center: Columbine Ranger District Office

General Information


From Durango, CO:

  • Purgatory Flats Trail #511 to Animas River Trail #675: Drive ~26 miles. Across from Purgatory Ski Resort's main entrance, turn right (east) on Tacoma Drive. Purgatory Flats trailhead is located on right about 0.2 miles. Parking lot on the left. Follow Purgatory Flats Trail 4 miles, cross Animas River (via foot bridge) and follow Animas River Trail 5.5 miles.
  • Needleton train stop: Ride in on the Durango Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad.


Day Hiking


Horse Riding

Recreation Areas

Recreation Activities


  Area/Length : 
8.9 miles

  Elevation : 
8,200' - 12,680'