navajo lake trail in telluride colorado

Navajo Lake Trail near Telluride Colorado: Less Popular Wildflower Hike

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The Navajo Lake Trail is a popular trailhead if you are hiking the Colorado 14ers since three of the peaks are back there: Wilson Peak, Mount Wilson, and El Diente Peak. However, if you are not a peak bagger, the hike to Navajo Lake is an underrated, beautiful wildflower hike right now without the crowds.

We backpacked and camped at Navajo Lake in the San Juan Mountains for two nights in early July so we could finish off the last of the Colorado 4 Great Traverses: the El Diente—Mount Wilson Traverse. 

This trip report is for the hike to Navajo Lake with some notes of the El Diente Wilson Traverse at the end.

HIKE TO: Navajo Lake
TRAILHEAD: Navajo Lake Trailhead
MILES: 9.5 miles
TIME: 4-5 hrs (I did this as an overnight camping trip)
DATE I WENT: 7/2/24 - 7/4/24
DIFFICULTY: moderate
ELEVATION: 11,172 ft
LOCATION: San Juan Mountains, Colorado

Navajo Lake Trailhead 

The road to the Navajo Lake Trailhead is about 7.4 miles on a dirt road from Hwy 145 and sits at an elevation of 9,346 ft. This dirt road was fairly smooth and a regular-clearance sedan could make the drive.

The parking lot has space for a lot at least a dozen vehicles but if it’s full, there’s a small pull-out area at the last turn off up the road.

There is also a very large porta-potty at the trailhead.

Navajo Lake Trail Description in San Juan National Forest 

The entire hike is a narrow dirt trail and very straightforward. We started the hike to Navajo Lake shortly after 1 pm and made it to the lake by 4 pm at a leisurely pace. The trail starts off very flat and the wildflowers are in full bloom out here in early July. The trail vaguely follows the West Dolores River which flows to and from Navajo Lake.

About 2.2 miles in, you will reach a trail junction for Kilpacker Trail No 203; this 1-mile trail connects to the Kilpacker Basin Trail if you are looking to climb the 14ers as a loop, starting from the Kilpacker side and ending at the Navajo Lake Basin side.

There are a variety of wildflowers along this entire hike, but the abundance of Columbine flowers was my favorite.

While the trail is well-maintained (we even saw a trail crew working on the fourth of July), the greens do grow tall and gets a bit bushy through parts of the trail lower down and after recent rain, the trail can be muddy. If you look closely, you’ll see a lot of mushrooms along the trail!

There are several small streams/ creek crossings along this hike but you can step on rocks through it all.

At about 3.5 miles, the trail opens up a lot and you see the series of steep switchbacks in front of you. This part of the trail gains about 638 ft of elevation in about 0.7 miles.

Once you reach the top of this section, the final 0.6 mile of the trail goes downhill for a little bit before it flattens out to reach the lake. 

Gladstone Peak (13,878 ft) is the prominent mountain in front of you and the ridgeline to the right is the North Buttress to El Diente Peak (14,200 ft).

Navajo Lake Basin Camping

The left side of the lake as you’re approaching is all boulders so there is no camping there — you also need to camp at least 100 ft away from the water, but there are many unmarked and “established” campsites just before you reach Navajo Lake and a few on the opposite end.

Along the lake, there are thousands of gnats and mosquitoes, but definitely more gnats. The sunset glow hits the unnamed mountains of the Lizard Head Wilderness on the southern end of Navajo Lake and if you wake up early for sunrise, you may catch a beautiful lake reflection.

Navajo Lake is an underrated turquoise lake hike in the San Juan National Forest.

What to Pack for Hiking in San Juan National Forest

Day Hiking Gear Essentials

Overnight Camping Gear

Climb the North Buttress of El Diente to Mount Wilson Traverse

The El Diente WIlson Peak Traverse if one of the 4 Colorado Great Traverese and the last one we were missing. The traverse from El Diente towards Wilson starts off chill for a ridge traverse, but the end of it was a bit more spicy and required some route-finding.

If you are here to tackle the Colorado 14ers, the North Buttress to El Diente is probably the least climbed route to reach El Diente Peak but it’s a fun class 4 scramble if you are into that. There was not a lot of class 4/ super-exposed moves so if you are comfortable with class 4 scrambling, I’d recommend this route. However, if you are not comfortable with exposure and scrambling, don’t do this one.

We also heard a rockfall directly beneath us as we had a lunch break on the ridge which made me nervous for the rest of the climb so be mindful of your surroundings and terrain you are on. Needless to say, we got up and moving as quickly as possible. Hearing the rocks literally crumble beneath your feet is a very unsettling feeling.

From the summit of Mount Wilson, you can see Lizard Head and the colorful San Juan Mountains.

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Where to stay in Telluride

  • Best luxury accommodations: Mountain Lodge Telluride – the first thing you will notice is the windows. This beautifully designed lodge gives you luxury cabin resort vibes and if you’ve never been to Telluride, you need to. The views of the mountains are breathtaking and is a great place for Fall colors.
  • Best budget-friendly room: Bivvi Hostel – this charming hotel offers accommodations per bed in shared dorm-like rooms. There’s common space, free continental breakfast, and space for luggage storage which makes this a great option for budget travelers passing through.

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