The trail travels through a landscape of pinion-juniper and scrub oak, reveals magestic views of the San Juan Mountains, then snakes through a ponderosa forest.
Give yourself one to two hours to run the loop – one if you zip through the course quickly and two if you take in the scenery!
To reach the trail head from downtown Durango, drive north on Main Avenue to 32nd Street. Go left (west) four blocks to West 4th Avenue. Turn right and go two blocks to the rough dirt parking area. There are many trails on the mountain, but this article will only describe the loop that circles the mountain, following the route of the annual October Mug Run. From the parking lot, go through the gate, then straight ahead on the trail that climbs the east edge of the mountain. The trail switch-backs up through a landscape of pinion-juniper and scrub oak, dotted with agaves and prickly pear.
At each of the four trail junctions, bear right. You’ll pass an ancient log with a tightly spiraled trunk. About a quarter mile past this log is one of several overlooks. This one shows a startling contrast between the ever so straight Main Avenue and the meandering Animas River. Just past the third trail junction you can catch a glimpse of the forested top of the mountain.
At approximately 2.75 miles the trail makes a left turn to the west at the foot of a huge, dead pinion tree. From here you can see the San Juans, including the Twilights to the north, the tip of Engineer if you know where to look, and Missionary Ridge across the valley to the east. The prominent rock fall occurred in 1997.
Not far from this overlook, there is another trail intersection where you’ll want to stay right. There’s a short, gradual climb to the high point at 8,161′, a 1,481′ gain from the trail head at 6,680′. You’re now cruising through a ponderosa forest. In the spring, after a wet winter, the entire upper mountain is carpeted with fields of brilliant yellow mule’s ears.
After about 3.5 miles and a short downhill, the trail makes another sharp left and heads south and down. Before descending, approach the edge of the mountain and stand on the rock outcropping to check out the in-your-face view of the La Plata Mountains. Silver Mountain is the highest mountain on the left; Lewis is to its right. Further right, you can just make out The Notch. The Kennebec Challenge, a 15-mile race up La Plata Canyon in August, goes through this notch and over the shoulder of Lewis Mountain. Barnes Mountain is the low-lying rise before you. Directly below is the community of Turtle Lake.
Now the fun begins. Having picked your way up through the rocks on the east side, you can let it rip on this fast and relatively smooth downhill. The trail gets rocky as you descend. At the 6 mile mark you are faced with the first of four left options. Any one of them but the first will take you back to the trail head. The second left follows the Mug Run course. If you choose to continue, approximately 100′ past the power lines the trail splits in four directions. To get back to your car, you must go left here. Straight ahead takes you to the green water tank. Ahead 20′ and then right takes you down to the Birket Drive trail head.
If you want more miles, make a sharp right and follow the contour for not quite 3 miles along the base of the mountain to the west. You will run by various sets of boulders popular with the climbing community before reaching a paved road. Turn around and come back the way you came.
Trail maps are posted at most of the intersections to help keep you on course. There’s a secondary trail head at the end of Birket Drive. Drive west on 25th street 0.3 miles past Miller Middle School, turning right on Birket. This trail will access the one described, adding minimal distance and about 100′ in elevation gain.
Animas City Mountain is managed by the BLM. It is subject to closure during some winter months. This varies yearly, depending on snow depth in the higher elevations, and is intended to give the elk wintering on the mountain a break. There is an outhouse at the trail head but no water. During temperate months you probably won’t need to carry water, but by summer, you’ll surely wish you had some. Dogs are welcome and expect to see an occasional mountain biker.
Debra Van Winegarden is a member of the Durango Motorless Transit. To read about other trails in the Durango area, log onto www.go-dmt.org.