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West Needle Mountains: Crater Lake

Saturday & Sunday, July 13-14, 2019

This weekend I wanted to finally get out on our first backpacking trip into the mountains for the season. I was looking for an easier overnighter that wasn’t too far from home, preferably in the San Juan Mountains, and after looking at recent satellite images to see how much snow was left in the high country I decided that we would give Crater Lake in the West Needle Mountains a try. From the recent satellite images it looked like there might still be a little snow on the ground in the area, but nothing we shouldn’t be able to get through. All of the other options I was looking at still had considerable snow on the ground and would have to wait a while longer. This six mile trail starts out in the Andrews Lake Day Use Area located just to the southwest of Molas Pass and climbs up to Crater Lake, nestled on the north side of North Twilight Peak in the Weminuche Wilderness. Last year our first backpacking trip into the mountains was also in the Weminuche Wilderness, but thankfully this time we didn’t have to inhale smoke the entire time!

Since we had plenty of time to hike the short trail to the lake on Saturday, we slept in a little longer than usual and left home later in the morning. We drove south into the San Juan Mountains, passing through Ouray and Silverton, before arriving at Andrews Lake and parking in the upper lot. We got our gear together and were on the trail by noon. The weather forecast for the day was your typical monsoon pattern for this area with a 50% chance of afternoon storms. It was already pretty cloudy out when we started hiking and it started to lightly rain on and off again once we were on the trail.

The beginning of the Crater Lake Trail near Andrews Lake.

Crater Lake Trail Sign

It was pretty cloudy for our entire hike to Crater Lake with an occasional rain shower and the sound of thunder rumbling in the distance for most of the afternoon. Luckily there were no close lightning strikes or heavy rain.

On Our Way

Raindrops on one of the many corn lilies found along the trail.


Stormy Sky

Stormy Sky

Our first view of North Twilight Peak (13,075) as we hiked across this open meadow.

Trail To Twilight

Looking to the west we had a good view of Potato Hill (11,871) with rain in the distance.

Potato Hill Rain

There were a bunch of these small white wildflowers along the upper end of the trail, but these ones were a little different with the brownish color on the outer edge.

Dirty Flowers

When we arrived at Crater Lake we found only one other pair of backpackers camped there, so we set up our campsite on the opposite end of the lake among a few snow drifts that were still hanging around.

Crater Lake Camp

After setting up camp and resting for a bit, I hiked up to the saddle above Crater Lake where I found a nice little tarn with this view of West Needle Mountain (13,062)

Upper Tarn

A closer look at these rugged peaks.

Rugged Peaks

There was also a good view from the saddle across the Animas River far below to the Mountain View Crest.

Mountain View Crest

Pigeon Peak (13,972) dominated the view to the east.

Pigeon Peak

I returned to camp for dinner after taking in the the views from the saddle.

Cloudy Pass View

After dinner I headed back up to the saddle to hopefully catch a nice sunset from up there since it looked like the cloudy sky was finally starting to clear just a little.



West Needle Mountain

I must have timed my hike perfectly, because once I reached the top of the saddle there was a small rainbow above Needle Creek on the other side of the valley. It didn’t stick around very long!

Needle Creek Rainbow

Another view of Pigeon Peak shortly before sunset.

Pigeon Peak View

Watertank Canyon Overlook

Hiking back down to Crater Lake in the late evening.

Crater Lake Evening

A nice reflection of North Twilight Peak before returning to camp and getting to bed for the night.

Evening Reflection

Overnight I woke up a few times to hear rain falling on our tent. I could also hear the wind blowing loudly in the distance, but it never hit our tent. I got up before sunrise on Sunday morning and looked outside to see if the clouds had disappeared or if it was going to be an overcast morning. Since it looked like most of them were gone, I got up and went for a walk around the lake with my camera to take a few photos at sunrise.

I’m glad I didn’t sleep in this morning since the sunrise was pretty spectacular!

Colorful Crater Lake

Crater Lake Morning Reflection

Crater Lake Morning Reflection

North Twilight Sunrise

North Twilight Sunrise

After watching the sunrise from the edge of the lake, I walked back over to camp and took this photo from behind our tent. Then we packed up and started hiking back down the trail.

View Behind Camp

This was a strange area with a lot of downed trees, although it didn’t seem to be from an avalanche. Perhaps some weather event caused this?

The Dead Zone

White wildflowers along the trail.

White Wildflowers

Corn Lily

Corn Lily

Grayrock Peak (12,504) & Engineer Mountain (12,968)

Grayrock & Engineer

Following the trail…

Following The Trail

A closer look at Engineer Mountain. I’ve been saying I’m going to finally climb this one for the past couple of years, maybe it will actually happen this summer?

Engineer Mountain

Leaving the Weminuche Wilderness

Leaving The Weminuche

The light and views were pretty nice during our hike back since the sun was out this morning.

Crater Lake Trail View

Almost back to the trailhead…

Almost Back

A reflection of the clouds in Andrews Lake as we hiked around it.

Andrews Lake

Diane about to cross the bridge near Andrews Lake at the end of the hike. It was a great weekend in the San Juan Mountains!

Andrews Lake Bridge

>> Crater Lake Photo Gallery


  1. KC
    KC July 20, 2019

    Your pictures are really nice.I really enjoy your adventures.

  2. Steve
    Steve April 15, 2021

    Gorgeous photos.

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