Mount Wilson is an incredibly beautiful but difficult Colorado 14er located in the San Juan mountains. The hike and summit features incredible views into the Lizard Head Wilderness, Wilson Peak, and the Mount Wilson El Diente Traverse. This hike features a class 4 final push to the summit that is well known for the substantial exposure. Here we will give you everything you need to know to hike Wilson Peak.
Distance – 12.1 miles round trip (19.47 km)
Height – 14,250 feet (4,343.4 m)
Elevation gain – 4,540 feet (1383.79 meters)
Duration – 10 – 12 hours (book time dependant upon trailhead start)
Difficulty – Strenuous
Class: Class 4 Hike
Trailhead Location – Rock Of Ages Trailhead, Kilpacker Basin Trailhead, or Navajo Lake Trailhead (each explained below)
Need To Know Information
- Mount Wilson has a couple different approaches, but each approach takes a class 4 final portion of the hike to the summit. We will explain the details of this below.
- Dispersed camping is allowed in Lizard Head Wilderness, but be sure to read on the rules and regulations here: https://wilderness.net/visit-wilderness/?ID=329
- This is a class 4 hike with solid exposure, so it should only be completed by those that have experience dealing with other class 3 and 4 mountains.
Hiking Route Options
Kilpacker Basin Trailhead |12.1 Miles Round Trip (19.47 km) – 4,540 Feet Elevation Gain (1383.79 meters) | Class 4
This is the recommended route for hikers looking to summit this peak due to the easier approach. When hikers are looking to summit both Wilson Peak with El Diente as well, hikers generally will take another approach explained below. This however, is our recommended route for the El Diente and Mount Wilson traverse only. Because the Northern slopes of El Diente are extremely loose rock, steep, and dangerous due to this, we recommend people head up the south side of El Diente via Kilpacker Basin.
Hikers begin at the Kilpacker Trailhead and simply stay on this trail. 1 mile in, hikers will reach a junction that connects the Kilpacker Trailhead to the Navajo Lake trailhead. At this junction they should stay right on the Kilpacker Basin Trail. 2.1 miles in, hikers will reach a second junction. Bearing left will connect hikers to the Navajo Lake Trail, but once again, they should stay right on the Kilpacker Basin Trail. Over 1.9 miles from this junction, the hike climbs 1,250 feet. From here, the rest of the trail is a lot of loose rock and scree but quite simple until the last .2 miles.
We will describe the crux section further down in the article since all routes to the summit take the final same section of trail.
Navajo Lake Trailhead | 16 Miles Round Trip (25.75 km) – 5,100 Feet Elevation Gain (1554.48 meters) | Class 4
The trail is very well maintained and traveled, features incredible fields with insane views, waterfalls, streams (with fishing), and kicks hikers out at Navajo Lake, a perfect camping and fishing area. This route is our most recommended route for spending the night out and turning this into a backpacking trip. If your goal is to summit all three 14ers, this is the best route to do so. However, if your goal is to just do the El Diente and/or Mount Wilson, the hike up the north slopes of El Diente features extremely loose and steep rock that we don’t recommend. Because of this, many hikers choose to take this route to Wilson Peak ony, and then do the El Diente Mount Wilson Traverse as a separate trip via the Kilpacker Basin Trailhead.
The approach to this trailhead on the Forest Road (FR) 535 and is accessible via 2wd vehicles. This is a well traveled dirt road that is reasonably well maintained. 5 Miles into the road, hikers will reach the Kilpacker trailhead, and will continue two more miles before hitting the Navajo Basin Trailhead.
This trail features relatively gradual gains, on extremely well maintained trail all the way to Navajo Lake. Hikers then continue passed the lake above treeline, into the basin. From here, the trail is not well marked, and it may be difficult to spot cairns up to Mount Wilson. Refer to the images here to help guide you.
Rock Of Ages Trailhead | 11.5 Miles Round Trip (18.51 km) – 5,300 Feet Elevation Gain (1615.44 meters) | Class 4
This is a route that takes hikers over the saddle just before Wilson Peak, before descending a bit into Navajo Basin and heading up to Mount Wilson. If hikers want to summit Wilson Peak and Mount Wilson only without El Diente, this is a great approach. This is also a great Wilson Peak only approach. The trail is very straightforward and easy to follow. The last mile or so of the hike involves steep incline over boulders before reaching the final class 4 approach to the Mount Wilson summit. Read more about this route on our guide to Wilson Peak.
The Class 4 Final Approach.
The final pitch to Mount Wilson is class 4 with a whole lot of exposure. Their is not a very well defined route, but hikers basically climb the ridge to the summit. Several of these sections have class 4 moves that are reasonably easy, but the exposure is severe. Images of the proper path are best seen here.
Camping For Mount Wilson
There are various camping options available for each of the trail options. It is worth noting that camping options for this hike are in the Lizard Head Wilderness, so those regulations need to be followed, but this does mean that dispersed camping is readily available.
The most common camping areas are by Navajo Lake where there are many dispersed camping areas. You’ll also find plenty of people car camping at each of these trailheads. Because this is wilderness, there will be dispersed camping available on just about any approach to Mount Wilson.
Fishing Navajo Lake
There are lots of fish in Navajo Lake. Taking a fly rod is highly recommended as they will eat almost any dry fly in summer months.
Current Weather Conditions:
Here is the detailed weather forecast for the next few days. We highly recommend you check out the mountain forecast for this peak the morning of your hike.
A chance of snow showers and areas of blowing snow. Cloudy, with a high near 24. South wind around 25 mph, with gusts as high as 40 mph. Chance of precipitation is 70%. New snow accumulation of 3 to 5 inches possible.
Snow showers and areas of blowing snow before 8pm, then snow showers and areas of blowing snow and isolated thunderstorms between 8pm and 2am, then areas of blowing snow and scattered snow showers. Mostly cloudy, with a low around 7. Wind chill values as low as -11. Southwest wind 20 to 25 mph, with gusts as high as 40 mph. Chance of precipitation is 90%. New snow accumulation of 3 to 5 inches possible.
Mostly sunny, with a high near 12. Wind chill values as low as -12. West southwest wind 10 to 20 mph.
Mostly clear, with a low around 2. Wind chill values as low as -16. South southwest wind 15 to 20 mph.
Patchy blowing snow after 9am. Partly sunny, with a high near 13. South southwest wind around 20 mph, with gusts as high as 35 mph.
Patchy blowing snow before 8pm. Partly cloudy, with a low around 3.
Mostly sunny, with a high near 17.
Directions & Parking
Directions To Kilpacker Basin Trailhead:
Directions To Rock Of Ages Trailhead:
Directions to Navajo Lake Trailhead:
Max DesMarais is the founder of Hiking & Fishing. He has a passion for the outdoors and making outdoor education and adventure more accessible. Max is a published author for various outdoor and marketing websites. He is an experienced hiker, backpacker, fly fisherman, trail runner, and spends his free time in the outdoors. These adventures allow him to test gear, learn new skills, and experience new places so that he can educate others. You can read more about him here: hikingandfishing/about