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Telluride, Colorado, United States

Ballard Mountain

An overlooked gem

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Difficulty: Difficult
Length: 6.4 miles / 10.3 km
Duration: Half day
Dog Friendly
Overview: The San Juan mountains around Telluride offer some of the best adventures and views in all of Colorado, if not the entire US. Ballard Mountain towers almost 13,000 feet above the town of Telluride, with unbelievable "out the back gate" access. Seldom explored, Ballard offers pristine alpine forests, wildflowers, local history, and jaw dropping views with little to no traffic. The Ballard Trail is a tough 4700 vertical foot climb in just over three miles of hiking. This trek is not for the faint of heart, but those who love to walk the trails a little more secluded. Ballard is truly an overlooked gem in the San Juan Mountains.

Tips: This is a strenuous hike, and should not be attempted by those still adjusting to the high elevation of Telluride. I recommend only attempting Ballard in the summer months after June when the majority of the snow has melted. Bring plenty of water, extra food, a warm layer, raincoat, and sunscreen. The only available water for dogs is at the base of the peak, so make sure to bring extra water for your four legged friends. Lightening is a serious concern during the summer months in the high country. Makes sure to check weather conditions before you start, and pay close attention to incoming storm fronts. If you foresee a storm interrupting your summit attempt, turn around before the storm catches you in the exposure above treeline. An early start can usually guarantee a safe trip, and I highly recommend it. Have fun, stay on the trails, pack out your trash, and enjoy my back yard!

Points of Interest


Bear Creek Preserve

The start of our climb begins in the gorgeous Bear Creek Preserve. Offering million dollar views right off the streets of Telluride, the preserve was a gift to the town and people of Telluride. Bear Creek Road can begins at the end of South Pine Street in the heart of Telluride. FYI: The walk up Bear Creek road to Bear Creek Falls is a perfect warm up to a trip in Telluride.

Double Log Bridge

Around 0.8 miles up Bear Creek Road, you will come to an open meadow that descends down to Bear Creek. Cross a somewhat hidden log "bridge" and follow the trail that begins up the lower flank of Ballard. The trail comes to two separate junctions. Follow all junctions right, and begin the long and unyielding climb up Ballard.

Photo 1: The double log bridge across Bear Creek.
Photo 2: Bear Creek roaring during the early summer snow melt.

Following Footsteps

This trail was originally created by hearty miners and their mule teams over 100 years ago. The path is littered with remnants of their occupation, and the hike itself offers terrific insight on just how tough these men really were. Their is an old Boarding House where miners lived and worked out of in one of the basins below the summit of Ballard. The two story structure fell down over a decade ago, but the ruins can still be found by those willing to search.

Photo: An old log miners shack at the base of Ballard.

Chuck's Legacy

As previously mentioned, both the Ballard and Deer Tail Basin Trail are old mining trails. Over the decades, they both fell into horrible disrepair due to Telluride's brutal winters, overgrowth, and tree fall. Ten years ago, local mountaineering legend Chuck Kroger made it his mission to re-establish both of these incredible trails, all by himself. Chuck Kroger has since passed away, but has left these two amazing trails as well as the now legendary Telluride Via Ferrata as his legacy. An incredible gift from an incredible man.
Note: Deer Tail is yet another overlooked but incredible hike that offers stunning vistas and views of the San Juans.

Photo: Chuck's trail marker and handwork.

A Dwindling Trail

Once you reach the alpine basin below Ballard, the trail may seem to disappear. Look for rock cairns and stay climbers left of the large rock monolith on the right of the basin.

Photo: The rock monolith in the alpine basin below Ballard.

Ballard's North Ridge

After the long and arduous hall through Ballard's endless switchbacks, you will eventually gain the Northern ridge of Ballard. You are now above treeline and soon begin to reap the rewards of your climb. Views of the ski area and Gold Hill, Palmyra Peak, Deer Tail Basin, and the town of Telluride will sooth those aching legs and lungs. The summit of Ballard is close at hand. Take the highest trail that leads west below the summit to the couloir that will take you to the summit.

Photo 1: Sapphire with Palmyra Peak in the background.
Photo 2: the love of my life climbing the North Ridge with Telluride in the back drop.

The Summit Couloir

The trail will come across the west face of Ballard, and you will find a loose and fairly steep couloir that leads straight to the top. Take your time and watch your footing.

Photo: Looking up the summit couloir.

The Summit

Ballard is the smallest peak around La Junta basin, and the true summit is at the top of the couloir. Silver Lake sits below you, with killer views of Tomboy Road and Ingram Falls out to the east. Ballard even offers a great shot of the three fourteeners Mount Wilson, Wilson Peak, and El Diente. Follow your ascent route down after taking in those gorgeous San Juans.

Photo 1: Silver Lake with Ingram Falls roaring behind.
Photo 2: Tomboy Road heading up to Imogene Pass with Chicago Peak above.
Photo 3: Lizard Head, El Diente, Mount Wilson and Wilson Peak.
Photo 4: La Junta Peak.
Pictures in this guide taken by: watenpae

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About the Author

2 guides
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I was born and raised in the San Juan Mountains around Telluride, Colorado and still consider it my true...
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