It was that kind of clear, crisp day at the end of September…when the heat of summer seems a distant memory, and the cold of winter seems as if it will never come.
Bright yellow aspen trees towered over us, and pooled remnants of a prior rain marked the trail below.
Along with the llamas carrying our gear, there were ten of us headed towards the namesake hut of Colorado’s 10th Mountain Division Huts, an association of 14 European-inspired alpine huts, part of a larger hut system within the state.
These remote, utilitarian cabins were built nearly 40 years ago to honor the soldiers of the 10th Mountain Division of the U.S. Army. With a Four Seasons chef in tow, ours would be a far comfier stay than many of the soldiers endured in these very mountains. 32,000 men trained here for the cold and high-elevation conditions they would encounter in the mountains of Europe during WWII.
As I contemplated this history, I was grateful for the prospect of not sleeping out in the cold as the soldiers had to do to test their tenacity. And, I soon settled into a rhythm on the trail – chatting to other hikers, capturing the beauty that surrounded me with my camera, and taking off layers as I heated up.
A fellow hiker handed me the reins to lead Blue, a soft and fluffy llama with one unmatched blue eye. While he looked slightly goofy, as all llamas do, his demeanor was not. I watched closely as he navigated the trail with confident steps, head forward and graceful.
We stopped when a break in the trees opened onto an alpine meadow, with views to several fourteeners that surrounded us. The llamas knew just what to do and stopped to nibble the grass. I loosened my hiking boots and took in the sunny fall day that would make an out-of-stater yearn for a Colorado license plate.
We ate a healthy and hearty picnic lunch and prepared for the rest of our journey. I mingled with some of the other llamas – Tres, Franklin, and Stubby. But it was Blue who I came back to for our hike to the cabin.
Blue’s rocksteady presence provided me with an unexpected calm over and above that which comes with hiking in the woods. And, I’m not sure which was a greater service — carrying my emotional load, or my physical one. Our food for two days, sleeping bags, and clothes were on his and the seven other llamas’ backs.
“It’s like car camping, without the car,” quipped our guide, Will Elliott, who owns the local guiding company, Paragon Guides, as well as the llamas. What he said was true.
Unlike backpacking, where I’d likely have taken far less baggage and lightweight (perhaps even dehydrated) food, we all could afford to “throw it in,” as you do when four wheels are carrying it all. But unlike with car camping, we had the luxury of heading to a remote location we’d have all to ourselves, and a stunning hike ahead of us.
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“For so many reasons they are the perfect hiking companion,” continued Elliott. “For one, they are low impact on the trails. Llamas are both split hoofed and have soft split lips, so they don’t pull up weeds and native plants by the roots.” The feet of llamas are soft and paw-like on the bottom, akin to a dog’s, and because they forage like deer, there is no need to bring hay along to feed them.
He didn’t mention their meditative quality, which he didn’t have to. All of us hikers felt it, and we became quiet when we led a llama. The animals were gentle like a guinea pig, steadfast like a horse, and graceful like a panther. Blue’s soft, comforting presence helped me remember to look around and enjoy the woods. Sometimes, just being next to someone on a trail is enough. While my kids weren’t with me, the llama’s lovable, gentle nature made me wish they were.
All of these llama qualities make sense. These sure-footed animals were quite literally made for trekking with humans, having been domesticated in the Andes Mountains of South America for just that purpose over the last 6,000 years.
When we arrive at the cabin, sandwiched between the foothills of a Colorado 14er and the edge of a grassy meadow, the llamas are staked out in front and they get right to work filling their bellies with grass. As we all watch the sun set behind the town of Leadville in the distance, the humans in the crowd enjoy a cheese-filled chicken and pasta dinner and settle into our cozy cabin for the night.
The next day, we’d scale Homestake Mountain and let the llamas rest before picking them up on the way back down to head home. I knew where I’d be then — next to my hiking buddy, Blue.
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Llama Trekking in Colorado
This trek was booked through the Four Seasons Vail. Multi-day treks, as I did, are an option, as well as the Take a Llama to Lunch program. This day excursion takes place in Vail, Colorado, and includes a leisurely stroll through a meadow and lunch – a great introduction to hiking with llamas for couples, individuals, families, and multi-generational groups.
You can find llama outfitters offering both guided and DIY tours in several parts of the country. While most outfitters offer guided outings, including single-day and multi-day treks, others offer the opportunity to do it yourself, where you take the llamas out on the trail on your own for a multi-day excursion.
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Find More Llama Treks
Here’s a look at more llama trekking companies, guides, and opportunities around the country:
- Paragon Guides offers both trekking and Take a Llama to Lunch programs out of Vail, Colorado.
- Wallowa Llamas lead treks in Oregon’s Wallowa Mountains, including nearby Crater Lake National Park.
- Smoky Mountain Llama Treks operate in Tennessee for both short and extended treks, as well as llama farm visits.
- Swan Mountain Llama Trekking provides guided llama trekking in Western Montana.
- Divine Llama Vineyards is run out of North Carolina.
- Smuggler’s Notch, Vermont’s four-season resort, leads family-friendly hikes in Jeffersonville, Vermont.
- Utah Valley Llamas offers guided and unguided llama treks out of a Spanish Fork, Utah-based Krishna Temple.
- Lander Llama Company operates out of Lander, Wyoming.
- Llamas Unlimited Adventures offers guided or unguided tours in Yellowstone.
- Wildland Trekking operates out of the Grand Tetons in Wyoming.
Related read: 8 Best Grand Canyon Hiking Tour Companies
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