I do hope this is an appropriate forum for my question. It is certainly where I expect to find folks most likely to offer answers. I am the coordinator (volunteer) for the youth backpacking program for our local Camp Fire USA council. (Camp Fire is one of the original US scouting organizations, for girls until 1975, for everyone since then.) We have some youth who are asking for a longer and more challenging trip than what we have been doing. After some discussions, the kids have concluded that southern Colorado would be a good target, to minimize boring days in the car. I've been car camping in Colorado, but do not know much about backpacking routes there; because it seems to be a popular destination for scout troops, I am hoping perhaps some of you all can help us find a good route.
Here are the parameters:
1. The group will be 7 youth ages 14-16, with 3 adults. The youth have all been on a number of weekend backpacking trips in central Texas, plus at least one 5-day/4-night 20-mile trip in Pecos Wilderness in New Mexico. We will have both boys and girls on this trip. All of the adults have moderate to extensive backpacking experience but not much off-trail.
2. We have the evening of July 19 through the evening of July 29, 2012 to do this trip, based on the participants' schedules. We figure on a day and a half driving each way from Austin, plus some slower travel at the backcountry end to get to a trailhead. This will give us time for a 7-day/6-night trip or so.
3. We'd like to find a loop or near-loop so as not to spend a lot of time shuttling. We are aware of the Durango-Silverton train, and wouldn't necessarily rule it out, but cost would be a concern for some participants.
4. Because we are coming from a lower elevation (Austin is at about 550 ft.) our route should ease us into the higher country over the first few days, with higher elevations later in the hike. If there is a mountain to climb (walk-up only—none of us has technical climbing skills or equipment) the kids would like that.
5. We figure on taking a couple of layover days for exploring, so overall maybe a route of about 40 miles, give or take a few depending on terrain.
6. We don't want to carry a lot of water weight, and the kids said they like big trees, so the drier reaches of western Colorado would not be suitable.
So if you are familiar with the region, and especially if you have taken scout groups on this type of trip there, I'd love to hear your ideas.