San Juan National Forest
U.S. Highway 160 traverses the southern portion of the Forest. Heading west, you enter the San Juan National Forest at Wolf Creek Pass. After crossing the Continental Divide at 10.857 feet above sea level, the highway descends rapidly into the San Juan River Valley.
The San Juan Overlook offers panoramic views of the valley below and informational signs identifying landmarks. Two miles below the overlook is Treasure Falls, with beautiful views of a cascading waterfall. It's a short walk from the highway to a bridge at the base of the falls.
Nine miles west of Wolf Creek Pass, just west of Treasure Falls, is the West Fork Road (FDR 648). It leads to Wolf Creek Campground only a half-mile off the highway. "A" Loop has 4 sites on the east side of Wolf Creek; just across the creek, "B" Loop has 22. Both areas are mostly level and densely forested, and accommodate long RVs, with some pull-thrust. The elevation here is 8,000 feet. Two stocked fishing ponds are located directly behind the campground.
West Fork Campground is a mile farther along the West Fork Road. This secluded 10-acre campground has 28 sites with both sun and shade. Most are suitable for large RVs. A few are adjacent to the West Fork of the San Juan River. Although this is a very scenic campground, it is lightly used.
You can fish in both Wolf Creek and the West Fork, but only skilled and patient fishermen may have much luck in these heavily fished streams.
The West Fork Trailhead (also known as the Rainbow Lake Trail) leads into the Weminuche Wilderness a mile beyond the campground. The first portion of the trail passes through private property, so please stay on the trail and leave gates as you find them. Trailheads for the Windy Pass and Treasure Mountain Trails are just across Highway 160 from the West Fork Road turnoff.
The closest services to these campgrounds are in Pagosa Springs, about 15 miles west.
The East Fork Campground, 11 miles east of Pagosa Springs, is about 5 miles west of Treasure Falls and 3/4 mile off Highway 160, on the East Fork Road (FDR 667).
Ponderosa pine and gambel oak provide ample shade on a ridge above the East Fork of the San Juan River. There are a few level pull-thrus. Short but steep trails lead to the river bank. There's plenty of fishing here and along the East Fork, upstream from the campground. East Fork Road parallels the river for several miles before entering private land.
Trailheads for the Coal Creek Trail and the Quartz Ridge Trail are at Sand Creek, two miles past the campground. Four-wheelers and ATV users will enjoy the upper section of the East Fork Road to Elwood Pass.
U.S. Highway 84 is the southeastern gateway to the San Juans. The Blanco River Campground offers a convenient stopping point between Chama, NM, and Pagosa Springs, CO, 15 miles to the northwest. The campground is two miles off the highway on FDR 656 and is lightly used.
The river bottom area is fairly level, and four of the six sites are suitable for long RVs. Several large ponderosa pine provide some shade, but, at this elevation (7,200 feet), the area gets quite warm during the summer. Sites are usually available.
Two group picnic sites are adjacent to the campground. There are banquet-size tables along with volleyball net posts and horseshoe pits. They must be reserved through the Pagosa Ranger District office at (303) 264-2268.
The Blanco River is stocked with trout but lightly fished, so fishing may be good.
Three nearby trails access the unroaded country to the east. The Navajo Peak Trail and V-Rock Trail can be reached from the Buckles Lake Road (FDR 663), about seven miles south of the campground via Highway 84. The Blanco Basin Road (FDR 657) accesses the Leche Creek Trail. These trails intersect with several entry/exit points.
The Ute Group Campground is 17 miles west of Pagosa Springs on U.S. 160. Its two group areas are available only by reservation through the Pagosa Ranger District office at (303) 264-2268. The campground is on a gentle, south-facing slope just off the highway. Ponderosa pines give shade, but the area gets warm on sunny summer days. The hillside above the campground offers excellent vantage points with views of Chimney Rock to the south.
The Chimney Rock Archaeological Area is four miles from the campground, south of U.S. 160 on Colorado Highway 151. Guided tours of a large pueblo, built over 900 years ago just below the chimney spires, are offered during the summer. From the top of the upper half-mile trail you can look across the Forest into the Southern Ute Indian Reservation and northern Mexico. Contact the Pagosa Ranger District at (303) 264-2268 for tour details.
The Lower Piedra Campground is a mile north of U.S. 160 on FDR 621, about 18 miles east of Bayfield and 25 miles west of Pagosa Springs. Located on the west bank of the Piedra River, the campground unit offers 17 large, level sites with plenty of shade. Camping is free. Drinking water is not available. The river is heavily fished, but good catches are still possible.
After passing through Durango, Highway 160 skirts the southern edge of the La Plata Mountains. Several peaks top 13,000 feet.
La Plata means "silver," and over the years these mountains have yielded much profitable ore to dedicated miners. There are still a few active mines high in the mountains. Abandoned mines and mill sites can be found on many alpine slopes, especially in La Plata Canyon.
Several trails lead into the high country and to nearby peaks. Mesa Verde National Park is a seven-mile drive west of Mancos just off the San Juan Skyway. There are State campgrounds at the Mancos State Recreation Area and the Joe Moore Reservoir, north of Mancos. Camping is also offered in the Mancos town park.
Showers, laundries, sanitary dumping stations, and other camper services are available in Mancos and Durango, and at Mesa Verde.
Kroeger Campground in La Plata Canyon has 10 sites on two acres, with plenty of shade near the La Plata River. The river is close to the road, so fishing is popular. Success rates are only fair.
To get to Kroeger, go about 16 miles east of Mancos (12 miles west of Durango), then turn north on the La Plata Canyon Road (CR 124, then FDR 571). The campground is six miles up the canyon and shaded by a mixture of spruce, fir, aspen, and cottonwood. Expect cool nights during the summer at this elevation of 9,000 feet.
One site has a double table and large parking area. Another is suitable for a long RV. There is one pull-thru. Private property is adjacent to the campground.
Eight miles beyond the campground, the road ends at the Kennebec Pass Scenic Overlook, elevation 11,600 feet. The last two miles are rough, steep, and not suitable for passenger cars, but the view from the top is well worth the trip.
Several trails traverse the high country, including the Highline Loop National Recreational Trail. The trail travels 17 miles through mountain parks, aspen groves, and spruce/fir forest, and along alpine ridge tops above timberline.
Cherry Creek Picnic
The Cherry Creek Picnic Ground is next to U.S. 160, 11 miles east of Mancos. This spot offers travelers a shady rest area surrounded by wild rose, gambel oak, and cottonwoods.
The Target Tree Campground, just off Highway 160 (the San Juan Skyway), is seven miles east of Mancos. In this area, the Ute Indians harvested sap and inner bark of the ponderosa pines as food supplements. They also used trees for target practice with rifles and bow and arrow. These scarred trees still remain: a short trail leads to one, and a historical marker explains their usage.
Large pines dominate the 12-acre campground, known for its variety of birds (an informational sign lists the species that can be seen in the vicinity). Also, the Narrow Gauge Trail begins near campsite 37 and leads gradually uphill 3/4 mile to the old railroad grade.
Twenty-five sites on a south-facing hillside overlook the Cherry Creek valley; 17 are barner-free. Most large sites and pull-thrus require mechanical leveling of RVs. Many sites are shady, but still heat up on sunny summer days. Sites can be reserved through the Reservation Center.
The Transfer Recreation Area, which includes a campground and picnic area, is 12 miles northeast of Mancos. From Mancos take Colorado Highway 184 north for 1/4 mile, then turn east on the West Mancos Road (FDR 56). Most of the road is unpaved but has a good gravel surface.
The four-acre campground has 12 sites in a small aspen grove. All sites and restrooms are barrier-free. Campsites and group picnic sites may be reserved through the Reservation Center. The sites have good morning and evening shade, but most get mid-day sun. Several can accommodate medium-size RVs. The elevation is 8,500 feet, and the area is mostly level.
The group picnic area has five double tables, a large group area, a serving table, and cooking grills, as well as a large firepit and amphitheater, ideal for evening storytelling. Smaller, free family picnic sites are also available.
A 1/2-mile barrier-free trail leads to dramatic canyon and alpine views. Another nearby trail is suitable for mountain bikes and ATV's.
Fishing is good in the West Mancos River, 3/4 mile down the Transfer Trail from the campground. Plan to take your time on this hike: The trail is steep in places. It begins across the road from the campground entrance.
The Box Canyon Trail, about a mile south on the West Mancos Road, has somewhat easier access to the river, about 1/2 mile from the road.
The Chicken Creek Trail follows the creek downstream to the Jackson Gulch Reservoir and the Mancos State Recreation Area. The trailhead is about 1/4 mile north of the campground, on FDR 561.
The Gold Run Trail begins eight miles north of the campground on FDR 561. It drops steeply into Bear Creek Basin, where it joins the Bear Creek Trail.
The Sharkstooth Trail offers quick access to the high country from its trailhead near Twin Lakes, just off the Windy Gap Road (FDR 565). Motorized vehicles are not allowed because of fragile alpine conditions at the upper end of the 4.3-mile trail.
Many of the unpaved roads in the Mancos area are suitable for scenic drives for passenger cars. The Lost Canyon Scenic Loop is a popular excursion off Colorado Highway 184. The West Mancos Road (FDR 561) and the Rock Springs Road (FDR 556) are connected by the Lost Canyon Road (FDR 560). This 55-mile round-trip from Mancos traverses elevations from 7,000 to 10,000 feet. Along the way, the West Mancos Overlook has an outstanding view of the La Plata Mountains, framed in the foreground by the sheer-walled West Mancos Canyon. This area is noted for its colorful aspen display in the fall.
Several of the Forest roads in the Mancos area are maintained during the winter for cross-country skiing. Also, there are plowed parking areas for snowmobile access.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication