San Juan National Forest Scenic Byways - Colorado Scenic Drives
U.S. 160 North and San Juan Overlook
l7 miles of spectacular mountain scenery. Route climbs 900 feet in elevation, ascending from ponderosa pine timber through open grassland meadows along the San Juan River to aspen and dense spruce-fir stands. High mountains along the Continental Divide provide a majestic backdrop. At mile 15 you will observe Treasure Falls rushing hundreds of feet down the cliff toward you. In winter these falls create an ice-blue, frozen sculpture. In summer, park at the parking lot and follow the trail and interpretive signs to the bridge that crosses the stream at the foot of the falls. The San Juan Overlook parking area is 2 miles further north on 160 and offers a breathtaking view of the San Juan River Valley. The many stands of aspen along the entire route make this a "must" when autumn is working its magic with colors. Careful viewing in early winter evenings might afford you opportunity to observe elk and deer feeding in the meadows. Be sure to take along your camera.
Piedra Road and Williams Reservoir
North on Piedra Road. 23 miles of all-weather road through open rangeland and private ranches. Northern end of road crosses the Piedra River and parallels Williams Creek before reaching the 343 acre reservoir. Surrounding area abuts the Weminuche Wilderness. There are 4 Forest Service campgrounds along this route. Here for a fee you might choose to have a picnic or just sit and watch small boats floating lazily on the lake as fishermen angle for wily rainbow trout. In autumn the aspen in the area turn many shades of red and orange making a kaleidoscope of colors with the snow-tinged mountains. Also a nice winter drive but the road is closed and not plowed from the Piedra Road into the reservoir. Winter access from here would have to be by snowmobile, skis or snowshoes.
35 miles round trip. Summer and fall only. Route goes north on Fourmile access road through private property for 6 miles before reaching the forest boundary. At mile 7.5 the road forks with right hand for leading to the 4-Mile trailhead. Left fork continues, climbing in elevation through ponderosa pines and into aspen and spruce-fir stands. Road crosses several small high mountain creeks and open meadows. Flora and fauna abound for those interested in taking pictures. On reaching the top, most of the southern end of the country is visible below you. To the North Pagosa Peak dominates your view. The road gradually descends in elevation until you reach McManus Road (663). Her you turn south to connect with the Piedra Road which goes south to Pagosa Springs or north to Williams Reservoir and vicinity. Aspen and large stands or gamble oak make this drive worthwhile when colors change in the fall.
Lower Piedra And Navajo Reservoir
l8 miles west on US 160 then 13 miles south on State 151. Descending elevation takes you into warmer pinon-juniper country. Routes offers excellent view of Chimney Rock pinnacles (entrance gate to archaeological area 3 miles down 151) and Piedra River valley. Added attractions for winter and early spring viewers are the large numbers of elk and deer visible along the way. A watchful eye might reward you with sightings of bald and golden eagles. An increasing number of these magnificent large birds frequent the area in winter. Navajo Reservoir offers excellent warm water fishing. The recreation area (fee required) offers visitor information, a boat ramp and parking facilities.
East Fork And Elwood Pass
Late summer and early fall only. This drive is recommended for experienced 4 wheel drivers-road is difficult even when dry. 10 miles north on US 160 to East Fork (667). Road forks at approximately 6 miles-keep left. From this junction on (8 miles) is primitive-there are many steep grades and mudholes. Near confluence with Elwood Creek you will need to ford the East Fork of The San Juan River. This is difficult during high water. Route climbs out of canyon bottom to the top of Elwood Pass on the Continental Divide (elevation 11,631). At this point the road forks-south to Platoro and north to the gold mining town of Summitville. You have several choices of return-back the way you came, north on Park Creek Road to US 160 on the east side of Wolf Creek Pass or east to Del Norte and US 160. Route through the pristine East Fork Valley and over divide is the same route used by early day settlers and military in the late 1800's before the opening of Wolf Creek Pass in 1916. Evidence can be seen of homestead cabins and early day mining activities. Silver Falls in the East Fork Valley and El wood Creek Cascades add their beauty to this route. Check with local Forest Service Office about conditions before attempting this drive.
Other opportunities exist both for 4 wheelers and conventional vehicles. Please contact the local forest service office for more information and road conditions.
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San Juan National Forest
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication