Uncompahgre National Forest Overview

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The Uncompahgre National Forest lies in the heart of American alpine country. It's a land of 14,000-foot peaks, fast-flowing creeks, alpine lakes, deep spruce forests, red rock gorges, and lots of black bears. It's also a land of gold.

Abandoned mine shafts and ghost towns dot the landscape, emblems of the Uncompahgre's Gold Rush past. Prospectors staked their claims in the 1800s and built up towns like Telluride that have since become wildly popular vacation destinations. The roads built by the miners now serve as major thoroughfares into the forest's vast backcountry.

Come mid-summer, the snows in the high country finally melt, and alpine meadows explode in a riotous display of red Indian paintbrush, columbine, and buttercups. The aspen turn a brilliant gold as autumn descends, and elk bugle in the valleys. Winter brings deep snows and great skiing. Whatever kind of outdoor adventure you crave, the Uncompahgre has it.

Climb Uncompahgre Peak
Rising solitary and grand, Uncompahgre Peak is the pinnacle of the Uncompahgre Wilderness Area. The trek begins across open alpine tundra, where you're surrounded by vistas of seemingly endless mountains. The flat top of Uncompahgre Peak is in view throughout your hike, which makes the trail easy to follow. You'll need to scramble to reach the summit at 14,309 feet, but no technical climbing skills are necessary.

More on climbing in Uncompahgre National Forest

Land a Lunker
Lower, Middle, and Upper Blue Lake form a haven for native trout in the shadow of Mount Sneffels. Reputed to outsmart as well as dwarf their farm-bred brethren, the trout in these sparkling waters are not the only fish you might encounter in the Uncompahgre. Countless backcountry streams host an array of angler's delights—Northern pike, yellow perch, catfish, bass, and bluegill are all a cast away.

More on fishing in Uncompahgre National Forest

Mountain Bike the High Road
The Sneffels Range Loop is a 70-mile backcountry sojourn along a historic mining route established in the gold rush days. Connecting Telluride, Ouray, and Ridgway, the ride is a multi-day excursion that circumnavigates one of the most scenic ranges in Colorado. The terrain is steep and alternates between jeep roads, doubletrack, and technical singletrack passages. The ride starts with a massive 4,500-foot climb out of Telluride, but what goes up must come down. Hold on to your helmet and be ready for a wild romp.

More on biking in Uncompahgre National Forest

Drive the San Juan Skyway
The San Juan Skyway (US 550) is a high-altitude history lesson. Start in Durango, a once-bustling railroad town built to service the mining industry in its heyday. From here, the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Train still operates, taking passengers on a glorious ride through the clouds. Heading north, you'll pass hot springs, downhill skiing at Purgatory, and great fishing. You'll also drive through the highest paved pass in the San Juans at 11,075 feet. The section of Skyway that passes through the Uncompahgre is known as the Million Dollar Highway, a paltry sum compared to the priceless scenery you'll see along the way.

More on scenic driving in Uncompahgre National Forest

Camp at a Ghost Town
Going camping in the Uncompahgre is a lot like choosing a hotel—you have your five-stars, your Holiday Inns, and your cheap motels. On the luxury end, the Matterhorn campground near Telluride features such marquee amenities as electricity and hot showers, all easily accessible from the highway. Most of the other campgrounds aren't quite so developed, but still have running water. For a camping adventure that's really rough-and-tumble, try Alta Lakes, where the only comforts are those you bring with you. Alta Lakes lies on the edge of a ghost town, where the spirits of prospectors are rumored to roam, still searching for the mother lode.

More on camping in Uncompahgre National Forest


Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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