• Bachelor Loop Historic Tour - Creede

    mines 0004This 17-mile driving tour loops through Creede’s historic silver mining district and ghost towns. The tour’s first interpretive stop is just north of Creede in Willow Creek Canyon at the juncture of East and West Willow creeks. A passenger car can traverse the graded gravel road to the Equity Mine and then return to Creede via Bachelor Road (FS Road 504) and the old town site of Bachelor.

    Guidebooks, keyed to numbered markers along the loop, are available at the Creede Visitor Center and various businesses. The 25-page guidebook with map costs $3.00. The loop road has some narrow stretches and steep grades that require caution. Check on road conditions during inclement weather. Several 4-wheel-drive roads lead off the tour route into less accessible terrain. Allow a minimum of 1 hour for the tour.

  • Our Favorite Forks in the Road

    Wheeler Geologic Area - A mysterious ghost city

    bs WheelerIMG 3066-editThe Wheeler Geologic Area resembles a mysterious ghost city, with spires and minarets that seem to float like a cloud above the surrounding mountains.

    The formations are contained in a tiny 60-acre section of the Rio Grande National Forest where a mound of volcanic ash has eroded into a landscape that is so bizarre it seems to belong on another planet. This unique and somewhat eerie geologic phenomenon originated as part of the violent volcanic history of the San Juan Mountains. After millions of years of erosion, tall spires appear as if a race of giants had sculpted the pinnacles and placed rocks atop them. Erosion of vertical cracks produced rows of ash columns that look like a parade of pale soldiers or huge ghosts. Those who have written about the area describe the panorama of spires and pinnacles as forming castles, cathedrals and mosques.

    Silver-Threaders---beautiful-rock-formationThe area is a wonderful place to see, but getting there requires a good bit of effort.  Wheeler is located 24 miles from South Fork on Pool Table Rd. The 14 mile, 4-wheel drive road to the area is quite rough and in wet weather it can get very slick and become impassable. It is an expert level trail. An early start is required, as the trip takes a full day. Potential travelers are advised to check with the Visitor Center and the Creede Ranger District Office prior to making the trip. Visit www.southfork.org for a very detailed trip description.


    Summitville to Elwood Pass & Stunner - Backcountry with History


    Take Hwy 160 southwest from South Fork for 7 miles, and turn left on Park Creek Rd/FSR 380. Here is an area where Multiple Use Management of the Rio Grande National Forest’s Resources can be seen. A long-term contract was awarded by the Forest Service in 1954 to harvest 62 million board feet of timber. Ranches from the San Luis Valley also graze their cattle and sheep in these meadows. The efforts of many fishermen are often rewarded along the banks of Park Creek. After about 15 miles along this road you will have two choices:

    Doug-Knudson---Fall-21. Turn left on FSR 330 and in 3 miles you will reach Summitville. Gold was discovered here in 1870 by a group of Midwestern friends who found their way to this remote section of the San Juans. The secret of “Wightman’s Gulch” quickly leaked out, and the following summer brought hundreds of prospectors to what became the largest camp in the district at that time. By 1885 Summitville had over 2,500 staked claims and a population of around 700. A post office, school, daily newspaper, and at least 14 saloons allowed miners to live here year-round, enduring some harsh winters.

    SummitvilleThe boom faded in the later 1880’s and the town was nearly abandoned by 1894. Some mines were reopened in 1935 and a significant amount of copper was extracted during World War II. The area had a $2,000,000 shot in the arm in 1985 when mining resumed with a new process for extracting ore. However, the company filed bankruptcy and Summitville Mine is now closed and in the reclamation process, as a Superfund Site. Don’t drink the water!

    Option 2. Stay on FSR 380 and travel through picturesque Elwood Pass (which can be very rough) towards another abandoned mine site, Stunner. Continue on FSR 380 and eventually reach Platoro, 41 miles off Hwy 160. To return, follow the same route or go back to Summitville and follow FSR 330 to CR 14 (Pinos Creek) toward Del Norte. (See map on page 12)


    Beaver Creek Reservoir & Poage Lake - Classic Rocky Mountains

    Go south of South Fork on Hwy 160 and turn left on Beaver Creek Road. Follow this road for 7 miles to the Beaver Creek Reservoir. Here you may fish, boat or just admire the scenery. Great creek fishing stretches below the dam for several miles. In the winter, find a great sledding hill and superb ice-fishing on the far side of the reservoir. Continue on this road another 13 miles to Poage Lake. A short 1/4-mile hike gets you to the banks of the picturesque lake. Back-track to the turnoff, and the route also continues on to Summitville and loops back through Del Norte, for a full day’s trip.


    Big Meadows Reservoir, Shaw & Hunter’s Lakes - Into the high country for fall colors

    Photo by JustTooLazy - http://www.flickr.com/photos/90616144@N00/4811418630/Take Hwy 160 southwest of South Fork 12 miles and turn right on FSR 410 to Big Meadows Reservoir, a 600-acre lake with a spillway waterfall, boat ramp, fishing pier and amenities. This area is a delight to campers, fisherman, hikers, and boaters alike, and is a state wildlife area, where deer, bear and moose are easy to spot.

    Depending on road conditions, you may choose to continue past Big Meadows for 3 miles to Shaw Lake. If you have a few hours of daylight remaining, drive an additional 11 miles to the parking area for a short 1/3-mile walk into Hunter’s Lake. A nice 1-mile hiking trail circles the lake and gives fishermen access to the trout swimming in its waters.

  • Penitente Canyon & La Garita Arch

    Penitente-Canyon-Climber-unknown-photographerExperience the Power of Place

    Grab breakfast in town before heading east towards the San Luis Valley. To take the “scenic route” east, turn off at the Ute Bluff Lodge onto CR 19, cross the mighty Rio Grande and follow the paved/dirt CR 15 as it snakes along the river, through scenic ranches and farmland for about fifteen miles. Consider  a detour at the sign for Colonel Pfeiffer’s Grave, and visit the land granted to him by the Native Utes. Pass by Indian Head and other unusual and remarkable mountain outcroppings. Zigzag south-east-north just before getting onto Colorado 112 and travel north along the outer edge of the Valley for just over 2 miles. Follow the signs for Penitente Canyon and La Garita, and turn onto CR33/38A.

    You will first take an 11 mile round-trip expedition to see the Arch, or La Ventana (spanish for “window”), one of southern Colorado’s most unusual natural formations. Note the interesting geology of the area: about 33 million years ago during a period of explosive volcanic activity, large amounts of volcanic debris and ash were ejected into the air. Heat and pressure formed the ash into very hard rock, and millions of years worth of erosion deteriorated the softer material, leaving behind what we see today! The Arch was carved out of a volcanic “dike” and you might notice the signs of weathering on nearby companion arches.

    To see the Natural Arch: Take a left off of Rd 33/38A onto FS 660/Rd A32. Follow this road for 4.1 miles. Take FS 659/ Rd 35C and go another 1.6 miles north.

    South Fork to the Natural Arch: aprox 1 hr drive.

    Return to Road 38A and continue north-bound. Next up is Penitente Canyon, a designated Special Recreation Area with something for everyone!

    Doug-Knudson-PenetenteFor the sight-seer, hiker and history buff: Take the short hike up to see the Wagon Wheel ruts, a part of the Old Spanish Trail that served as a pack-animal route for traders traveling west to California in the mid-1800s. Wander throughout the unusual canyons in search of the San Luis Valley’s largest collection of pictographs. Most is the work of indigenous peoples who lived in the area 2,000 years ago, but a newer example is the faded blue Madonna high up on a rock face, reportedly painted by locals in the mid 1900s.

    For the rock climber: Penitente Canyon is an internationally recognized climbing area, providing 60-70 incredible sport climbing routes. The unusual volcanic landscape (rock that eroded and cracked over time) not only created a mystical backdrop for recreation, but the smoothed and rounded rock-face provides good hand-holds! South facing routes can be climbed year-round and range from beginner to advanced levels.

    Penitente LSVPLC

    For the mountain biker: 2 mountain bike loops offer a great opportunity to see the area. The B-loop is best for the beginner, while the A-loop is more fun for an advanced rider. Each route is less than three miles, and can also be hiked.

    If you need a snack break, return to CR 38A and drive the short distance to the town of La Garita. Stop at the Cash Store, an old log cabin turned general shop. Visit the picturesque 1924 Catholic church that today houses the San Juan Art Center. Make your return trip via Del Norte. Consider a stop by the Rio Grande County Museum for more about the local heritage and make a note to ask about Colonel Pfeiffer, a well know and respected Indian Agent!  Wander Grand Avenue’s antique shops and art galleries, and have dinner at the Historic Windsor Hotel.

    Penitente NaturalArch 01



    Learn more at  www.fs.usda.gov/recarea/riogrande/recarea/?recid=64790

    Download a detailed map of the area

  • Silver Thread Scenic Byway

    117 mile road trip through the Rockies

    Silver-Thread-LogoThe colorful old mining and logging camps of the Silver Thread Scenic Byway offer a wealth of history, while the surrounding Wilderness and National Forest lands serve up a huge dose of scenic beauty. Follow the Byway as it traces the routes of old toll roads, stagecoach lines and railways.

    Grab breakfast in South Fork, and start the first leg of your trip at the old water tower, which serviced steam locomotives til 1956.


    Hwy 149 then winds along the banks of the mighty Rio Grande. Catch a glimpse of an elk or deer as you travel by Coller State Wildlife area (where the Ute Indians set up their hunting camps). Marvel at the Palisade rock formations and take a quick peak inside Post Office Rock, where early settlers would leave notes for those in the mining camps.

    Pass through Wagon Wheel Gap and travel on to the historic mining town of Creede. Browse art galleries on their dramatic main street and tour the Underground Mining Museum (yes, visitors enter mine shafts bored into the cliff face, wander through tunnels mined from solid rock, and visit with former hard-rock miners!). Continue up the canyon a bit for a spectacular view of the Commodore mines.

    As you get back on Highway 149, Bristol Head Mountain looms ahead. You will loop around its southern side, and meet back up with the Rio Grande as it snakes its way through the outer rim of an ancient volcano. Travel by San Juan City, a former toll road stop, and begin climbing Spring Creek Pass. A bounty of natural wonders preside, including the sparkling and spectacular North Clear Creek Falls, the Slumgullion earth slide, and the shark-like fin of Uncompahgre Peak.

    st7 Silver-Thread-VC-SignSpring Creek Pass is steep, and must be traveled carefully. These mountains can be unforgiving so be prepared before embarking on any journey. (Legendary John C. Fremont lost 1/3 of his men in 1848 here, and a quarter of a century later Packer cannibalized his companions in two ill-fated winter expeditions).

    Take in the turquoise-colored Lake San Cristobal from a steep vantage point, and descend into Lake City. This picturesque town has over 200 buildings in the historic register. Stop for lunch and a walk around town.

    Head out through the steep canyon walls of the Lake Fork, passing by The Gate, an impressive rock formation. This final leg of the trip takes you towards Gunnison, through widening valleys where successful ranching communities sprang up and prospered. End your trip crossing the Blue Mesa Reservoir (a hot-spot for trophy lake trout) and entering Gunnison, a former Ute Indian summer camp - turned ranching community / college town.

    st7 Silver-Thread-VC-Sign

    Your return trip back over Spring Creek Pass will be met with a spectacular view of the sun setting over the San Juan Mountains. Stop in Creede for dinner and a showing at the highly-acclaimed Creede Repertory Theatre, then return to South Fork where hospitality is a big as the west!

    View Google Map

    Silver Thread Byway Website


    silver thread booklet


    Pick up a copy of the
    Guide Book
    at the Visitor Center


    SilverThread 01

  • The Great Sand Dunes

    Photo by woodleywonderworks - http://www.flickr.com/photos/wwworks/4937677686/A Sea of Sand

    Across the San Luis Valley and against the backdrop of rugged 14,000-foot peaks, the Great Sand Dunes provide a stunning sight to behold.  Over 30 square miles of dunes appear as a “sea of sand” against the nearly vertical face of the Sange de Cristo Mountains. These unique dunes, created by the continuous work of water and wind moving sand, provide a recreation area unlike any other. Medano Creek flows seasonally at the base of the dunes, providing a place where visitors enjoy sand, water and sun in a spectacular mountain setting.

    Climb the “High Dune,” nearly 700 feet above the valley floor, and sand board or “sled” back down! Before leaving the park, be sure to visit Zapata Falls. A half-mile hike leads uphill to an intriguing waterfall. Along the trail, enjoy panoramic views of the surrounding country, including the Great Sand Dunes far below.

    If you wish to spend a little more time in the area, we recommend a stop by the Colorado Gator Farm, where you may view and feed over 400 gators as well as dozens of pythons, turtles, rattlers, iguanas, dragons, geckos, parrots, tortoises, and more.  Learn more at www.nps.gov/grsa - Approximately 80 miles from South Fork.


    SandDunes 01

  • Wolf Creek Pass to Pagosa Springs

    Mountain-31This day trip will take you on a dramatic adventure to the top of the world, on a hunt for lost treasure, and at last to an epic natural hot springs that will let you soak it all in…
    Head out of South Fork on Highway 160, tuning your iPod to CW McCall’s humorous song “Wolf Creek Pass,” in which an out of control truck driver attempts to navigate the steep and winding road. When you reach the summit, just past the Wolf Creek Ski area, you will be on top of the Continental Divide. For a view from the top-of-the-top, take a side tour to the Lobo Overlook (Exit the highway to the right, just before you reach the large pull off/parking area onto County Rd 402. Note this road is occasionally closed to all but hikers and bikers). A steep 5.1 miles gets you high atop Thunder Mountain and provides stunning vistas of the surrounding San Juans. To the south you see Treasure Mountain, an area rich in folklore and stories of buried treasure. One legend suggests a chest of gold was buried on the mountain by soon-to-be-captured Frenchmen running from either Spaniards or Native Utes. If you are feeling extra ambitious, a hike around the area might result in a huge payout!

    To the far southeast is the Summitville mining district (another great day trip, though 4x4 is required). To the northwest lies the Weminuche Wilderness, the largest wilderness area in Colorado. Notice the windswept conditions of the trees living at “timberline,” and hunt for a few alpine wildflowers!

    Return to the highway and prepare yourself for a dramatic experience, despite the major US Highway you are traveling on. Wintertime brings this area the MOST snow in Colorado, so roads are often snow-packed and icy in the winter months. Even summertime sees the occasional snow! As you descend into the valley, stop at the scenic overlook just before the hairpin turns. A spectacular view of the Left  Fork of the San Juan River will inspire you to pull out a camera (or iPhone)! A couple of switchbacks later, and you will want to pull over again. Treasure Falls is a beautiful cascade that runs nearly all year, dropping grandly across the face of a rough volcanic cliff. A large parking area marks the entrance to the hiking path that leads to the base of the falls. The path is about 1/4 mile, well maintained, and suitable for all ages!

    The remaining drive into Pagosa Springs is easy and pleasant, leading you through a scenic valley of large ranches and farmland. Pagosa Springs is known for its year-round arts and music festivals. A lively downtown offers several great dining choices and lots of shopping! Check visitpagosasprings.com to see their summer, fall and winter guides.

    Photo by feverblue - http://www.flickr.com/photos/feverblue/6784080108/

    Your final, and ultimate destination will be the Springs Resort. With 23 hot tubs filled with natural hot springs mineral water, you will find relaxation and adventure as you travel from tub-to-tub, finding your perfect temperature, mountain view, or proximity to the San Juan River.  Bring the whole family, as a full-size pool, mild-temperature tubs, and river-access provide endless hours of fun for the kids, too!

    -- Approximately 43 miles from South Fork.

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    wolf creek pass map