Colorado’s San Luis Valley is home to the 1.86-million-acre Rio Grande National Forest. This forest near Del Norte, Colorado, contains the world’s largest agricultural alpine valley and one of the world's largest high deserts. The Rio Grande River runs through it, and the Continental Divide runs along its western border.
The Archuleta Trail begins at Forest Road 430.3c at the Big Meadows Boat Ramp Parking Lot. The first part of this trail past Big Meadows Reservoir is relatively flat, but the second half gains elevation quickly before reaching the Weminuche Wilderness.
Length: 7 miles
The Middle Alder Trail #797 begins at Forest Road 610 in the switchback near the Alder Guard Station. This trail crosses several small creeks, making it a fantastic place to see wildlife at sunrise and sunset. You will also want to explore the historic cabin and sawmill site. This trail ends at the end of Viers Creek Section 17.
Length: 5 miles
The East Bellows #790 Trail starts at Hanson’s Mill. It crosses East Bellows Creek near the Old Sheep’s Bridge in about 3 miles before continuing to the Wheeler Geologic Area. It runs around this area where you can see the unusual rock formations before following Forest Service roads back to its starting point.
Length: 5 miles
The Willow Lake Trail starts near Galena Avenue in Creede. This trail passes through several switchbacks and crosses several streams before arriving at Willow Lake. Follow the path back down from the east end of the lake, and you will see a gorgeous waterfall.
Length: 4.8 miles
The official beginning point of the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail is Crazy Cook Monument near Hachita, New Mexico. This trail and the 200-mile-long Colorado Trail share the same path across the state. This trail enters Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana before ending at the Canadian border.
Length: 3,028 miles
Intensity: Difficult to Strenuous
To enjoy some of the different ecosystems of the Rio Grande National Forest, consider driving along the Silver Thread Scenic Byway. This road that starts in Lake City passes by Lake San Cristobal where you can see the earthflow that shifts about 20 feet per year. Then, head to the Silver Creek Overlook to see many different plants and animals. Stop and hike along Williams Creek to see the mixture of pine and conifer trees until you reach the talus slope. The area around Powderhorn Lodge is the perfect place to climb through a spruce forest.
The EarthCache at Wheeler Geological Area is a fascinating place to explore in the Rio Grande National Forest. If you do not have a high-clearance four-wheel-drive vehicle, you will need to hike to the area from Hanson’s Mill. Find the answer to how long the most recent volcanic activity occurred in this area and how long it lasted by reading the interpretative panels. Find out how thick the ash was and more about the unique geological formation found at this site.
The Rio Grande National Forest is a great place to go wildlife viewing. The endangered Canada lynx has been introduced to this forest after people infringed on many areas of its Canadian territory. The forest is home to one of the largest herds of Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep. You can often spot mule deer in the forest. These deer often travel more than 90 miles throughout the year. Rocky Mountain elk often migrate from Carson National Forest to this location. The biggest cat that you may encounter is the cougar. You may see many other animals, including pronghorn antelope, bears, and red foxes, when visiting this national forest.
The high elevation and low humidity make stars seem even closer in many places in the Rio Grande National Forest. You can find many of these locations along the Colorado Dark Sky Tour. This tour starts in Lake City and includes much of Hinsdale County. This county is known for its excellent stargazing conditions because it is the least populated county in the United States. Over 98% of the county’s land is protected as public property. Include a stop at Smokey Jack Observatory in Westcliffe’s Bluff Park. This city has the highest elevation of any recognized International Dark Sky city in the world.
Address: North Clear Creek Falls Observation Site, Rio Grande National Forest, Forest Rd 510.3B, Creede, CO 81130
Fee: Entry fee $0
There are several reasons to bring your RV when visiting the Rio Grande National Forest. First, this area has some of the darkest skies in America, and you will not want to miss them. Secondly, this area is remote. Therefore, finding accommodations can be very rough. Most importantly, staying in one of this national forest’s many campgrounds allows you to be close to all the action.