Forum
Buying gear? Please use these links to help 14ers.com:

More info...

Other ways to help...

San Juan/Rio Grande NF campground recs

Trailhead conditions, directions, roads, parking, camping, etc. Trailhead Info/Status
User avatar
Posts: 25
Joined: Wed Sep 02, 2009 6:13 am

San Juan/Rio Grande NF campground recs

Postby thebugguy » Mon Jul 08, 2013 10:27 am

Howdy all-

I've got a quick question that I imagine someone here will have an opinion on, but first the background... I'm planning a vacation with my two kids (six and eight) and expect to be arriving in the San Juan/Rio Grande NF area from Kansas via NE New Mexico around Sunday, July 21st (the kids really want to see Capulin Volcano National Monument near Raton). Anyhoo, the Colorado goals are to try Handies Peak as the kids' first 14er early-ish in the week (probably Tues. 23rd), zonk in a motel for a night at Lake City or Gunnison, and then spend a long weekend at Black Canyon of the Gunnison NP before swinging back east towards Kansas.

I am currently tearing my hair out trying to balance all of the following: 1. keeping on top of fires and campground/road closures, 2. not picking roads that will tear the guts out of our poor old RAV-4 (e.g. Cinnamon Pass), 3. trying to keep the driving to a minimum for all of our sanity and 4. picking NF campgrounds that are not overrun and that might have interesting/easy hikes nearby. I had originally planned on getting as far as Durango to camp for a couple days until I realized that the Silverton-Cinnamon Pass-American Basin road was probably too much for the vehicle. Now I'm thinking of going no farther than Pagosa Springs, and while I'd love to see the area, I'm considering cutting the mileage even shorter and heading into the NF via Monte Vista/Del Norte (assuming 160 and 149 remain open).

Soooo.... my question is this- if you had two outdoorsy kids who were sick of being in the car and wanted to camp and goof around few days within a half-day drive of Handies, where would you go? Are there really some must-see campgrounds/day hikes around Durango? Most of the campgrounds and trails immediately near Pagosa are closed- right? What about the campgrounds/trails just east of Lake City- Slumgullion, Hidden Valley, Spruce Campgrounds? Any impressive, short hikes in that neighborhood?

This will be my first time in the area (I tend to haunt the Sangres) and I really don't know much about it. Any suggestions for day hikes or nice campgrounds near-ish to Handies would be appreciated!

cheers,
thebugguy
I cook with wine. Sometimes I even add it to the food... -W.C. Fields

User avatar
Posts: 25
Joined: Wed Sep 02, 2009 6:13 am

Re: San Juan/Rio Grande NF campground recs

Postby thebugguy » Mon Jul 08, 2013 3:12 pm

All-

Ok, a further, back up emergency question- if we decide to skip Handies and avoid the Pagosa Springs - Creede - Lake City corridor altogether, does anyone have an interesting/fun/relatively easy 13er suggestion somewhere along the 550 corridor from Durango to Ridgeway? Sure, we can come in to Lake City from the north, but the way the fire is spreading northward, I wouldn't be surprised if the Williams Creek Campground isn't closed in the next week or so...

Again, any suggestions welcome (but no, unfortunately I'm not too interested in Torreys and Grays this time around)...

cheers,
zack
I cook with wine. Sometimes I even add it to the food... -W.C. Fields

User avatar
Posts: 1014
Joined: Thu Jun 15, 2006 6:10 pm
Location: Up high in the San Juan Mtns (Apr-Nov) and down by the beach in CA & HA (Nov-Apr)

Re: San Juan/Rio Grande NF campground recs

Postby San Juan Ron » Mon Jul 08, 2013 4:14 pm

The fire isn't anywhere near Williams Creek Campground (the one on CR 30 near Lake City). The fire has been growing primarily south if you look at a map of the fire growth. They recently opened the Colorado Trail which is maybe 8-10M north of the fire and 5+M south of CR 30 and Williams Creek Campground. Also, Handies is safe and nowhere near the fire. SJ Ron (send me a PM if you have specific questions)

User avatar
Posts: 120
Joined: Mon Jul 14, 2008 1:28 pm
Location: Durango, CO

Re: San Juan/Rio Grande NF campground recs

Postby evolve » Mon Jul 08, 2013 5:09 pm

thebugguy wrote:... does anyone have an interesting/fun/relatively easy 13er suggestion somewhere along the 550 corridor from Durango to Ridgeway?


  • Sultan and Grand Turk with car camping at Little Molas Lake.
  • Niagra and Jones from Burns Gulch with lots of camping options in the area, although not all options are aesthetically equal per all the mining activity.
  • It's longer, but you can always tackle Handies from the Silverton side via Grouse Gulch.
  • Ice Lake Basin is a fantastic place although most of the peaks in the immediate area are a little more challenging. You can car camp at South Mineral campground or camp in the basin. Note it can be a busy place.
  • Crater Lake and the West Needles are a great option if you don't mind hiking in 5 miles and camping. I've been up North Twilight and it isn't terribly difficult but may or may not be appropriate for your kids depending on their comfort level. Beautiful place though.
  • The LaPlatas might be a good option. However, I don't know much about the peaks in the area or what the road conditions are like.

User avatar
Posts: 25
Joined: Wed Sep 02, 2009 6:13 am

Re: San Juan/Rio Grande NF campground recs

Postby thebugguy » Mon Jul 08, 2013 8:30 pm

SJR-
Yes, I realize the fire isn't *that* close (though it's hard to have a sense of perspective of the area having never been there and while living in a place like Kansas), but every time I mention "forest fire" and "taking the kids camping" in the same conversation my Better Half gets all twitchy. That, and I have about seven days a year to be in Colorado (if I'm lucky), so even a half-day detour due to an unexpected road closure really puts a kink in things. Sad it has to be that way, but it is what it is.

evolve-
Little Molas Lake was not on my radar, but it looks like a great place to recuperate and get our "mountain legs" after a looong drive out. I don't think we'll try packing in anywhere, and I'm trying to keep the mileage low- there's just nowhere around here to help the kids prepare for a 10 mile jaunt up a mountainside... I think if we can rack up a couple quiet days there we'll be ready to spend the time getting to the American Basin trail head. Cinnamon Pass sounds absolutely lovely if I were in my '97 Taco- this time, though, we'll have to settle for the long way around.

Thanks again for the comments and suggestions I really appreciate them!

Cheers,
thebugguy
I cook with wine. Sometimes I even add it to the food... -W.C. Fields

Online
User avatar
Posts: 1425
Joined: Wed Jun 29, 2005 9:17 am
Location: Dillon

Re: San Juan/Rio Grande NF campground recs

Postby TravelingMatt » Mon Jul 08, 2013 8:51 pm

thebugguy wrote:What about the campgrounds/trails just east of Lake City- Slumgullion, Hidden Valley, Spruce Campgrounds? Any impressive, short hikes in that neighborhood?


From Spring Creek Pass (where I believe there is a campground), take the Continental Divide Trail east. It is gentle and scenic, and you can easily access as many as three 13ers, five if you're in good shape. Even if you don't summit anything, Snow Mesa is the most amazing flat place this side of Jillian Michaels' abdominals.
So pleas'd at first the towering Alps we try,
Mount o'er the vales, and seem to tread the sky,
Th' increasing prospects tire our wand'ring eyes,
Hills peep o'er hills, and Alps on Alps arise!
-- Alexander Pope

User avatar
Posts: 25
Joined: Wed Sep 02, 2009 6:13 am

Re: San Juan/Rio Grande NF campground recs

Postby thebugguy » Wed Jul 10, 2013 1:26 pm

TM-
Thanks for the suggestion. I've had brain-lock on Durango for a while (I kinda just want to see the Durango-Silverton corridor), but this is an interesting idea. It shortens the overall trip by 300 miles (and, more importantly for the kids, 6+ hours of car-time). Besides, there is an "attraction" the kids would find cool in Creede (the Last Chance Mine) that would otherwise be driven past.

I'll have to look at some additional hiking options. Jillian Michaels' abs notwithstanding, I'm afraid Snow Mesa might be a little anti-climactic for the kids. We're from Kansas, after all- we've been-there and done-that with flat.

Cheers,
tbg

PS: I had never heard of Jillian Michaels, but indeed her abs are, objectively, rather impressive.
I cook with wine. Sometimes I even add it to the food... -W.C. Fields

User avatar
Posts: 1014
Joined: Thu Jun 15, 2006 6:10 pm
Location: Up high in the San Juan Mtns (Apr-Nov) and down by the beach in CA & HA (Nov-Apr)

Re: San Juan/Rio Grande NF campground recs

Postby San Juan Ron » Wed Jul 10, 2013 7:50 pm

FYI, I drove to Creede & South Fork today (from Lake City) on my Harley and the smoke was negligible (BIG change for the better from 2 weeks ago). And it rained HARD especially in the Creede area. SJ Ron

User avatar
Posts: 25
Joined: Wed Sep 02, 2009 6:13 am

Re: San Juan/Rio Grande NF campground recs

Postby thebugguy » Thu Jul 11, 2013 8:06 am

Cool- glad to hear the rains are kicking in. It looks like more are coming.

After poking around some it looks like there are about a zillion places to camp near Lake San Cristobal. Although we'll be arriving on a Saturday afternoon, I'm sure we'll find someplace decent to settle down for a few days.

I'm looking at the Cuba Gulch trail as a practice hike for the kids- not too long, not too steep and appropriately impressive. All other things being equal, it's now just a matter of the weather cooperating and my confidence in getting our 97 RAV-4 up to the Cuba Gulch and American Basin trail heads (and then back down)...

cheers,
tbg
I cook with wine. Sometimes I even add it to the food... -W.C. Fields

User avatar
Posts: 1014
Joined: Thu Jun 15, 2006 6:10 pm
Location: Up high in the San Juan Mtns (Apr-Nov) and down by the beach in CA & HA (Nov-Apr)

Re: San Juan/Rio Grande NF campground recs

Postby San Juan Ron » Thu Jul 11, 2013 9:45 am

You might consider Cataract Gulch if you are not sure about reaching Cuba Gulch. Cat Gulch is around 4.5m to the lakes (Cont. Divide) or you can stop about halfway at the waterfall. It's a very nice hike but you do gain most of the elevation in the first half of the hike. SJ Ron :)

User avatar
Posts: 25
Joined: Wed Sep 02, 2009 6:13 am

Re: San Juan/Rio Grande NF campground recs

Postby thebugguy » Fri Jul 12, 2013 6:46 pm

SJR-

Yes, Cataract Gulch is the backup, but it's a little long for the kids to complete. One can measure "achievement" all sorts of ways in the outdoors, and any landmark can be a worthy goal. However, I'd really like for the kids to rack up at least one obvious "I did it" moments before trying Handies.

As for whether the RAV will handle the road, I take the Justice Potter Stewart approach: I know it [a road too gnarly for the car] when I see it.

Cheers,
tbg
I cook with wine. Sometimes I even add it to the food... -W.C. Fields

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 3 guests