Sometimes we just need a spot to get away from it all and retreat into nature. The following alpine destinations offer amazing scenery, some thinner air, and opportunities to play amidst the SLV’s natural wonders.
This high mountain lake sits at 11,720 ft. Archuleta Lake is located in located in the Weminuche Wilderness and is only accessible by horseback or hiking. It offers fishing for cutthroats, rainbows and brooks. The trail is fairly easy on the lower end, but elevation and steepness combine to make it moderately difficult on the upper end. Check the trail status here.
Alder Guard Station
This backcountry cabin can be rented for overnight stays in the San Juan Mountains. The Alder Guard Station is conveniently located two miles north of South Fork and nestled between two ridges of the San Juans. The cabin has electricity and a renovated kitchen and bathroom, indoor toilet, electric stove, refrigerator, wood stove, dining room and kitchen table. The area around the cabin offers many opportunities for recreation including hiking, horse riding, scenic viewing, ATV riding and fishing. The cabin can only be rented by calling 1-877-444-6777, or online at www.recreation.gov.
Climb a “14’er” – a 14,000-foot peak
The Fourteener climbs from the valley are big endeavors usually involving 6000 to 7000 feet of elevation gain that differs greatly from many of the other ascents around Colorado. These are generally two-day trips, but can be done in a day by those in really good shape. Climb one or all of the eleven 14′ers around the Valley. The Valley’s 14’ers include: Humboldt Peak, Crestone Needle, Crestone Peak, Kit Carson Mountain, Challenger Point, Blanca Peak, Little Bear Peak, Ellingwood Point, Mt. Lindsey, Culebra Peak, San Luis Peak. For detailed route information on any of the 14ers visit: http://www.14ers.com/
The Colorado trail is a demanding hike that passes through the northwestern elevations of the San Luis Valley from Saguache Park to Rio Grande Reservoir. http://www.coloradotrail.org/
Continental Divide Scenic Trail
The Continental Divide Trail (CDT) winds 235 miles through the Rio Grande National Forest at elevations of 10,500 to nearly 13,000 feet. The trail crosses back and forth across the Continental Divide and traverses parts of La Garita, Weminuche, and the South San Juan Wilderness areas. Pick a section of the CDT and head out for a hike or overnight adventure: http://www.continentaldividetrail.org/.
Crater Lake - Elevation 12,700 ft
The 10 acres of water is excellent for fly, cast and bait fishing. It is located on the west side of the Divide, and offers great trophy cutthroats and rainbows. Access is by 4-wheel drive or a difficult hike.
Mosca Pass Trail
The trail leaves out of the Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve, winds through aspen and evergreen forests to the summit of a pass in the Sangre de Cristo mountain range. This is a relatively gentle hike for the Sangres and can quickly you get you up into the high alpine meadows. Mosca Pass served as an entrance to the valley for nomadic hunters, Spanish soldiers, homesteaders, and traders carrying goods bound for Plains Indian tribes. In 1807 Zebulon Pike, author of the earliest known written description of the Great Sand Dunes, passed nearby with his men, en-route to the river and the valley floor. For more information on this and other hiking opportunities in Great Sands NP visit: http://www.nps.gov/grsa/planyourvisit/hiking.htm
Located in a high mountain valley on the Conejos River, the lake offers fishing, camping, hiking, backpacking, canoeing and boating. The reservoir and old mining town of Platoro is a great base for exploring the nearby South San Juan Wilderness. Trujillo Meadows Reservoir near the summit of Cumbres Pass also boasts high altitude scenery and is a good spot for fishing, camping and wildlife observation.
South Zapata Trail
Leaves from the Zapata Falls trailhead leads to the South Zapata lakes, deep in the Wilderness. The 5-mile hike to the lakes can seem much longer, because of the steepness of the trail. This is a full day hike for most, so if you are set on making the lakes leave early.
Wheeler Geologic Area
An all-day, 7 mile hike or a rugged 4-wheel drive is only for the well prepared, but rewards the visitor with extraordinary views of volcanic geologic features. The ghostly spires and flowing folds makes for one of the most astounding geologic sites in Colorado. The 640-acre area became America’s first National Monument in 1908, but was later decommissioned due to its inaccessibility. For more information: click here.