U.S. National Forest Campground Guide

Gunnison National Forest


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Forest Information

The Gunnison National Forest covers 1,665,121 acres of land and is located a little west of central Colorado in the Rocky Mountains. There are fifty-four developed campgrounds of which twenty-six met the selection criteria.

The Gunnison National Forest was named in honor of Captain John Gunnison, who came to the area in 1853 in search of a feasible route across the Continental Divide for the railroad. Today, people come to the area in search of open space, majestic mountain scenery, abundant wildlife, and diverse recreation opportunities.

A center piece of the Gunnison National Forest recreation opportunities is water. Its many creeks, streams, rivers, lakes, and reservoirs offer a variety of water sports including rafting, kayaking and excellent fishing near developed campgrounds. (Contact the Gunnison National Forest for local outfitters.)

Bounding the Forest on its southern side is the Curecanti National Recreation Area (NRA) with its three dams and resulting lakes Blue Mesa, Morrow Point, and Crystal. The Curecanti NRA provides water for hydro-electric power, irrigation, flood control, municipal water supplies and recreation. Tucked away along one arm of Blue Mesa (the largest body of water in Colorado) is the Soap Creek campground, sweet little place locations for car and tent camping enthusiasts. This campground, close enough to the Curecanti NRA for campers to enjoy boating and fishing on Blue Mesa, offers the solitude and beauty of the West Elk Wilderness without the inconveniences of dispersed camping.

While the Curecanti NRA, and nearby Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Monument, are close enough to the Gunnison National Forest to be enjoyed, many visitors find the attractions around Taylor Park Reservoir more of what they want. This 2,400-acre lake offers Mackinaw, Rainbow and Brown trout along with Northern Pike and Kokanee Salmon fishing along as well as power boating activities. Lakeview campground, a nice recreational vehicle (RV) and motorhome camping area, is located well-above the lake and close to the lake's only marina, offers panoramic vistas of the Taylor Park Reservoir and the surrounding mountain ranges, as well as very RV-friendly camping sites. The only other campground relatively close to Taylor Park Reservoir is Rivers End.. This campground is located on a bluff where Taylor River enters the Reservoir. To the north and east of Rivers End campground, sagebrush and tall grass stretch toward the mountains while to the south and west is the blue of the lake. Campgrounds, such as Dinner Station and Dorchester, well away from Taylor Park Reservoir, are tucked into forests next to rivers feeding the reservoir with sites offering views of prairies and mountains.

While the idea of a transcontinental railroad route brought some attention to this area in the mid-1800s, it was the discovery of ores that started the real boom in the Gunnison area. Today, some of those old mining communities live on while awaiting exploration. It is hard to imagine Crested Butte, founded in 1879, as a rough and tumble coal mining town. Today, Crested Butte's paved streets are lined with neat, well-maintained homes and businesses catering to a year-round tourist industry. Not far out of town is the beautiful Lake Irwin with an adjacent campground. Lake Irwin campground has been identified as "the prettiest" in Colorado. This distinction could be challenged by two others nearby: Lost Lake and Erickson Springs campgrounds. One hugs a lake's shoreline at the base of the Beckwith Mountains, while the other stretches out along a fast-flowing stream; both boast West Elk and Raggeds wildernesses as scenic backdrops. Plus, these campgrounds have yet to be "discovered"; this feature alone is worth an extra vote or two.

Whichever campground is used, a drive along Kebler Pass Road , County Road 12, is a must, particularly when the Aspen are turning color. Although a dirt and gravel roadway, County Road 12 is well-maintained and a pleasant drive in a family sedan. Linking the charming little town of Paonia (the story goes that a spelling error by the Post Office changed Peonia to Paonia) to Crested Butte, Kebler Pass Road offers magnificent views.

In contrast to Crested Butte is the community of Tin Cup, Colorado. In this town it is not hard to imagine an old sourdough prospector walking down the main street to the town's store with his trusted burro for supplies. Today, there are no drinking houses with canvas roofs or bawdy houses, but log cabins remain from that time and they are occupied. Legends vary on how the town got its name but one common thread through all is a prospector found gold nearby and the town of Tin Cup was born. Horses and burros have been replaced with ATVs and 4WDs and Tin Cup has retained a quaint charm that makes it a nice day trip from Mirror Lake campground.

Tin Cup is not the only place for off-road-vehicle enthusiasts. Off-road-vehicles of every description can be found all along the many miles of challenging and scenic trails within the Gunnison National Forest. Routes over Engineer Pass, Cinnamon Pass and Cumberland Pass are popular with the adventurous. A popular Jeep tour is along the Alpine Tunnel Historic District (www.narrowgauge.org/alpine-tunnel/html/index.html) which features the highest and most expensive narrow gauge railroad tunnel in the world. The tunnel was constructed in 1880 through 1881 at an elevation of 11,542-feet. For safety reasons the Alpine Tunnel is not open to the public but the route offers some spectacular views and insight to the challenges of building a railroad across the land surveyed by Captain Gunnison almost a 150 years ago. (For more information and maps about the trails in the forest, contact the Gunnison National Forest.)

A lot has happened to the area since Captain Gunnison's visit but the land is still rugged and beautiful and waits a new group of visitors. In the Gunnison National Forest one can: hike ancient trails created by Ute moccasins and camp under the stars as they did; use roads created to move ore from the many mines by horse and wagons more than a century ago; or, watch hawks soar high above, squirrels play tag in tree tops, or Elk cross a nearby meadow with a regal gate. Fish, bike, boat, camp, enjoy any number of other recreational activities found in the Gunnison National Forest.

SUPERVISOR ADDRESS 2250 US Highway 50 Delta, Colorado 81416 970-874-6600 RANGER DISTRICT ADDRESSES Gunnison 216 N. Colorado Gunnison, Colorado 81230 970-641-0471 Paonia P.O.B. 1030 North Rio Grande Ave. Paonia, Colorado 81428 970-527-4131

Fred and Suzi Dow