U.S. National Forest Campground Guide

San Juan National Forest


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Forest Information

The San Juan National Forest is located in southwestern Colorado and is comprised of 1,877,675 acres. There are forty-seven developed campgrounds of which thirty-one meet the selection criteria.

History and nature blend together in the San Juan National Forest to give visitors a special forest experience. Stretches from the towering heights of Wolf Creek Pass, northeast of Pagosa Springs, Colorado, to the endless prairie west of Dolores, Colorado, this Forest contains a wide variety of camping locations. Hidden by the towering heights are large reservoirs, fast flowing rivers, wildflower dotted meadows, and lush tree-covered mountains adding to the Forest's breath-taking beauty. Overall, the San Juan National Forest is a land that has long attracted humans with its beauty and diversity.

Prehistoric people (hunters/gatherers) arrived in the San Juan National Forest about 8,000 years ago leaving behind only stone axes and hunting tools. Than came the Ancestral Pueblo people who disappear about 700 years later. They did, however, leave behind pottery, weaving, jewelry and elaborate pueblo villages and cliff dwellings. San Juan National Forest's visitors find the Ute campground convenient to the Chimney Rock Archeological Area. Not as well known as other examples of Ancestral Pueblo culture, Chimney Rock offers insight into the religious and cultural importance of the night sky to the ancient Chaco Pueblo people.

Forest Service camping locations of Transfer and Target Tree are convenient to both Mesa Verde National Park and ranch-farming community, Mancos. Recreational vehicle (RV) and motorhome camping-friendly Target Tree gets its name from the trees found there used by the Ute people for target practice during their annual migrations.

West Dolores and Mavreeso campgrounds are convenient, via a "light duty, gravel" roadway, to a couple of special places. Nearby are McPhee Park with its stand of virgin "yellow bark" Ponderosa pine and the scene of the last Indian battle in Colorado, Beaver Creek Massacre Site. A three point of interest is the old 1881 stage and wagon route, the Aminas-Silverton Wagon Road, can be explored from Haviland Lake campground.

There are several reminders of the area's mining history. Probably the most well-known mining towns in the Forest are Silverton and Durango. (For those who would like to visit some of the area's "ghost" towns, several books are available from the Forest Service and local bookstores. Four wheel drive vehicles are recommended for some of the adventures.) The U.S. 550 Corridor, connecting Silverton and Durango, is a 70-mile stretch offering spectacular views of millions of years of geologic and human history. Off the Corridor, Junction Creek campground, is an ideal location for exploring and enjoying the many activities available in Durango. At the other end of the Corridor, and about six miles west of Silverton, is South Mineral campground. This campground has several loops below cliffs of brilliant color-contrasting reds and grays either along South Mineral Creek or beside a wildflower dotted meadow. Fishing is reported fair in the Creek but the nearby trails are said to be delightful.

While the San Juan National Forest is rich in history, it is its natural beauty attracting most visitors. Dotted with many lakes, it is the man-made lakes that dominate many family camping vacation plans. In the middle of pinon, juniper, and sagebrush country McPhee Reservoir's shoreline ranges from gentle sloping sagebrush-covered hills to shores lined with the lacy shadows of mature aspen and sweet scented Ponderosa pine. Located on the southern shore of the McPhee Reservoir, McPhee campground, with flush toilets, hot showers, a dump station, and some electric hook-ups, has the most modern facilities to be found in the San Juan National Forest. To the east and near Durango, Vallecito Reservoir, built for irrigation, is a RV and motorhome camping-friendly camping location that has been a favorite destination for water-sport enthusiasts for decades. With seven developed campgrounds located near or on Vallecito Reservoir and a full-service community nearby, there is something for everyone. In contrast, the Williams Creek Lake area offers car and tent-friendly campgrounds with basic facilities (vaults and drinking water) and a convenient RV dump station. The towering mountains of the Weminuche Wilderness provide a picturesque backdrop to Teal, a Williams Creek Lake campground. With no boat ramp but camping sites a short walk from the Lake under mature Ponderosa pines and featuring Kokanee salmon and trout, Williams Creek Lake is an excellent location to enjoy the beauty of the San Juan National Forest and catch dinner. South of the Lake, along Williams Creek, is the Williams Creek campground. This campground is one of the largest and most compressed in the Forest, offering both shaded and sunny sites. Williams Creek campground is a very popular destination for its quiet and peaceful atmosphere, not fishing, during the summer months.

One way to explore the San Juan National Forest is via its trails. There are some well-known trails, such as the Colorado Trail, receiving a fair amount of traffic while others await "discovery." Suggested "undiscovered" trails: Big Al, a wheelchair friendly trail out of the Transfer campground; Williams Creek Trail, a foot and horse trail near Cimarrona campground; the Calico and Priest Gulch trails which combine to present a challenging adventure for mountain bikers; and, Geyser Springs Trail, which accesses the only true geyser in the Forest. (Complete trail guide information is available from the San Juan National Forest.)

Although no developed camping locations are within any of the San Juan's three Wilderness areas, several campgrounds provide easy access to a Wilderness. East Fork campground is just a few miles from the trail head into the South San Juan Wilderness. Cimarrona, Vallecito, and Transfer Park campgrounds feature trail heads into the Weminuche Wilderness. And Burro Bridge, a pretty and relatively undiscovered campground, is well-located for exploring the Lizard Head Wilderness. (Because the dispersed camping location are not developed they are not included in this campground directory. Contact the San Juan National Forest directly for information on dispersed camping rules and regulations.)

Mountains, canyons, waterfalls, unusual land forms and wide variations in elevation and vegetation characterize the San Juan National Forest where history and nature blend. This is a Forest that has something to offer everyone. Come and visit to see for yourself.

SUPERVISOR ADDRESS 15 Burnett Ct. Durango, Colorado 81301 970-247-4874 RANGER DISTRICT ADDRESSES Columbine 367 S. Pearl St. Bayfield, Colorado 81301 970-884-2512 Dolores 29211 Hwy 186 100 North 6th St. Dolores, Colorado 81323 970-882-7296 Pagosa 180 Second St. POB 310 Pagosa Springs, Colorado 81147 970-264-2268

Fred and Suzi Dow