U.S. National Forest Campground Guide

San Isabel National Forest


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Forest Information

The San Isabel National Forest is located in south-central Colorado and is comprised of 1,117,131 acres. There are 43 developed campgrounds of which 35 met the selection criteria.

The San Isabel National Forest is a forest of many faces. Stretching from Leadville, Colorado southward to La Veta and Canon City in the east, the San Isabel National Forest contains alpine lakes, Englemann spruce topped mountains, Ponderosa pine dotted meadows, breathtaking mountain passes, and portions of six different Wilderness Areas. With nearly 800 miles of trails, nineteen peaks over 14,000 feet, and numerous camping locations, the San Isabel National Forest has recreation for everyone.

Probably the most popular developed areas in the San Isabel National Forest are Turquoise Lake and Twin Lakes Recreational Areas. Turquoise Lake boasts seven campgrounds, many with flush toilets, and a centrally located dump station. Two boats ramps provide convenient access to the lake for boaters and anglers. May Queen. campground, on the Lake's west side, receives the morning sunlight and enjoys magnificent views of Mount Massive and Holy Cross Wildernesses. Two trails round out Forest Service provided activities in the Recreation Area. One, 12.5 miles in length, is designed to challenge hikers and mountain bikers. The other, Turquoise Lake Nature Trail, is only1.2 miles in length, provides a pleasant stroll for the whole family giving Turquoise Lake a great place for family camping vacation for car, tent, recreational vehicle (RV) and motorhome camping enthusiasts.

The Twin Lakes Recreation Area features camping location as developed but equally popular to Turquoise Lake's campgrounds. Twin Lake's least developed camping location is Dexter Point. However, with sites along the lake's shoreline and a boat ramp, it is popular with boaters and anglers. Lakeview, the Recreation Area's largest campground, features spectacular views of Twin Lakes and the surrounding mountains. And than there are Twin Peaks and Parry Peak campgrounds, tucked away in a valley at the western end of Twin Lakes on the way to Independence Pass. (Note that Independence Pass is open only during summer season and has a length restriction on vehicles.)

While the wilderness areas found in San Isabel National Forest have no developed campgrounds or motorized access there are a number of developed camping locations close-by. Alvarado and Hayden Creek, campgrounds are adjacent to Sangre de Cristo Wilderness, while Elbert Creek campground, next to Mount Massive Wilderness, and Collegiate Peaks campground, at Collegiate Peaks Wilderness, offer a wilderness camping experience without the inconveniences of being in a wilderness.

Although many people visit San Isabel National Forest to enjoy the experience of hiking and camping in a diverse Forest, others find the off-road-vehicle opportunities the greatest attractions. For the off-road enthusiasts, two trail systems are the attraction. The trail above the Angel of Shavano campground leads past the ghost town of Shavano and North Fork campground to an alpine valley with evidence of the area's mining history. Another trail system out of the campground and to the west of Iron City campground is more extensive and also illustrates the importance of mining to the area.

On the way to Iron City campground, visitors follow Chalk Creek, past the Chalk Cliffs (the cliffs are actually made of a rock called kaolinite), Mt. Princeton Hot Springs and three pleasant campgrounds. Although close together, each campground has a different feel to it. Mt. Princeton and Chalk Lake campgrounds are recently renovated and have an open, airy appearance. While Mt. Princeton has a more tent campground feel, Chalk Lake offers a few wonderfully secluded tent sites as well as nice level pull-thru sites. The Cascade campground is more heavily wooded and most compact of the campground trio.

South of the Arkansas River, the San Isabel National Forest takes on a different personality. The dense Englemann spruce and Douglas fir woods, rugged mountains and a developed camping location give way to towering Ponderosa pines and aspens, open meadows and smaller, scattered campgrounds. Rolling grassland separates these campgrounds hugging the Sangre de Cristo Range and the Wet Mountains. Camping locations in Lake Isabel Recreation Area, built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the late 1930's, may not have hot showers, flush toilets or a dump station but are as popular with campers as those in the Fores's northern portion.

The southern portion of San Isabel National Forest offers some very interesting and diverse non-forest related attractions. The town of Westcliffe holds a huge Jazz Festival mid-summer, attracting performers and spectators from all over. The medieval Bishops Castle, just south of Ophir campground, has been under construction for a number of years and is a must stop for any one in the area. And then there is the Royal Gorge, the Arkansas Canyon with its many herds of free roaming Bighorn sheep, and the opportunity of experiencing rafting on the Arkansas River.

In the shadow of the Spanish Peaks is a cluster of three campgrounds: Purgatoire, Blue Lake and Bear Lake. Purgatoire, constructed by the Youth Conservation Corp in 1976, is an equstrian camping location. The drive to this campground offers some spectacular views, especially in the Fall when the aspen are turning. Blue Lake and Bear Lake, both above 10,500 feet in elevation, are located on the eastern slopes of the Sangre de Cristo Range. Although the chance to catch a hybrid Cutthroat trout attracts many, the cool temperatures in the Summer and the brilliant Fall foliage keep these campgrounds busy most of the season.

Elevations in the San Isabel National Forest range from 6,000 to over 14,000 feet. Such variations in elevation can produce Altitude Sickness in visitors to the Forest. Headaches, nausea, dizziness and shortness of breath are just a few of the symptoms of Altitude Sickness. Remember to give your body a chance to adjust to increases in elevation and the reduced levels of oxygen and drink plenty of water. If symptoms persist, seek medical assistance.

The diversity found in San Isabel National Forest is reflected in the many recreational opportunities and numerous car, tent, RV and motorhome camping locations. It is all there in this magnificent U.S. National Forest, to be enjoyed time and time again.

SUPERVISOR ADDRESS 2840 Kachina Drive Pueblo, Colorado 81008 719-553-1400 RANGER DISTRICT ADDRESSES Leadville 810 Front Street Leadville, Colorado 80461 719-486-0749 Salida 5575 Cleora Rd. Salida, Colorado 81201 719-539-3591 San Carlos 3170 E. Main Canon City, Colorado 81212 719-269-8500

Fred and Suzi Dow