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USA Parks
Central Region
Rio Grande National Forest
Rio Grande National Forest © Andrea Short
Rio Grande National Forest © Andrea Short
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The Rio Grande National Forest (NF) is 1.86 million acres located in southwestern Colorado and remains one of the true undiscovered jewels of Colorado. The Continental Divide runs for 236 miles along most of the western border of the Forest. The Forest presents myriad ecosystems; from 7600-ft alpine desert to over 14,300-ft in the majestic Sangre de Cristo Wilderness on the eastern side. The Forest embraces the San Luis Valley, the largest agricultural alpine valley in the world and includes all or parts of four Wilderness Areas (South San Juan, Weminuche, La Garita and Sangre de Cristo). The Forest also is the headwaters of the Rio Grande River and has the moonscape wonder of the Wheeler Geologic Area, established by Theodore Roosevelt in 1911. The Anasazi were visitors here and many of their sites remain.

Denver is 4-hours north and Albuquerque is 4-hours south of us, so when you get the itch to experience some outdoor recreation opportunities come and see us.

For the outdoor enthusiast, the Rio Grande NF has recreation and adventure opportunities for the heartiest of souls, or enjoy the backcountry from the Cumbres & Toltec Narrow Gauge Railroad which runs from Antonito, Colorado across the Forest to Chama, New Mexico. Whether walking, driving or riding, the Rio Grande NF has something for everyone.

Long summer days in the 80's transition through a colorful and crisp fall to what can be an extreme winter, with temperatures often dipping well below zero and, in some years, frequent snows.
History of the Area
The Rio Grande National Forest is located in south-central Colorado and covers an area of over 1.86 million acres. It has a rich history that can be traced back to the early Native American tribes and has evolved over time with various explorations and settlements. Here is a brief overview of the history of the Rio Grande National Forest:

1. Native American Presence: The region was inhabited by various Native American tribes, including the Ute, Apache, and Navajo, who relied on the forests and surrounding areas for hunting, gathering, and trading.

2. Spanish Exploration: In the late 16th century, Spanish explorers such as Juan de Onate and Francisco Vazquez de Coronado entered the area while searching for gold and other valuable resources. They established early trade routes through the region.

3. Expansion of the United States: With the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, the United States acquired the land encompassing the Rio Grande National Forest. Expeditions like the Pike Expedition in 1806-1807 further explored the region.

4. Mining and Settlement: The mid to late 1800s saw a surge in mining activities in the area, particularly for gold, silver, and other precious metals. This led to the establishment of small mining communities like Summitville and Creede. Ranchers also started settling in the valleys.

5. Establishment of Forest Reserves: Recognizing the need for the preservation and management of natural resources, President Benjamin Harrison designated the San Juan Forest Reserve in 1892, which later became part of the Rio Grande National Forest. President Theodore Roosevelt further expanded the forest reserve system, and in 1905, the Rio Grande Forest Reserve was established.

6. Formation of the National Forest: In 1908, the Rio Grande Forest Reserve combined with parts of the San Juan Forest Reserve and the Uncompahgre Forest Reserve to form the Rio Grande National Forest. The aim was to manage the forest for multiple uses, including timber, grazing, and recreation.

7. Wilderness Designation: Over the years, certain areas within the Rio Grande National Forest were designated as wilderness. The Weminuche Wilderness, designated in 1975, is the largest wilderness area in Colorado and is part of the national forest.

8. Modern Conservation Efforts: The forest has faced challenges like wildfire, beetle outbreaks, and other impacts. Efforts have been made to manage and maintain the forest's ecological health. Additionally, recreational opportunities like hiking, camping, hunting, fishing, and winter sports draw visitors from all over.

1. Alamosa Campground: This campground is located along the banks of the Rio Grande River and offers single-family sites, some with electric hookups.

2. Aspen Glade Campground: Situated on a hillside above Conejos River, this campsite provides access to fishing spots and hiking trails.

3. Big Meadows Reservoir Campgrounds: Located near South Fork Colorado at an elevation of 9,200 feet in beautiful surroundings offering opportunities for wildlife viewing including deer & elk herds.

4. Blue Lake Camper Cabins: These rustic cabins are perfect for those who want a bit more comfort while camping but still enjoy being surrounded by nature's beauty.

5. Elwood Cabin: A historic cabin that can accommodate up to four people comfortably; it's equipped with basic amenities like beds, table/chairs etc., however guests need to bring their own bedding/linens.

6. Lake Fork Resort: Offers RV parking spaces as well as tent campsites right next door making it ideal place if you're traveling in group or family having different preferences.

7. Ponderosa Lodge Tent Sites: If you prefer traditional camping experience then these tent:only sites might be just what you're looking for! They offer picnic tables/fire rings/grills plus restrooms/showers nearby.

8. Spectacle Lake Campground: Nestled among spruce trees providing shade during hot summer days, also has boat ramp giving easy lake access.

9. Stunner Dispersed Camping Area: For those seeking solitude / peace away from crowded places ; remember though there aren't any services available so come prepared!

10. Tucker Ponds Recreation Site: It features two small ponds where visitors can fish trout amidst serene environment.
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Rio Grande National Forest is

1. South Fork Rio Grande Trail: A 17-mile trail that follows the river, offering stunning views of waterfalls and wildlife.

2. Wheeler Geologic Area Trails: These trails lead to a unique geological formation made up of volcanic ash from an eruption millions of years ago.

3. Big Meadows Reservoir Loop: An easy loop around a beautiful reservoir with plenty opportunities for fishing and bird watching.

4. Conejos River Trail: This moderate difficulty hike offers breathtaking mountain vistas along the banks of the scenic Conejos River.

5. La Jara Creek North - CDT Segment 23A: It's part of Continental Divide National Scenic Trail (CDNST) which is perfect for backpacking enthusiasts who want to experience high-altitude hiking in Colorado's wilderness areas.

6. Pinos Creek Road Dispersed Camping Area Hiking Trails: Offers multiple short hikes suitable for families or beginners looking at exploring nature without much strain.

7. Rock Lake via Rock Creek:CT Segments 22 &21B: Challenging but rewarding trek leading you through dense forests, alpine meadows before reaching picturesque rock lake.

8. South Zapata LakeTrail: Moderate level trail featuring wildflowers during spring/summer season ending at serene south zapata lake.

9. Twin Peaks / Bear Town OHV Route: Primarily used by off:road driving vehicles also has sections suited well enough for hikers wanting some adventure.

10. Weminuche Wilderness Via Ute creek trailhead: This remote area provides challenging multi:day treks into pristine backcountry landscapes filled with diverse flora/fauna.

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Area Campgrounds
Aspen Ridge RV Park
Colorado 149
South Fork, CO

1. Start by heading to Alamosa, a city situated in southern Colorado.
2. From Alamosa, take US:285 South and continue for approximately 20 miles.
3. Turn left onto CO:17 S and drive for about 15 miles until you reach Antonito.
4. In Antonito, turn right onto CO:142 W/CO Rd G and proceed westward for around 25 miles.
5. Next, merge onto County Road Z via the ramp on your left:hand side (signs will indicate "Conejos Canyon").
6. Continue driving along County Road Z as it winds through scenic landscapes within Conejos Canyon for roughly 30 minutes or so.

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Colorado State Parks