The San Juan National Forest covers near 2 million acres in Western Colorado. While it covers several counties, we spent the majority of our time in Dolores, as that is where we were staying. The cabin itself is located in the forest, so this year we spent a little more time exploring it.
Our first foray into the forest was on the Bear Creek Trail for a hike. Nearly every day for two weeks we would have a rain shower, so the trail itself was rather muddy. We probably shouldn’t have even attempted to hike it, but we did. The parking area is pretty large and there are trailhead signs with some interesting information regarding the history of the area, specifically Rico, which is just a few miles past this trail. The trail starts after you cross over the bridge and the Dolores River. This is a multi-use trail and that was evident from all of the horse hoof prints that we saw. I’m pretty impressed by those horses because you could tell there was some slipping in some sections due to the mud and the steepness. This trail is narrow, challenging and very uphill, but you pass through groves of beautiful white Aspen birch trees and have some great views. Due to the rain and mud, we made it about ½ mile up the trail before we decided to turn around. It was about to start raining again and we didn’t want to be stuck in the woods.
The second hike we attempted was the Little Stoner Trail. It is right off of Rd. 38 (West Dolores Road), but we were a little perplexed by this one. There seems to be a clearing under some trees where people fish in the river and there’s a trail to another fishing spot, but that was about it. The grass is really tall and perhaps we missed where the actual trail was. I think the forest service needs to come groom it a bit and give it some attention to make it easier to locate the trail. We decided to go on a bike ride instead. There are several hiking trails in the area though, you just have to watch for signs.
We rode our eBikes down Rd. 38 twice while we were here. We started at our cabin, which is just a short distance away and rode for about 10 miles down the road. I’m always a little hesitant riding in traffic, but it really wasn’t that bad on this road/highway. There was very little traffic. The scenery is beautiful with tons of log cabins along the road and horse farms. We rode this area again picking up where we left off and discovered even more beautiful scenery. The road eventually turns into a gravel road where you cross cattle guards. We found the Willow Draw OHV trail back there as well, where people can bring their four wheelers and ATVs. This part of the forest is also open to free range grazing of cattle, so you come across cows and horses here as well. We even found a phone booth out there in the woods, which could be handy considering there is zero cell service in the area. You lose cell service just after you leave Dolores and don’t pick it up again until you get to Rico.
Along Rd. 38 we did find a couple of campgrounds as well. One is West Dolores, which is dry camping with a few sites having electric and it is situated right on the West Dolores River. Each site has a picnic table and campfire ring. There are vault toilets, but no showers. Drinking water is available. The facility is first come, first serve.
Another nearby campground is Mavreeso. It is also located on the West Dolores River. Some sites have electric and there is one group site that accommodates up to 40 people. There are picnic tables, campfire rings and grills. This site also has vault toilets and drinking water, but no showers. The Recreation.gov website states that the campground is first come, first serve, but it appears that you may be able to reserve sites online. They also vary in size up to 60 feet with both back in and pull through sites.
If you continue to follow Rd. 38 (West Dolores Road) you will eventually come into the town of Dunton. Here you will find a hot spring resort that offers six pools, dining, guided horseback rides, fishing and more.
This area is also known as the Lizardhead Wilderness. If you continue on Highway 145 through Stoner and Rico, you will come to Lizardhead Pass. The drive up to Rico and even to Telluride is worth it for the scenery alone. It’s really beautiful, there’s great food in Rico at Tamosan & Co. and it’s fun to watch the temperature drop as you climb the mountain!