South San Juan Wilderness Area
Government information and links are at the bottom of this page.
Located in Rio Grande and San Juan National Forests
Neighboring towns: Pagosa Springs, Southfork, Del Norte, Monte Vista, Summitville, Platoro, Chromo (Choma, New Mexico)
Many call the South San Juan Wilderness Colorado's wildest corner. True, the landscape here, one broken volcanic peaks and cliffs, poses a formidable barrier to travel, but the overriding reason for this reputation resides in the probable presence of one critter - the ("griz"). Of all the places in Colorado likely to still harbor North America's most fearsome creature, the rugged and remote southern San Juan Mountains seem best suited. A great bear was killed here in 1979, the last known Colorado grizzly. But rumor, extrapolation and scientific evidence all join hands to suggest strongly that more grizzlies, if they still live anywhere in Colorado, inhabit the recesses of this rugged Wilderness, which many claim as the wildest left in the state.
Because of the impenetrable forests and rugged terrain, state wildlife biologists rate the south San Juans the best suited habitat in Colorado for wilderness dependent species, such as grizzlies and wolverines, that thrive only in unmodified natural habitats rarely visited by humans. Both of the species were long thought to be extinct in Colorado, but circumstantial evidence points to their possible continued existence here. In 1979, some 25 years after the last grizzly sighting in Colorado, a bow hunter killed a startled sow in the south San Juans. Soon after, the Colorado Division of Wildlife launched a search for additional grizzlies in the area. Their snares and searches came up empty, but citizens unconvinced by the lack of evidence launched their own search in 1990. Several summers' efforts by volunteers of Round River Conservation Studies and Save Our San Juans uncovered hair samples, scat, and several reliable bear sightings, enough to convince knowledgeable bear authorities that grizzlies probably still roam this mountainous region.
You'll find about 180 miles of trails, and some of the most exemplary backpacking in the state. The Continental Divide crosses the heart of the Wilderness for 42 miles. The South Fork of the Conejos River Trail will lead you to the Conejos Peak Trail, which climbs north to the summit of Conejos Peak and offers a fantastic view into the heart of the area. You can continue down to beautiful Blue Lake and return down the creek to where you started, a total distance of 22 miles.
Size: 158,790 acres
Elevation: 8,000 to 13,000+ feet
Miles of trails: 180
Year designated: 1980, 1993
Hunting areas: 76, 78, 80, 81
For more information contact:
San Juan National Forest, 15 Burnett Court, Durango, CO 81301 (970)247-4874 Supervisor Office - Cal Joyner
Rio Grande National Forest, 1803 W. US Hwy 160, Monte Vista, CO 81144 (719)852-5941 Supervisor Office - Deann Zwight
Columbine West Ranger District, 110 W. 11th, Durango, CO 81301 (970)884-2512 District Ranger - Mike Johnson
Columbine East Ranger District, 367 South Pearl St., PO Box 439, Bayfield, CO 81122 (970)884-2512 District Ranger - Mike Johnson
Conejos Peak Ranger District, 15571 County Rd. T-5, PO Box 420, La Jara, CO 81140 (719)274-6301 District Ranger - Carlos Pinto
divide Ranger District, 13308 W. US Hwy 160, PO Box 40, Del Norte, CO 81132 (719)657-3321 District Ranger - Gilbert Becenti
Mancos-Dolores Ranger District, 100 North Sixth, PO Box 210, Dolores, CO 81323 (970)882-7296 District Ranger - Michael Znerold
Pagosa Ranger District, 180 Second St., PO Box 310, Pagosa Springs, CO 81147 (970)264-2268 District Ranger - Jo Bridges
Saguache Ranger District, 46525 Colorado Hwy 114, PO Box 67, Saguache, CO 81149 (719)655-2547 District Ranger - Tom Goodwin
NOTE: coloradowilderness.com gratefully appreciates the eloquent descriptions of our wilderness areas provided by Mark Pearson, author of "The Complete Guide to Colorado's Wilderness Areas", Westcliffe Publishers, Englewood, CO. The book also contains many beautiful pictures by renowned photographer and Colorado resident John Fielder.
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