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San Juan Public Lands

The San Juan Public Lands encompass some 2.5 million acres managed by the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management, stretching across five Colorado counties in the southwestern corner of the state. This terrain ranges from high-desert mesas to alpine peaks, with thousands of miles of back roads and hundreds of miles of trails to explore.

San Juan Public Lands abound with natural and cultural treasures. Five distinct life zones range from elevations near 5,000 feet to above 14,000 feet. Several of Colorado’s famous “14’ers” can be found in the Weminuche and Lizard Head Wilderness Areas. The San Juan also includes the South San Juan Wilderness Area.

Cultural resources run the gamut from historic mining ghost towns and mills to Ancestral Puebloan cliff dwellings and pit houses. Some heritage sites offer guided tours; others are unmarked treasures you may happen across in the backcountry.

Chimney Rock is a San Juan National Forest Archaeological Area located in Colorado between Durango and Pagosa Springs and managed for archaeological protection, public interpretation, and education.

The Dolores Public Lands Office manages the Spring Creek Basin Wild Horse Herd Management Area. The principal emphasis is on maintaining a healthy, viable population of wild horses that exist in natural ecological balance with other resources.

Crystal Lake.

According to local lore, the horses are descendents of those brought to the Disappointment Creek area in the late 1800s by a horse rancher from Montana. The legend indicates he had to leave in a hurry, just ahead of the law, and some of his horses were left behind. DNA and blood testing have indicated that Thoroughbred and Morgan are the primary breed influences in this herd.

This Forest has an amazing selection of trails to choose from. Each Ranger District,Columbine, Dolores, and Pagosa has its own trail guide.

Visitors have a number of campground options. There are campground directories for theWest Side and the East Side of the Forest. Also, the Dolores Ranger District has threehorse-friendly campgrounds.

If you are headed to the San Juan in the fall, make sure you check out its Weekly Fall Color Report before you go.

First-timer’s Adventure

In the Dolores Ranger District, you'll find the Big Al Trail. The trail is a half-mile, surfaced trail leading to a deck that offers dramatic views of West Mancos Canyon and the La Plata Mountains. This trail is closed to bikes, horses, and motorized vehicles.

Interpretive signs along the way point out flora and fauna; there are benches, making this an ideal hiking venue for small children and seniors, or for just taking a leisurely stroll from the adjacent campground. Don’t forget your camera!




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Research campground locations and amenities at the U.S. National Forest Campground Directory. The Web site is full of pictures and detailed descriptions to help you plan your next trip.

If you want to experience a guided recreation trip in a National Forest, visit Adventure Vacation to learn about whitewater rafting, canoeing, kayaking, horseback riding, camping, hiking and fishing trips


Visit the National Forest Store to see what maps are available for this Forest and others you may want to visit.