Scenic Drives & Byways Near Creede, Colorado
The historic mining town of Creede is located on Highway 149 between Lake City and South Fork, nestled in a beautiful canyon 8,852 feet up in the San Juan Mountains. Ninety-six percent (96%) of the land area of Mineral County is publicly held, mostly in the Rio Grande and San Juan National Forests. There are also two wilderness areas, the La Garita and the Weminuche, and state wildlife areas as well. Roughly 900 square miles of mountains, forests, valleys, and canyons allow an incredible array of outdoor activities all year long. Below are our favorite drives through this vast and beautiful land.
Fall Color Car Tours
Our golden hues of fall are most pleasing to the eye; be sure to pack your camera! Five of our favorite places to enjoy the fall colors:
• Silver Thread Scenic Byway
• Bachelor Loop Tour
• Pool Table Road
• Rio Grande Reservoir
• Love Lake
Silverthread Scenic & Historic Byway
Are you headed south towards New Mexico? Are you ready to drive on the most scenic route? Cut across Highway 50 and Highway 149 begins just a few miles outside of Gunnison on the eastern end of Colorado’s largest body of water, Blue Mesa Reservoir. Highway 149, the Silverthread Scenic and Historic Byway, wanders through the San Juan Mountain range and the Rio Grande National Forest. Follow the highway southward through high mountain desert, past new and old ranch homes and over the top of mountains allowing breathtaking views of a 360 degree landscape. Deer, elk, moose, eagle, hawk, coyote and many other animals can be found all along the route.
While touring the town of Lake City visiting the many restaurants and unique shops consider spending some time to take a hike on a forest trail or drive your ATV on another. No matter when you decide to visit make sure to drive around the lake! Every year we have many people that come though our office and we ask, “did you drive around the lake?” “Lake?” they say, “where’s the lake?” Amazing! It is called Lake City. The “Lake” entrance is about 2 miles south of Lake City, it is call Lake San Cristobal and is the largest natural made lake in Colorado. The setting for this lake couldn’t be more beautiful. Once you get to the lake you have your choice to go left or right, either way is brings you all the way around. You will think there is no prettier view until you get to the other side and look again.
One of the local favorites for hiking trails is the Alpine Gulch Trail; a moderate to strenuous trail that offers many scenic views, steep cliffs and beautiful meadows. ATVing is a popular pastime in the area with the access to the treasured Alpine Loop as well. There are many other trails to choose from but for a half day adventure, Wager Gulch should be on your agenda. According to 4x4explore.com, Wager Gulch runs up to the Continental Divide passing the well preserved ghost town of New Carson. On the other side of the divide is the ghost town of Old Carson. A better time to travel this route would be August to September, which would also allow for the vibrant colors of fall to be appreciated. While Lake City has much more to offer, we must move on to continue the exploration and enjoyment of the Silverthread.
All along the highway there are numerous stops to read up on history, take in a view and some things you would never expect like the waterfalls. Directly between Lake City and Creede is the most photographed waterfall in Colorado, but you must look for the sign. Although North Clear Creek Falls is located less than a mile from the road you would not know it. Once you turn on the road and head in its direction, you will hear it before you have a view. It is worth the stop, very breathtaking. There are a few other falls in the immediate area that require a hike but due to their locations can be very much worth the detour. Other detours along the way include the 15 mile drive to the Rio Grande Reservoir which sits at 9, 449 feet in elevation. Unique businesses along the way include The Studios at Bristol, which houses a few artists’ wares such as the home-spun fibers along with the creations of fiber artist, Terri Inman and the art, photos and designs of Underbrush Ltd. Stop in for a unique visit! Along the drive you may also look to the West to see large hillsides with bare trees. One of Colorado’s largest wildfires blazed through the area in 2013. With hundreds of firefighters from across the states involved, not one structure was taken and not one person was hurt beyond minor smoke inhalation.
As you wind along the highway south following the Rio Grande, homes and businesses become much more frequent as you arrive closer to Creede. The highway enters Creede from its southern end then exits soon thereafter. Quite a few people tend to miss the town itself. If you take the very short drive towards the business district you will find the quaint little town we call home. Once you park your vehicle and begin to wander, you may discover how easily the town is walked, shopped and enjoyed. Near the southern end of town just off of 7th Street is a hiking trail that climbs 3.5 miles to Inspiration Point. The trail is steep and challenging on the way up and steep and more challenging on the way down but the views from the top are unparalleled. Among many other attractions to Creede is the Mining Museum, and the Bachelor Loop Tour. The Loop drives up and around the historic mining district of the area and is accessible with foot, bike, ATV and most two wheel drive vehicles. More can be learned about the Loop by purchasing a Bachelor Loop Guide at the Chamber of Commerce for a minimal price of three dollars.
After you have fallen in love with our little town you can continue your trip southeast towards South Fork. The Silver Thread Byway winds its way down a canyon road with guest ranches, to greet you along the way. Many little side trips can be afforded with drives up Pool Table Road and across the river to Coller State Wildlife Area. The Coller SWA encompasses 918 acres and is home to Deer, Elk, Rabbit, Squirrel, Dusky (blue) grouse. This is a beautiful and serene location for your lunch or dinner picnic, right alongside the Rio Grande.
South Fork is Colorado newest town, reaching statutory town status in 1992! It has served as a central location for logging companies for many years with thriving restaurants, banks and two large lumber companies. Quite a few years back, those companies closed and left South Fork struggling to find its character. This led South Fork to reach for its assets; mountain living and tourism. The town plays host to a beautiful 18 hole golf course, the Rio Grande Golf Club, and a few unique guest ranches, shops and eateries. Outdoor activities abound with the south fork of the Rio Grande and the Rio Grande converging just outside of town and mountains all around. The Wolf Creek Ski Area is just over the hill and provides a great winter tourism draw from across the nation.
The Silver Thread Scenic and Historic Byway climbs from 7500 feet in elevation to over 11,500 and descends again to 8200 in South Fork. The highway offers scenic views, historic towns with an array of museums, significant tours and animal viewing galore. The area will draw you back time and time again with a new road to drive, a lakeside to explore and meandering trails to visit. Take the time to drive through this little piece of Colorado history.
Bachelor Loop Historic Driving Tour
The Bachelor Loop Historic Tour is a 17-mile drive, on your own, through the historic mining district above Creede. The tour takes you across mine locations from the 1890s and abandoned ghost towns that once rivaled Creede in size. The road weaves its way up through the canyon north of Creede climbing under the ragged cliff sides.
The main route follows West Willow Creek to top out with the aged forests of Bristle Cone pine trees. The east route, a road specified for four-wheel drive vehicles, is a slower travel that follows East Willow Creek for the majority of the terrain then turns to the west in a steep climb to converge again with the main road of the Bachelor Loop.
A number of interpretive stops and points of interest provide direction along the route. The entrance station is located at the Creede & Mineral County Visitor Center, and directs tourists north, through Creede, to a second kiosk at the junction of East & West Willow Creek. The tour ends just above Creede at stops #15 & 16 (Creede Cemetery and Bob Ford’s Grave site).
Interpretive stops are indicated by large wooden timbers on the ground, displaying tour stop numbers and a miner’s pick and shovel logo. Match these numbers to the map and the narrative that follows. Additional pick and shovel logo shields are located along the tour route to serve as route guides.
Driving the Loop
Allow at least one hour for the tour.
The loop road has some narrow stretches and steep grades that require caution; check on road conditions during inclement weather. (Two-wheel drive vehicles might consider completing the tour backwards, in order to descend the Black Pitch, instead of climb it.)
Several four-wheel drive roads lead off of the tour route into less accessible terrain.
Biking the Loop
The whole loop can be completed on a bike! We suggest driving the loop counter-clockwise (backward). This gets most of the climbing out of the way in the first four miles, making the remaining 8 miles generally fast and rolling. Takes 1½ - 3 hours. Elevation begins around 8850’ and tops out at over 10,000’.
Please Leave Our History Intact - Most of the property along the route is private property, including most historic mine sites. Please respect the posted signs and do not trespass.
The old mine buildings are structurally unsound and dangerous to enter and the mining equipment unsafe to be around. The mine shafts and tunnels are extremely unsafe and are often filled with poisonous and/or explosive gases. Please be extremely careful while hiking in the general area and never allow children to run and play unsupervised.
Archeological and historic sites hold clues to America’s past. If disturbed, part of our heritage may be lost forever. Do not dig, remove, injure, or destroy any historic or prehistoric ruin or site so they will endure and can be passed on to future generations.
Please help protect our heritage by reporting anyone you may see destroying it to the Mineral County Sheriff (719-658-2600) or to the Forest Service (719-658-2556)
Purchase a Guide Book from the Creede Visitor Center
The City of Gnomes: Wheeler Geologic Area
Hidden deep in Rio Grande National Forest awaits Wheeler Geologic Area. It is an area so strange, it has been referred to as “The City of Gnomes,” “White Shrouded Ghosts,” and “Dante’s Lost Souls.” True to its name, Mineral County is a significant study area for ancient geologic activity. The formation of the La Garita and San Juan mountains began about 30 million years ago. Eruptions from massive volcanoes, like the Creede Caldera, were followed by tremendous flows of ash and mud. As the layers of volcanic debris cooled, crystals and mineral ores collected into veins and pockets to create extensive mineral fields. This era of mountain building laid down the volcanic tuff that has become the Wheeler Geologic Area. Water erosion then carved a starkly impressive landscape of fragile capstones, needles, and spires.
Originally named Wheeler National Monument after Captain George Wheeler, who in 1874 explored and surveyed the area for the U. S. Army, it was the first National Monument in Colorado history. Boasting history and beauty, the formation saw the slow disintegration of the famous Fremont Party. Trapped in the area during the terrible winter of 1848, General John Charles Fremont and close to three dozen men were forced to eat over a hundred mules. It is rumored that they began to eat each other when the mules ran out.
Gaining monument status in 1908 made it the second most popular tourist attraction in Colorado. During the horse and buggy era, travelers flocked to see the eerie landscape and experience the rugged LaGarita Mountains. But by 1950, when tourists began to prefer attractions easily accessible by automobiles, the trails fell into disuse. Wheeler was downgraded to a Geologic Area and incorporated into the LaGarita Wilderness. Currently named Wheeler Geologic Area, but referred to simply as Wheeler; it is generally known only to local residents, geologists, and the most adventurous travelers.
Traveling to Wheeler Geologic Area
Located in the LaGarita Wilderness, the journey is approximately 20 miles roundtrip. Luckily, there are two trails to get there. Both are completely different experiences. An experienced off-roader will enjoy the challenges posed by the approximately 13 mile long, sometimes muddy, often narrow, rocky trail. A hiker will appreciate the quiet solitude afforded by the shorter, approximately 10 mile hiking trail. While the road can be difficult to traverse, what awaits the traveler are haunting and virtually impenetrable badlands.
On your way to Wheeler Geologic Area, you will be traveling to almost 12,000 feet. You will enjoy beautiful sub-alpine terrain and grassy, open parks. Since the trail is rarely traveled, there are abundant opportunities for viewing wildlife, birding and rock hounding.
While an advanced hiker could make it a day hike, locals highly recommend an overnight stay. Wheeler Geologic Area is at her most stunning during sunrise and sunset. In fact, San Juan Sports owner Michael McNeil says you should “bring your smile, slow down, and enjoy Mother Nature at her finest.”
Michael and Amy’s checklist for a fun, safe, journey to Wheeler. Visit them at San Juan Sports on Main Street in Creede to get your gear and more great advice!
Water • Water purifier • Shelter • Sleeping bag • Food • Knife • First Aid Kit • Map
Sunglasses • Hat • Matches/lighters • Light rain jacket • Warm pack jacket • Proper footwear