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.
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After you have fallen in love with our little town you can continue your trip southeast towards South Fork. The Silverthread 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.