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South San Juan Wilderness

General Contacts Area Management Wilderness Laws Volunteer
Photograph taken in  the South San Juan Wilderness

Introduction

The United States Congress designated the South San Juan Wilderness (map) in 1980 and it now has a total of 158,790 acres. All of this wilderness is located in Colorado and is managed by the Forest Service.

Description

Ages of volcanic activity followed by the infinitely patient carving of glaciers left the rough, imposing terrain of the remote South San Juan Wilderness, an area typified by steep slopes above broad U-shaped valleys cut sharply deeper by eroding streams. You'll find high peaks and cliffs, as well as jagged pinnacles and ragged ridges, making travel difficult. Elevations rise as high as 13,300 feet. Thirty-two lakes, most of them formed by glacial activity, hold much of the area's moisture and drain into turbulent creeks. The Conejos, San Juan, and Blanco Rivers have their headwaters here, and about 25 miles of the Conejos River has been recommended for Wild and Scenic designation. Erosion of rich volcanic rock in combination with heavy snowfall has produced ideal forestland, certainly among the best in the state. Forest ecosystems rise from the shadowy cover of magnificent lodgepole pine to aspen, then through Engelmann spruce and subalpine fir to alpine tundra. Much of the forestland has a peaceful, park-like quality under the trees where sun-starved undergrowth grows thin and low.

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. 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.

Planning to Visit the South San Juan Wilderness?

Leave No Trace

How to follow the seven standard Leave No Trace principles differs in different parts of the country (desert vs. Rocky Mountains). Click on any of the principles listed below to learn more about how they apply in the South San Juan Wilderness.
  1. Plan Ahead and Prepare
  2. Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
  3. Dispose of Waste Properly
  4. Leave What You Find
  5. Minimize Campfire Impacts
  6. Respect Wildlife
  7. Be Considerate of Other Visitors
For more information on Leave No Trace, Visit the Leave No Trace, Inc. website.



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