The Rio Grande National Forest spans over 1.83 million acres in southern Colorado. You can enjoy much of its beauty by simply hopping on and off your drive along Route 160.
We were headed from Great Sand Dunes National Park to Mesa Verde National Park along 160 and completely underestimated this stunning drive!
It seems as though much of this area is untouched and not visited by many as we were the only ones on the road for miles and miles. We had the entire forest to ourselves!
Some fun facts about the area:
-The Rio Grande, which obviously runs through this forest, travels 1800 miles down to the Gulf of Mexico from high up in the San Juan Mountains in the westernmost part of this forest.
-The Continental Divide runs for 236 miles along most of the border on the west side of the forest, and the jagged tops of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains are found on the eastern border.
-In between the two mountain ranges, Sangre de Cristo and San Juan, sit the San Luis Valley which is said to be the largest agricultural alpine valley in the US!
-The forest is 7600 ft above sea level and peaks at 14,300 feet!
-The elevation is NO JOKE! I definitely felt it here. The kids didn’t mention anything however. Come prepared with a electrolyte fluids and/or electrolyte bands. (I get mine on Amazon)
-The roads are curvy and much of them remain without a guard rail. That in combination with the potential weather and slippery roads, and the wildlife…I don’t suggest driving on here at night. Plan according to be off the roads before complete sunset, but try to stay on for the beginning of it! Beautiful!
-Get gas before entering down this stretch of 160! Not one station is in sight!
-You will have little to no cell reception.
The sights are beautiful! Make sure you stop and wander a bit, but don’t get lost as it’s fairly remote and desolate and you will most likely not have cell reception. There’s definitely wildlife as we stumbled upon what I believe was a deer carcass, rib cage, and pelt just at the base of the Rio Grande. (There’s no school class quite like self-exploration for the wee ones) Oh, and if you’re an avid hiker and have your filtration water bottle on hand, take some sips of the Rio Grande! How many can say they have? Cool!
My kiddos very much enjoyed snowball fights mid-April! It seems from the weather reports on their site there’s usually snow here even in the summer, just higher up the peaks. So fun!
I would come back again to explore and backcountry camp OTG (off the grid) a bit next time. We highly recommend leaving time for some exploring on your drive through this section of the highway.
Also, see my post on Treasure Falls, a fantastic short hike right off the road to a beautiful fall!