San Juan National Forest,

  • rainbowuteI don't really listen to the groundhog.  Summer is on the way!  It's been a while since I've checked in but we've been super busy with work and getting ready for Patrick's CDT Thru Hike and my move to Bridge Campground for hosting this summer.  I am really looking forward to this, however, I have a real nostalgia for Ute Campground

  • Lower Peidra CampgroundThe Lower Piedra Campground is just north of U.S. Highway 160 on the west side of the Piedra River, about 18 miles east of Bayfield and 25 miles west of Pagosa Springs. It is about a half mile up Forest Rd. 621 on the west side of the river (not to be confused with the First Fork Road [Forest Rd. 622] on the east side of the river). The campground offers 17 large, level sites with plenty of shade. Fishing opportunities are available.boundary).

    This is one of the first campgrounds we hosted, along with Ute Camp.  We remember our first ride down the forest service road leading to the campground.  The one lane gravel road takes you up the side of the hill with the rushing Piedra River below.  That view provided everything we thought Colorado would be - green forests, greener rivers, all surrounded by mountains.  Wildflowers and birds are abundant as you travel toward the campground. 

    This is a small camp with five sites along the river and ten more sites in the loop.  Each site has its own charm - one is in the midst of boulders at the foot of the mountain, another has a veil of spring flowering vines that make the site look like a wedding chapel. There are two large, clean vault toilets and a centrally located potable freshwater pump.

    Lower Piedra is just a beautiful spot on earth with great diversity of plant and wildlife.  Speaking of wildlife, you are likely to run across a rattlesnake or two in the grass.  You may have a bear by the river.  You may be treated to a rafter of turkeys marching their young slowly through the campground.  Be one the lookout - for safety and for fun!

    There is a mineral pond right behind the campground that is a favorite for swimming, paddle boarding, and practicing on the kayak.  It's very shallow but has an odd soft clay bottom.  There is no heat but the mineral content is high.  The turquoise coloring makes it look like the waters off a Carribean Island.  

    The camping is a bit more close in to neighbors than in some of the other San Juan National Forest campgrounds but the beauty of the area, the Piedra River, the access to hiking and ATV trails, and its proximity to Chimney Rock make this an excellent choice in campgrounds!

  • uteWhen we first pondered the idea of work camping or camp hosting, we tried to do the pros and cons thing.  For example, on the one hand, it's great to have a spot or a spot and a paycheck.  On the other hand, it's difficult to stay in the same place for five months.  That sort of thing.  There was definitely plenty of disucssion about the nuts and bolts of the thing, and when it came to a remote National Forest campground, we also had to consider the impact of living outside the cell phone and internet zone.  Yikes.  As we dug into our San Juan National Forest experience, the philosophy and attitude of the people around us became the biggest "pro" on the list. 

  • utechimneyrockThe Ute Campground is 17 miles west of Pagosa Springs on U.S. Highway 160 and campground is on north side of the highway. Ute Campground has 26 campsites on a gentle, south-facing slope. Ponderosa pines give shade, but the area gets very warm in summer.

    The hillside above the campground offers excellent views of the pinnacles of Chimney Rock Archaeological Area.

    When one pulls into Ute Campground for the first time, it might be easy to underestimate this lovely and unique campground and habitat.  We had the pleasure of camp hosting here for a season, along with a neaby waterfront campground at Lower Piedra.  

    The camp is set on a gentle slope and has 26 campsites, four of which are tent only.  The tent sites are a bit more secluded, and while they are under the amazing Ponderosas that cover the grounds with a green canopy, the sites border a gorgeous, flower-filled mountain meadow.  From that meadow campers get night sky views that just don't quit.  Just across the highway in the Southern Ute Nation, campers can see Chimney Rock framed against the vast Colorado skyline.  

    The sites are large, shaded, mostly level, and well spaced so campers can have privacy.  There are two old school vault toilets on the grounds, garbage service, and potable water.  The caveat here is that while you can drink the water, it does have a strong sulfer smell.  We cautioned campers about putting the water into tanks and water jugs.  

    The wildlife was abundant here throughout the season.  We saw our first Mountain Lion here - talk about developing some respect for our surroundings! In May, the grounds were covered in Mule Deer and Elk.  Hummingbirds, Nuthatches (they sound like a tree full of squeaker toys), and Magpies fill the trees.  A squirrel we had never seen before, the Aberts Squirrel, would chase along with the cart, little tufted ears making it the cutest thing.  Much cuter than the baby rattlesnakes we say and heard.  Yes, there are rattlesnakes.  Nothing we could do about that except use an abundance of caution.  We also had a bull snake, Benny, who lived in our host camp site and he was a friendly looking, very chill snake.  We think he kept the nasty rattlesnake out of our area.  As fall approached, the meadow filled with wild turkeys and skunks that gently marched through the flowers.

    Ute Campground is a great launching ground for hiking, ATV/off-roading, river sports, Chimney Rock, hunting, and much more.  Durango and Pagosa Springs are both beautiful San Juan Mountain towns with great food, beverages, historic downtowns, trains, hot springs, and shopping.  Make sure you stop in at Ute Campground, even if it is just for a picnic - truly an amazing camping experience!