Colorado is famed for its stunning mountain scenery and this tract of BLM land, Browns Canyon National Monument in Chaffe County is a landscape every bit as impressive as the rest of the mountainous state. Browns Canyon covers more than twenty thousand acres of terrain with incredible geological formations ranging from granite cliffs to pine-forested slopes and craggy peaks. Browns Canyon is bordered to the west by the Gunnison National Forest, to the east by the Pike and San Isobel National Forests, surrounded by the many pinnacles of the Rocky Mountains and intercut by the Arkansas River.
Browns Canyon National Monument is a wild and rugged place to go RV camping on BLM property in Colorado. Pitch camp and you'll feel as if you've entered the land that time forgot. While you won't spot any dinosaurs, you will see lots of wildlife from the big felines such as bobcats and mountain lions to raptors and rattlesnakes. There are miles of trails running through the canyon for hiking where, once you set out on them, you'll really feel as if you've entered a post-apocalyptic world where civilization has ceased to exist.
The length of the Arkansas River flowing through Browns Canyon is renowned for its first-class whitewater rafting and superb trout fishing. It's an area that is rich in history too. As you explore, you'll find many old prospecting sites from the gold rush days dotted around the property or for a more in-depth look at Chaffe County's past, the Courthouse Museum in the town of Buena Vista is located less than half an hour's drive from the two main campgrounds in the canyon.
Accessing Browns Canyon National Monument is not the easiest of things to do in a rig, whichever of the two recreational areas you're heading to. Expect to be driving along very twisty, un-asphalted roads from the moment you're inside the monument boundaries. Expect to have to negotiate blind corners, bumps and dips, and there's always the possibility of encountering boulders or loose stones strewn across the track.
The most easily reachable campground is the one in the Ruby Mountain Recreation Site near Nathrop around midway to the monument. To get to the campground in the Hecla Junction Recreation Site further south, you'll need to tackle a steep and unpaved incline which is not recommended for big rigs.
There are several roadways within the monument that are only suitable for 4x4 vehicles, namely the Aspen Ridge Road and Turret Road so avoid those when you're driving through this BLM land in your RV. If you go down them in a four by four, remember it's not permitted to park more than one vehicle length away from the track. Also best kept well away from in your rig is Forest Road 1434A which is an OHV track easily confused with other roadways in the monument. The OHV trail has a seasonal closure from December 1st to mid-April.
The campground at the Hecla Junction Recreation Site sits in a slightly elevated position above the Arkansas River and is surrounded by low, scrub-covered foothills. The campground is more like an RV parking lot with the twenty-plus pitches available branching off a central track. The campsites and roadways are all dirt and gravel surfaced, so if you're there when the weather is hot, expect to have to deal with a certain amount of dust every time another rig drives by.
It's a primitive campground with no utility hook-ups. Nor is there any drinking water on-site, though each pitch does have a picnic table and grill. Vault toilets have been installed and there is boat ramp access to the river next to the camp.
The campground in the Ruby Mountain Recreation Area is a basic, gravel-surfaced field divided into individual campsites on a loop. The loop is quite tight to negotiate if you have a long rig or are towing a trailer. The campground, while it is open to the elements, has great views of Mount Princeton rising above the San Isobel National Forest.
There are twenty-two campsites at the campground, none of which have utility hook-ups. The dirt roadways running through the campground are quite narrow and bordered with large boulders. If you're in a big rig or towing, you'll need to keep a careful eye on the road as you're motoring to your pitch, otherwise you could damage a wheel. The campground has been furnished with vault toilets and there are picnic areas with grills by the side of the river.
Whitewater rafting down the Arkansas River is one of the big adrenaline thrills you can get at the Browns Canyon National Monument. Hit the water upstream and you can navigate all the way through the canyon, exiting at the Hecla Junction Recreation Site. Some of the rapids will be challenging, but there are sections with calmer waters too.
Don't expect to be taking a solitary paddle. This stretch of the river is a big draw for kayaking and rafting so there could well be numerous other craft on the water with you. You can check out the current water levels and conditions of the Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area here.
Expect to expend a fair amount of energy if you're going hiking through the BLM lands of Browns Canyon National Monument. It's real rough country hiking that for most trails requires a decent level of stamina and some pre-preparation. Pack a backpack with water and energy snacks to nibble on and replenish your strength as you go.
Hike the five and a half miles of the out-and-back River Bench Trail and you'll have the Arkansas River by your side all the way. For a more testing challenge, hit the Catkin Gulch Loop and you'll be tramping through an unspoiled wilderness for about eleven and a half miles. Wear good hiking boots and watch out for rattlers sunbathing on the rocks.
There's nothing better than catching a trout then grilling it up the same day for dinner. The section of the Arkansas River cutting through Browns Canyon is part of the Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area and well stocked with both brown and rainbow trout.
If fly fishing isn't your preferred method of angling, don't worry, there's plenty more fish to hook. Alternative catches could include any one of several species of bass, catfish, sunfish, crappie or sauger. Just make sure you have a Colorado Fishing License in your possession before casting a hook in the water.
The Buena Vista Heritage Museum or Chaffe Courthouse Museum is housed in a nineteenth-century building once used as a courthouse. The museum is divided into different galleries depicting the life and times of Chaffe County. At the museum, you can explore a schoolroom from the bygone days, exhibits on topics as varied as farming, fashion and the fishing techniques of the Native American Ute tribe. Marvel at the antiquated appliances in the parlor and kitchen rooms or the florescent minerals kept in a dark replica cave.
While the BLM lands of the Browns Canyon National Monument might at first glance appear to be a barren and rocky wilderness, it is, in fact, teeming with wildlife of many different varieties. Some species are more difficult to spot than others and there are some you need to keep an eye out for all the time.
The mountain lions, bobcats and black bears are best viewed through binoculars from a distance and above your head, you'll see golden eagles and several raptors of the falcon family circling on the air currents in the canyon. The canyon has a varied reptile life too and you'll be able to spot lizards, bullfrogs and plenty of snakes so watch where you're putting your feet.
Take to the air to view the stunning scenery of Browns Canyon National Monument. Just north of Buena Vista is the forty-four-acre zipline park - AVA Mountaintop Ziplining. At the park, you can zip down more than a half a mile of sky-high lines or race your partner on the nine-hundred-foot twin line and see who gets to the bottom first.
Land on the platforms set on the cliff faces or in the pine trees then re-launch again off the precipices like a born-again Tarzan. It's fast, it's fun and the ultimate thrill you'll get in the Browns Canyon National Monument, so don't miss it.