Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre, and Gunnison National Forests were joined to make one entity in 1973 when the Gunnison was added to the Grand Mesa and Uncompahgre, creating a combined area of 2,951,799 acres. Just a short drive from Grand Junction in midwestern Colorado, about 2.27 million people visit the forests every year, as there is so much to do that you have to come back again and again. This includes both summer and winter activities because the area is full of possibilities no matter what time of the year you visit in your rig.
In the summertime, water activities are popular with over 300 lakes and seven rivers to enjoy. You can go boating, try some fishing, do some swimming, or even take a float trip down a river or stream. Other warm-weather activities include rock and mountain climbing, hiking, biking, or horseback riding the more than 600 trails, and picnicking at one of the many day use picnic pavilions.
For winter fun, try some skiing, sledding, or snowshoeing on some of the trails or at one of the ski resorts in the area. You can also do some hunting, ice fishing, or ice skating at one of the various lakes and ponds. There are 42 RV campgrounds in the forests here and we have highlighted our top three picks below.
The trip into the Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre, and Gunnison National Forests is so picturesque that you'll want to make sure to take pictures while you drive these scenic roads. The Grand Mesa National Scenic and Historic Byway between Jumbo and Sunset Lakes has an elevation of 9,800 feet and gives you a panoramic view of the Alpine Loop, San Juan Skyway, West Elk Loop, and more. With over three million acres of space, you are hard pressed to find more diverse and awesome sights.
The Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre, and Gunnison National Forests used to be separate entities with the Grand Mesa and Uncompahgre joining in 1954 and Gunnison in 1973. Therefore, getting to the Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre, and Gunnison National Forests is varied but Interstate 70 can get you to any of them if you are coming in from the west, north, or east. From the south, you can choose to take Highway 550, 50, 285, or 24. Just a bit over four hours from Denver, the forests reside in the midwestern part of Colorado.
No matter which way you are coming from, take it easy and slow because the roads can be curvy and steep in some places. In fact, if you are driving a large RV or pulling a trailer, be extra careful on the curves. Once you get your rig parked in the campsite, it is best to walk or ride bikes to wherever you want to go, if possible.
Between Sunset and Jumbo Lakes, the Jumbo Campground near Mesa has 26 campsites. Most of the sites have electricity and they all have their own picnic table and a fire pit with a grill for cooking. The pads range in length from 25 to 45 feet. The park also provides trash pickup, drinking water access, and vault toilets. Sites are reservable online so get your spot early to be sure you have what you want before driving all the way to the campground. Since this is bear country, keep your food in a bear proof box, which are not supplied by the park.
While visiting Jumbo, take a hike on the three-mile West Bench Trail #501, which takes you around the two lakes. Sunset Lake is 10 acres and Jumbo Lake is five acres, each with excellent opportunities for fishing, boating, and swimming. However, there is no official beach and your boat must not use a gas motor. The lakes both have several types of trout as well as bass, crappie, and perch. You can bring your pets as long as they are kept restrained and supervised at all times.
Just a short walk from the 144-acre Island Lake, the Island Lake Campground in Cedaredge has 41 campsites with a panoramic view of the Grand Valley and the lakes below it. Each site has a picnic table and fire pit with a grill for cooking. The parking pads range from 22 to 40 feet long. Because this is bear country, you need to keep your food in a bear proof box, which are not supplied by the park. There are several potable water access pumps and vault toilets around the campground.
If you want to fish, Island Lake has tons of hungry trout in four different species. If you catch some, there is a fish cleaning station for your convenience and if you are using your boat, there is a boat ramp on the lake as well. These sites are first-come, first-served, so make sure you get here early to get a good spot. Pets are welcome as long as they are restrained and supervised.
Along the shores of Ward Lake in Cedarhedge, Ward Lake Campground has 40 campsites. Each site has its own picnic table, fire pit with grill, and a large cleared area for sitting around the fire. The pad lengths run from 20 to 39 feet long, and there are several vault toilets around the park. However, there is no drinking water access so bring your own. These sites are first-come, first-served, so make sure you get here early to get a good spot.
There have been many bear sightings so keep your food in a bear proof box, which are not supplied by the park. Ward Lake is 74 acres and has cutthroat, brown, brook, and rainbow trout as well as bass, crappie, and bass. You can use paddleboats, kayaks, or canoes, but no gas-powered motors are allowed. Swimming is also allowed but there is no official beach. There are paths and trails throughout the forest here to explore but no named trails. Pets are welcome as long as they are restrained and supervised.
Thinking of doing a little mountain climbing? The Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre, and Gunnison National Forests boasts six 14,000-foot peaks and 56 or more 13,000-foot peaks. The San Juan Mountains has the 14,017-foot Wilson Peak, 13,400-foot Rock of Ages, and the 12,960-foot Mount Sneffels. If you would rather do some rock climbing, the Cracked Canyon has difficulties between 5.6 to 4.10 pitch, as well as friction slabs and aid climbs. Fall’s Wall in the Ouray District is also a popular climbing location.
There are over 300 lakes in the forest as well as hundreds of ponds to enjoy. In fact, there’s more than 3,600 miles of streams and creeks to fish as well. The San Miguel, Uncompahgre, Taylor, and Gunnison Rivers and their many tributaries are full of brook, cutthroat, brown, and rainbow trout, as well as salmon, bass, and perch. And with all the watershed, you can always find a secluded spot all of your own. So, make sure to put your fishing gear in the RV before coming.
There are 245 groomed OHV trails and numerous 4WD roads in the Forests for you to explore, so be sure to hook up the OHV trailer to the campervan before heading out. Whether you are riding a motorcycle, ATV, or a side-by-side, there are so many trails that you can find the perfect one for you. From a quarter mile to over 15 miles, there is something for everyone. The most popular, which is Thunder Trails in the Norwood District, has four different loops with a total of 19 miles of single-track riding at its most rugged.
With over 600 hiking trails that total more than 3,500 miles in the Forests, you better pack your hiking boots in the campervan before coming. Some of the trails are easy, such as the 2.8-mile Mesa Lakes Trail that takes you around the Mesa Lake and through the woods. The 12.6-mile Crag Crest Trail is a moderate hike that features a lake and an elevation gain of over 2,000 feet. The 16.6-mile Kannah Creek Trail is rated as difficult and features a lake and an elevation gain of over 4,000 feet.
In Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre, and Gunnison National Forests there are three well-developed ski areas, which include the Telluride Ski Resort, Powderhorn Ski Area, and Crested Butte Ski Resort. The Telluride is 2,000 acres of powder with the longest run being the 4.6-mile Galloping Goose and the vertical drop is 4,425 feet. Powderhorn is on the northern edge of the forest with easy, moderate, and difficult runs. The summit at the Crested Butte is 12,162 feet with a vertical drop of 3,062 feet. And they even have a winter adventure park with bungy trampolines and a climbing pinnacle.
Do you remember how excited you got when it snowed when you were a kid? That meant no school and lots of sledding! Well, in the Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre, and Gunnison National Forests you can go sledding no matter how old you are. You don’t have to be a kid to slide down a snowy hill on a sled or tube. The Old Mesa Ski Hill by Camp Kiwanis in Mesa has free sledding at the top of the 11,000-foot Grand Mesa Hill. So, don’t forget to pack that sled in the RV before heading to the forest.