Located in southwest Colorado, the Uncompahgre Wilderness is a United States Wilderness Area that includes 102,721 acres (160.5 square miles). Ranging in elevation from 8,400 feet to 14,309 feet, the Wilderness Area includes Uncompahgre Peak and is about five miles northwest of Lake City and a little more than two hours from Pagosa Springs. The area gets its name from Uncompahgre Peak, which is the highest point in the San Juan Wilderness.
Within the Uncompahgre Wilderness are 30 peaks over 13,000 feet. The southern side of the Wilderness Area offers the American Flats, where hikers can walk along the American Flats to Wildhorse Peak and view Cow Creek Canyon. The central part of the Wilderness Area is home to several forks of the Cimarron River, which hikers can access by utilizing a network of trails. Within the Uncompahgre Wilderness are several small lakes and streams where visitors come to fish for cutthroat, brook, and rainbow trout. Wildlife that can be found wandering the area includes elk, mule deer, black bear, mountain lion, and bighorn sheep.
When looking to spend time in a beautiful, diverse area where you can enjoy some solitude, consider a visit to the Uncompahgre Wilderness.
When looking to access the Uncompahgre Wilderness from Lake City, head west onto Second Street, driving for .1 mile (.16 km) to Henson Creek Road, where you will turn left. You will then be on the Alpine Loop Scenic Byway. Continue for 5 miles (8 km) until you see the sign for the Nellie Creek Trailhead, Nellie Creek Road. Continue on Nellie Creek Road. The dirt road is rough and crosses the creek several times; four-wheel drive is necessary and depending on the size of the creek, there may be times that it is not passable. After four miles, you will arrive at the trailhead for Uncompahgre Peak.
There is no public transportation to the Uncompahgre Wilderness.
Located near Deer Lakes, Deer Lakes Campground is a small campground with 12 campsites. The campground is popular among anglers, as the lakes offer excellent fishing and beautiful scenery. Sites are first-come, first-served and while there are no hook-ups, two vault toilets are present within the campground.
As the campground is at a high elevation, you can relax among aspen trees before or after engaging in outdoor adventure. The Deer Lakes Campground is a perfect home base for your visit to the area.
Managed by the Bureau of Land Management, Mill Creek Campground is located in a valley and offers easy public fishing access on Gunnison River’s Lake Fork. The campground includes 23 sites, vault toilets and a pump for potable water. Each site has a food storage box, picnic table and fire ring.
Sites are first-come, first-served and tents and RVs can be accommodated at the campground. Restrooms, as well as two of the campsites, are ADA accessible. The campground is managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and is an ideal place to relax and take in the amazing scenery of the area.
Located next to the Uncompahgre Wilderness is the Big Blue Campground. The campground is small, with 11 sites, and overlooks a valley. Ideal for hikers, the campground is close to the junction of Soldier Creek and Blue Creek, where there are numerous hiking trails, many of which lead south into the wilderness where no vehicles are allowed.
Sites are first-come, first-served and while RVs can be accommodated, sites are short so they may not be ideal for larger vehicles. Vault toilets are available at the campground, which offers a perfect place to relax after a day of adventure!
The Uncompahgre Wilderness includes two peaks above 14,000 feet; Wetterhorn Peak and Uncompahgre Peak, along with 75 miles (120.7 km) of hiking trails, ensuring that there is a hike for everyone.
Whether you choose to summit a 14er, take in views from a lower elevation or explore the many acres of wilderness, you have the chance to breathe in fresh air and take in diverse scenery. Access to some trails may require four-wheel drive, so some research may be required to ensure you can get to your chosen trailhead.
The Uncompahgre Wilderness offers excellent opportunities for those who are looking to spend some time fishing. Rushing through the central section of the Wilderness are multiple forks of the Cimarron River, which flow north and ultimately merge, providing opportunities to fish for trout.
Slide Lake, which is located within the Wilderness, is known as a “fisherman’s paradise” and several small lakes and streams are perfect for anglers to take in the area’s beauty while fishing for cutthroat, brook and rainbow trout.
There are a number of scenic drive options from the nearby town of Lake City. For example, you can take a four-wheel drive vehicle along a short stretch of road that is off of CR 20 that will take you along Nellie Creek past a two-tier waterfall (you will have to cross the creek twice on the road so this drive may not be possible during certain times of year) or take Round Top Road, which starts after the Lake City Ski Hill, where you can drive through aspen groves and view Uncompahgre Peak. There are many opportunities to hit the road and explore the area from the comfort of your car!
Technical climbing options can be found throughout the Uncompahgre Wilderness Area. Thanks to the San Juan Mountaineers, technical routes have been set up on many of the peaks. There are also endless opportunities for bouldering in the Wilderness Area. Climbing enthusiasts will have no problem finding opportunities to engage in the activity at their particular ability level. Spend a few hours or the day climbing and enjoy not only a good workout and adventure but magnificent scenery.
While visiting the Uncompahgre Wilderness and the Lake City Area, you can tour Hard Tack Mine. The mine is open daily from June to September and by appointment during the rest of the year.
The mine and accompanying museum seeks to preserve the mining history of the area and offers tours of the mine along with exhibits and mining machinery. There is even an underground rock gallery! A visit to Hard Tack Mine will offer insight into the area’s past along with a unique experience.
Looking for a unique activity? Ice climbing is a popular activity in Lake City. There is even an ice wall run by the city that is not far from a local brewery.
The Lake City Ice Park is just a block south of downtown and is managed by the Town of Lake City. The ice park is free and has 10-15 routes with 60-100-foot pitches and bolted anchors. The park is open from December to March and has a fire pit and warming hut. For ice climbers without gear and/or experience, guide services and workshops on the sport are available.