Always in search of beautiful fall colors, I set out toward the Southwestern part of the state with nary a plan. I wasn’t sure where I was going to stay, where I was going to eat, or where I was going to hike. Armed with my tent and sleeping bag, upon arrival in Telluride, I went in search of some dispersed camping and headed up to Alta Lakes.
The rocky dirt road to the lakes provided spectacular views of the valley below. The lakes, however, weren’t as pretty as I’d hoped. They looked a little swampy and the views mostly included rocky cliffs and evergreen forests, not much fall color for which I was searching. In addition, the dispersed camping was limited and not very dispersed. It was a nice drive up to the lakes though…lots of color, Alta ghost town, and even some deer! Roadtrip video.
As such, I headed back down to CO-145 and stopped in at Sunshine Campground just up the way. While I wasn’t looking for an established campground, it was conveniently located, had a few spaces available, and full of aspen. The best spots were taken, but a did find a nice, shaded area near the camp host. Around sunset, I walked up the overlook trail to enjoy the colors.
Hope Lake Trailhead
The following morning, I awoke early, packed up my gear, and headed to Hope Lake Trailhead. Just the dirt road to the trail was rewarding enough as I stopped along the way snapping photos of Trout Lake and amazing views of the valley. Upon reaching the trailhead, I found the parking area empty. With a steady pace, I’d get the lake to myself I thought.
Following the path through an evergreen forest, I hoped the lake and surrounding views would be nice since I was still trying to enjoy the fall. I wasn’t disappointed. After maneuvering the rocky trail through the forest and past a few waterfalls that were somewhat dried up after the hot summer, I was rewarded with an open view of Trout Lake and hillsides speckled in a multitude of colors.
I continued up the trail surrounded by granite peaks to a lovely lake. At first, I was disappointed because the lake is down at least ten feet and at first sight it seemed mostly dried up. After snapping a photo of a shy marmot, however, I climbed around the hillside to see the reflections of the surrounding cliffs in the lake’s emerald waters. What made the lake even better, was I had it all to myself the entire time I was there! In fact, I didn’t even run into another hiker until I was almost back to the trailhead. Sometimes starting early and in the cold is worth the solitude and the excitement of spotting some ptarmigan on the trail. See video of lake.
Dolores River Overlook
While the colors in Telluride and Rico were wonderful, I wanted to do some more exploring and continued Southwest. I checked out Dolores Overlook where I thought I might camp, but it seemed a little too remote. I drove past oil fields and farmlands to get to this overlook of an amazing canyon. Perhaps if I could have parked my campsite, I would have stayed, but the camping area was fenced off from the parking area which would have made me carry all my stuff that was packed for car camping, and thought unlikely necessary, didn’t provide much of an exit strategy.
I still had at least three more hours of daylight, so I drove through more farmland and oil fields to Lowry Pueblo located in Canyon of the Ancients National Monument. I hoped my cell reception would stay with me, as I didn’t figure I’d find my way out easily. Lowry Pueblo was named after homesteader George Lowry. The structure was constructed on top of abandoned pit houses from an earlier occupation and at its peaked housed 100 people. In addition to the pueblo which may be entered through the low door is a large kiva.
Based on some of the reviews I read, I expected to be able to explore a large complex. Instead, visitors may walk about six feet into the roofed area and look around the locked off rooms. I think it took me longer to drive out there than it did to explore, so I can’t say it was my favorite spot to visit, but I suppose historians would like free ruins to visit.
Purgatory Creek Trail
I swung by another campground at McPhee Reservoir which wasn’t anymore appealing to me than Dolores River Overlook, so went in search for one other campground called Lower Hermos, but the road access was closed. With light dwindling, I stopped in at a Quality Inn for a good night’s sleep and free breakfast.
The following day I hiked Purgatory Creek Trail. The trail leads hikers down to the river through many aspen groves. Along the way, a few overlooks offer nice views of the colorful valley. Upon arriving in the meadow, hikers may go left or right. I turned right and was surprised to see other trail junctions. The trail to the left of the junction goes to a great campsite by the river while the one to the right of the junction keeps traveling through aspen groves and along the river side. This is the main Purgatory Creek Trail.
After about five miles, the Purgatory Creek Trail connects with the Animas River Trail and eventually many others which provide great access to camping and backpacking. Since it doesn’t end at a destination like an alpine lake, it is a good trail for just picking an amount of mileage to complete in the meadow, 10 miles or less, as it is mostly level. Just remember that the final return (about a mile or so) is uphill! ETB