Rocky Mountain Region Viewing Area
Lizard Head Pass & San Juan Skyways
Forest: San Juan National Forest and Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre, and Gunnison National Forests
District: Dolores (San Juan National Forest) and Norwood (Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre, and Gunnison National Forests) Ranger Districts
Description: The Lizard Head Pass is located above 10,000 feet and is surrounded with meadows scattered with wildflowers adjacent to spruce/fir and aspen forests with awe–inspiring backdrops of the snow covered peaks. Wildflowers of the area include Parry’s gentian (Pneumonanthe parryi), white marsh marigold (Psychrophila leptosepala), Colorado false hellebore (Veratrum tenuipetalum), bluebell bellflower (Campanula rotundifolia), and elephanthead lousewort (Pedicularis groenlandica). The San Juan Scenic Byway (Colorado Highway 145) follows just above the North Fork of the San Miguel River. It continues south on CO 145 to the top of Lizard Head Pass. There are several Forest Service roads and hiking trails that lead into spectacular viewing areas just off this scenic drive. An interpretive site and accessible restrooms are available on CO 145 at the top of Lizard Head Pass. See waterfalls in spring, wildflowers in summer, golden aspen in fall or a snowy wonderland in winter.
Viewing Information: The best time to visit is mid-July to early August. The San Juan Skyway is a spectacular drive through the San Juan, Uncompahgre, Wilson and Sneffels Ranges. Colorado's first National Forest Scenic Byway loops through the San Juan Mountains, and has been called "The Most Beautiful Drive in America." This 236-mile route follows state-maintained highways. It winds for 236 miles through the heart of 5 million acres on the San Juan and Uncompahgre National Forests offering views of spectacular, rugged, and primitive country as well as cultural and historical sites. The entire loop takes you through Durango, Silverton, Ouray, Ridgway, Telluride, Ophir, Rico, Dolores, Cortez and Mancos.
Lizard Head Wilderness Trails - Lizard Head Overlook, located within a few miles of Matterhorn Campground at the top of Lizard Head Pass, serves as a rest area and trailhead for the Lizard Head Trail. An interpretive kiosk tells about the surrounding peaks and other areas of interest. The Lizard Head Wilderness Area is one of the most rugged and pristine sections of southwest Colorado. Most of the hiking trail mileage in this 41,492-acre area is near or well above timberline. There are three 14,000-ft. peaks within the area, with Mount Wilson (14,246 ft.) being one of the hardest of Colorado's "Fourteeners" to climb, requiring alpine expertise and some climbing equipment. The eastern portion of the area is well hiked, with the Navajo Lake, Lizard Head, Bilk Basin, Cross Mountain, and Woods Lake Trails crossing much of this terrain.
Hope Lake Trail - The Hope Lake Trailhead (# 420) is located approximately 4 miles east of CO 145, and east of Trout Lake on Forest Road 626 and 627. This trail is a popular hike (six miles out and back) that offers a bit of everything from stunning views to gorgeous wildflowers. The hike begins in forest, soon crosses a creek lined with patches of colorful paintbrush, larkspur, monkeyflower and more. The trail gradually wanders through conifer shade and sun. A serious ascent over a multitude of switchbacks takes you above tree line, rewarding you with a pristine high-alpine lake.
Priest Lake - Forest Road 628 east of CO 145 leads to Priest Lake, a small lake surrounded by wet meadows and fields of wildflowers. Dispersed camping is allowed in this area.
Trout Lake - Forest Road 626 and Country Road 63A lead around Trout Lake, a natural lake enlarged to augment the country’s first alternating current power plant, the Ames Hydroelectric Generating Plant near the town of Ophir. It was completed in 1891, producing 2,400 volts of electricity and is still in service today. Trout Lake is a beautiful anglers-delight surrounded by a cirque of spectacular 13,000 foot peaks with views that are a must-see on this excursion. On the southeast side of the lake is the one of the best preserved remaining trestles of the Rio Grande, the Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad and the remains of a 50,000 gallon water tank, both historic features in the area. Forest Road 627 is located on the southeast corner of the lake which leads up several switchbacks to the Hope Lake trailhead.
Safety First: Thunderstorms often develop in the afternoon in the Colorado high country. Visiting early and being back by your vehicle early in the day is advisable. Be aware of high altitude sickness, which can be life threatening. Hypothermia can be a hazard throughout the year. Watch the weather in September and be prepared for an early snow storm. The San Juan National Forest and the Uncompaghre National Forest have jointly published excellent brochures on hiking opportunities on these forests. The brochures also outline hazards of high-altitude hiking, and suggest minimum impact techniques that are useful for hikers everywhere. Information is available from the Dolores Ranger District of the San Juan National Forest near Dolores, Colorado or the Norwood Ranger District of the Uncompahgre National Forest in Norwood, Colorado. Stop at either of these offices for more information or check their websites.
Lizard Head Pass is approximately 10 miles south of the town of Telluride on CO 145
Trout Lake is located along the east side of San Juan Skyway (CO 145) at milepost 49.1. Take Country Road 63A south off CO 145, or take Forest Road 626 east off CO 145 just north of the Lizard Head Overlook and Rest Area.
Priest Lake: take Forest Road 628 off the east side of CO 145. Forest Road 626 can be accessed at the Matterhorn Campground or approximately 1 mile south of the campground at the County Road 63A entrance to Trout Lake.
Lizard Head Wilderness Trails: the trailheads for trail #505 and #512 are located at the Lizard Head Overlook and Rest Area at the top of the pass located 3 miles south of the Matterhorn Campground and 10 miles south of the town of Telluride.
Hope Lake Trail: from Telluride, take CO 145 south approximately 10 miles, turn left (east) 0.6 miles past milepost 61 onto Forest Road 626 at Trout lake. Continue 1.7 miles bearing left onto Forest Road 627 and follow the rougher uphill road 2.5 miles to the trailhead. Parking is limited at the trailhead.
Ownership and Management: U.S. Forest Service, San Juan National Forest, Dolores Ranger District (970) 882-7296; and, Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre and Gunnison National Forests, Norwood Ranger District, (970) 327-4261.
Closest Town: Telluride, Colorado.
Camping Areas: Dispersed camping is allowed on public lands at Priest Lake and at the east side of Lizard Head Pass. The developed Forest Service Matterhorn Campground (concession operated) is located between the town of Ophir and Trout Lake along CO 145. The developed Forest Service Sunshine Campground (concession operated) is located between the town of Telluride and Ophir along CO 145.
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