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Hours of recreation throughout southern Colorado
Photo courtesy:

By Joshua Pilkington

The Pike and San Isabel National Forests and Cimarron and Comanche National Grasslands provide ample opportunities for recreation this summer

With Memorial Day behind us summer has officially begun and with it a wealth of recreational opportunities throughout Southern Colorado. One of the more attractive destinations in the southern half of the state is the Pike and San Isabel National Forests and Cimarron and Comanche National Grasslands (PSICC).

This stretch of forest and grasslands stretches south from Buena Vista toward Beulah Valley and down to Cuchara on the western side of the state while running from Cheesman Lake southeast to the Colorado-Kansas border. In all the PSICC covers nearly 3 million acres and includes the majority of 14ers in the state while providing 60 percent of the state’s waters supply through the South Platte River.

As to be expected from a national forest that contains 3 million acres, recreation opportunities abound at PSICC. Boundary to boundary they provide an eight hour drive of attractive view of mountain peaks, green forests, pristine lakes and lush grasslands.

According to the U.S. Forest Service, “this landscape offers a variety of ecosystems rich in history, geology, scenery, wildlife habitat and recreation opportunities.”

To the east, travelers can venture through rolling prairies that are home to prairie chickens, wildflowers, paleontological resources and historical areas. On the western side of the PSICC, the snow-capped Rockies are a scenic backdrop to millions of residents and a draw to forest visitors.

For those looking for more than scenery, the PSICC is home to over half of Colorado’s 14ers along with a bevy of alpine lakes, rivers and reservoirs. The area also includes the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail, Colorado Trail and Santa Fe National Historic Trail.

Picket Wire Canyon

As climbing a peak 14,000 feet above sea level is an adventure for some, it is not for everyone. The PSICC is also big on family recreation as well. Just south of La Junta, Picket Wire Canyon offers a unique and unforgettable family experience. The primitive canyons are home to the largest dinosaur track site in North America. The site is located on the banks of the Purgatoire River in southeast Colorado. Over 1,500 prints in 100 separate track-ways extend across a quarter-mile expanse of bedrock.

Visitors can tour the canyon on an auto tour during which a tour guide will show them the difficult-to-find dinosaur tracks and the prehistoric, historic and natural features of the canyons.

Additionally visitors can hike their way through the canyon, take a tour on their mountain bike or go by horseback. Though rangers stress caution for those attempting to make the trek by their own means due to the long distances and rugged terrain.

Lost Creek Wilderness

Officially designated in the Colorado Wilderness Act of 1980, the Lost Creek Wilderness carries a total of 119,790 acres and an elevation range of 8,000 to 12,400 feet above sea level. The wilderness earns its name from a creek of the same name that repeatedly disappears underground before reappearing downstream and ultimately becoming Goose Creek.

Lost Creek Wilderness includes nearly 130 miles of trails that run through tree-line mountain parks, round granite domes and granite arches. It is also an excellent place to view wildlife such as black bears, bighorn sheep, deer, elk and bobcats that call the region home. Among the foliage and vegetation in Lost Creek visitors will see ponderosa, bristlecone and lodgepole pine, aspen, spruce, fir and alpine tundra.

Leave No Trace

As with any visit to any outdoor park in Colorado, rangers, community members and the US Forest Service urge visitors to practice Leave No Trace. The seven principles of proper national park etiquette include: plan ahead and prepare; travel and camp on durable surfaces; dispose of waste properly; leave what you find; minimize campfire impacts; respect wildlife; and be considerate of other visitors.





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