Head to Hermosa
See for yourself, Hermosa Creek worthy of special designationHermosa Creek Drive time and distance: 3 hours, 30 min; 160 miles to upper trail head. Upper trail head latitude: 37º 37' 48" N; Longitude: 107º 54' 57" W. Trail distance: 20 miles, top to bottom. Difficulty: Moderate when going downhill, and a bit more strenuous going uphill. Elevation: 7,779 feet on the lower trail head to 8,987 feet on the upper trail head.
So, how beautiful, pristine and “worthy of special designation” is the Hermosa Creek Watershed?
Located northwest of Durango, the drainage is one of the least visited spots in Colorado and is home to elk, lynx, deer, bear, beaver and native Colorado River cutthroat trout. Yet, it’s commonly used by local mountain bikers, all-terrain-vehicle users, anglers, loggers, backcountry enthusiasts, cattlemen and cattle, horseback riders and nature photographers.
One of the best ways to see it from the ground is to travel along the Hermosa Creek Trail.
To reach the lower trail head, take U.S. Highway 550 north from Durango and turn left at Hermosa Park Road. Cross the railroad tracks and follow the road about four miles to the southern Hermosa Creek trail head. Find the trail heading north near the junction of several dirt roads near the parking area. You will see several trail junctions along the way, but the main Hermosa Creek Trail is always the most well-worn route.
To reach the upper trail head, go to the Durango Mountain Ski Area, north of Durango on U.S. 550. Turn into the ski area and begin heading into the Mountain Village. In about four-tenths of a mile, you should see a Forest Service sign for Hermosa Park Road, F.S. Road No. 578 (if no “outdoor adventure” trailers are parked in front of it).
Turn right and continue on that dirt road for three miles, where you’ll turn onto F.S. No. 577. Continue another 5.2 miles to the turnoff to the upper trail head in the Forest Service camping area.
The road into the campground heads across the creek. You may not want to drive across the creek here. It’s up to you, but be cautioned about high water. You’re on your own.
You can also wade across the stream, and head toward the campground where you’ll find the trail head.
A mile hike up this trail will take you to the confluence with the East Fork of Hermosa Creek. It’s a fabulous hike here, and all the way downstream. This is where I got very distracted with trout and fly rod.
A major initiative by the Forest Service and Colorado Division of Parks and Wildlife to restore the native Colorado River cutthroat trout to the San Juan mountains began a number of years ago as part of a larger multistate and multi-agency effort to restore Colorado River cutthroat trout to more of its historic range. Colorado River cutthroat are native to the Colorado River Basin and can once again be found along this stretch, although there remain a number of wild fighting brown trout and even some pretty good size brookies in the stretch I fished.
The entire trail is about 20 miles in length. From that upper trail head high in the San Juan Mountains, it follows a dirt singletrack trail along this beautiful creek through pine forests and flowering hillsides. Along the way, you may see mountain bikers or elk, horseback riders or marmots, motorcyclists, butterflies, hikers, hawks, anglers, eagle — you name it. During the winter, this trail hosts cross-country skiers, snowmobilers and snowshoers, pine marten, snowshoe hares and maybe even Canada Lynx.
About a quarter of the way down from the top trail head, the Elbert Creek/Big Lick Creek Trail intersects with the Hermosa Creek Trail. That’s only the first of many side trails intersecting Hermosa Creek, though.
Corral Draw Trail (No. 521), Big Bend Creek Trail (No. 519) and Salt Creek Trail (No. 559) drop into Hermosa Creek from the famous Colorado Trail, which runs along the spine of the Rockies in Colorado, from Denver to Durango. Other trails, such as Little Elk Creek Trail (No. 515), Dutch Creek Trail (No. 516) and Jones Creek Trail (No. 518) drop into Hermosa Creek from the east.
There are use restrictions on some of these trails, so you should acquire a good map from the San Juan Forest Service.