Teddy Roosevelt created the San Juan National Forest in 1905, sources say, because it’s downright stunning.
The San Juan National Forest is located in southwestern Colorado and is comprised of 1.8 acres. There are forty-seven developed campgrounds, of which thirty-one meet the selection criteria.
These days, ski slopes dust powder all winter long. Steam trains pull tourists through mountain valleys that are the stuff of legends. Locals eternally continue the impossible debate over which is more beautiful, a columbine in spring or the aspens in autumn.
There’s no better way to experience the San Juan Mountains than via the main road, which cuts through it all.
They call it the Million Dollar Highway, presumably because if you crash over the precipice lining one side of the oft-broken, always gorgeous road as it winds from Durango (one of Colorado’s most authentic towns) to Silverton (an ex-mining cowboy-style tourist trap) and then on to Ouray (something in between the two), the payout to whoever’s name is on your life insurance is going to be that large.
Here are some popular campgrounds you may visit:
Embrace the rugged outdoors here at Florida Campground. You’ll enjoy plenty of shade from the Colorado blue spruce, aspen, and fir that surround this spot and give it that forested splendor you can never get enough of.
Set right along the Florida River, this can be an angler’s dream come true—but a lot of the river can run through private land, so double check before you drop your line!
Give yourself time to explore some backcountry lakes drenched in wilderness beauty by taking the short Lost Lake or Stump Lake trails to these secluded gems. You’ll be drinking in the views all day long!
Haviland Lake Campground
Located 8,100 feet on the eastern side of the San Juan Mountain range, this CG is unique in many ways. Twenty miles north of Durango, CO, it is easily accessible via highway 550.
Access sign on 550 marks the narrow and winding road, which is hard-surfaced and in good condition. There are welcoming and informative camp hosts at the pay station entrance.
Services include water, trash pickup, campfire rings, picnic tables, and restrooms. Firewood is available. Many facilities are universally accessible, including barrier-free camping, picnic sites, and toilets.
The campground offers single- and double-family sites, many of which have electric hookups. Picnic tables and campfire rings are provided, as are accessible vault toilets and drinking water.
An accessible fishing dock is located on the lakeshore—anglers cast for rainbow and brown trout. A Colorado Division of Wildlife fishing license is required to fish.
Several trailheads are in the vicinity. The Forebay Lake Trail begins in the campground and leads to small Forebay Lake, just over a mile east of the campground.
The historic Rico-to-Rockwood Wagon Road passes through Haviland and Chris Park. Built-in the late 1800s, the road was used for six years until the railway opened.
Williams Creek Campground
Start your engines, ladies, and gentlemen, because Williams Creek Campground is the place to bring your motorized boat. Whether you pull up in an RV or that beat-up Subaru, this area offers camping for all types.
Enjoy the wake-free water on Williams Creek Reservoir and try your hand at some fishing in the late fall or spring. With high popularity in the summer, be sure to become an early bird!
There are a wide variety of sites in Wilson Creek, CG. Not all are level or suitable for larger rigs, but most are well spaced, and there are some with great position and privacy.
The ponderosa forest has been thinned, leaving many stumps. Aspen, spruce, and fir are colonizing.
The ‘premium’ reservable sites have water and sewer but are open to the neighbors. There are ample water spigots dispersed throughout and clean restrooms—no dump station.
The road from Pagosa Springs is 20 miles of rough, dusty dirt and gravel. Roads within the CG are narrow and rough, and overhanging roadside trees need trimming, yet we had no troubles towing a 23′ Airstream.
Visitors enjoy the area for its fishing, all-terrain vehicle (ATV) riding, and scenic opportunities. The campground is one mile from Williams Reservoir, popular fishing and kayaking spot.
There are several ATV and hiking trails approximately one to five miles beyond the campground.
Lower Piedra Campground
The Lower Piedra Campground is just north of U.S. Highway 160 on the Piedra River’s west side, about 18 miles east of Bayfield and 25 miles west of Pagosa Springs.
It is about a half-mile up Forest Rd. Six hundred twenty-one on the west side of the river (not to be confused with the First Fork Road [Forest Rd. 622] on the river’s east side). The campground offers 17 large, level sites with plenty of shade.
Lower Piedra Campground is just waiting for your fishing line to touch the water. Once you’ve caught some grub and rested in the shade, check out the Chimney Rock Archaeological Area nearby, where an interpretive trail to Ancestral Puebloan sites will make you feel like you’ve stepped into years gone past.
Target Tree Campground
Target Tree Campground is located 7 miles east of Mancos on the north side of Highway 160 at 7,643 feet. It is the ideal camping spot for day trips to Mancos, Durango, and Mesa Verde National Park.
The name “Target Tree” refers to the Ute Indians’ use of the area to harvest sap and bark from Ponderosa pines as food supplements. They also used the trees for target practice, leaving several scarred trees throughout the area.
Tread carefully because you will be walking on sacred ground at Target Tree Campground. This campsite is aptly named for its target practice usage by the Ute Indians so long ago.
Bird watchers will enjoy the variety of species available in this area, and the hillside overlooks of Thompson Park make for a picturesque spot.
If you’re up for some hiking, be sure to check out the Narrow Gauge Trail, which begins right on the campsite and leads up to an old railroad grade.
Transfer Group Campground
Head 11 miles north of Mancos to Transfer Campground, offering first-come, first-served family sites, and one reservable group site.
At 8,500 feet above sea level, this aspen-studded campground affords access to several nearby trails.
Rev up your ATV or motorbike on the Aspen Loop Trail, or lace up your hiking boots for a trip down the Big Al Interpretive Trail, Canyon Box Trail, or Rim Trail.
Those with dreams of hooking the big one can head six miles south of the campground to Jackson Gulch Reservoir, which is plentifully stocked with rainbow trout, brown trout, and yellow perch.
Miller Creek Campground
Mill Creek is located within Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park, and you can book a site on the California State Park website. You need to have a reservation in California State Parks, and this campground tends to fill up in the summer.
The campground is gorgeous, and lots of the sites have beautiful stumps and downed trees separating the sites. But some sites are quite close, with no vegetation separation.
The campground feels remote, the closest town and grocery store a 20-minute drive away in Crescent City.
The entire campground sits in a lush, green forest with hundreds of new-growth redwood trees. While some sites are close, they are not on top of each other.
There are plenty of sites set back into groves of redwood trees if you look for something more secluded.
The large trees drown out most of the park’s noise; if you haven’t experienced or seen redwoods before, this is the perfect spot to camp and experience the awe of these giant wonders.
While this campground is not close to town or any stores, it is a great access point to the park’s rest.
We could easily explore the northern part of the park around the Hiouchi Visitor Center, the tide pools along the coast, and the southern part of the park near the Thomas H. Kuchel Visitor Center with this central location.
Mill Creek Campground is 2 miles off Highway 101. The drive into the park is on a steep, paved road, but you can’t hear the highway once you’re in the campground.
Sites are equipped with large bear boxes (California), fire rings, and picnic tables.
There are no hookups on any of the sites, but there is an RV dump station in the campground. They do allow RVs up to 24-feet to stay.
South Mineral Campground
South Mineral Campground, located along South Mineral Creek, is one of the most popular campgrounds in the San Juan National Forest.
The campground has 26 sites, all of which are first-come, first-serve. Most campsites are shaded and well-spaced thanks to spruce and fir trees. Some sites are handicapped accessible. Some sites have large parking areas.
Services include water, trash pickup, fire grates, picnic tables, and pit toilets. Bear-safe food storage is recommended. No electricity. This campground has no services (water, electricity, trash pick up, or restrooms). Please keep them clean and pack them out.
There are various sites, from shady places for your tent to sunny, creekside spots for your RV and even ADA accessibility.
Sites are first-come, first-served, but if you don’t feel like fighting it out on a busy day, there are designated spots along the road for dispersed camping! That’s what we call a win-win.
The Ice Lake Basin trail starts just across the road and is wickedly steep and strenuous but well worth it when you lay your eyes on the high alpine lakes and hoards of wildflowers in the springtime.
There are also excellent peak views and even a waterfall just upstream from camp for those looking to take it easy.
Junction Creek Campground
Junction Creek Campground is located close to Durango, Colo., near the beginning of the Colorado Trail. Visitors enjoy the area for its excellent hiking and biking opportunities in a scenic natural setting.
The Colorado Trail, also known as the Junction Creek Trail, begins nearby and stretches almost 500 miles to Denver as it rises through subalpine forests and alpine meadows above the timberline.
Mountain biking is very popular on the Colorado Trail and the Logchute Trail System, which is nearby.
Junction Creek offers fishing for rainbow and brook trout. Skilled anglers may have luck near the campground, but chances improve upstream.
The campground offers single- and double-family campsites, many with electric hookups. A group campsite is available that can accommodate up to 50 people. An accessible large-group, day-use picnic shelter with electricity can accommodate up to 65 people.
Group sites are equipped with picnic tables, serving tables, campfire rings, and grills and have access to a volleyball court and horseshoe pits. Single and double sites have tables and campfire rings. Accessible vault toilets and drinking water are provided.
The campground is situated on a south-facing hillside, a quarter-mile above Junction Creek. A forest of ponderosa pine and Gambel oak covers the campground, which sits at an elevation of 7,300 feet.
West Fork Campground
West Fork Campground sits near the West Fork San Juan River in a secluded 10-acre area, just over a mile from Highway 160. Visitors enjoy the area for its hiking opportunities and great solitude.
The West Fork and nearby Wolf Creek offer fishing opportunities but are heavily fished streams. Only skilled and patient fishers have much luck in these waters.
The West Fork Trail, also known as the Rainbow Trail, leads into the Weminuche Wilderness from a trailhead a mile beyond the campground. The first portion of the trail passes through private property, so please stay on the trail and leave the gates as you find them.
The campground offers single-family sites, some of which are adjacent to the river but without direct views. Most sites are suitable for large RVs. Picnic tables and campfire rings are provided, as are vault toilets and drinking water. Pets on a leash are also permitted.
The campground is situated among a forest of mixed conifers, where sites have sun and shade. The West Fork can be heard but not seen from the campground.