Conejos - South San Juan Wilderness


Jan 8, 2017
The South San Juan Wilderness lies on the Rio Grande National Forest near Platoro and Antonito Colorado. Covid summer has made recreation around Santa Fe quite popular at basically all times, so I decided to explore the South San Juans instead a few times this summer. While the northern part of this range gets a lot of visitation, I was pleasantly surprised by the solitude in the backcountry here. The Conejos river and its tributaries are great for trout fishing, but once you get out from the road most of the folks with TX plates and brand-new RVs make themselves scarce. Also due to its location in the SW portion of the state, and access roads being somewhat limited, I think the CO crowds generally travel elsewhere. We interestingly saw more NM plates than CO, but the TX folks had the run of the joint.

The wilderness lies mostly to the east of the continental divide, and the CDT goes right through it. The busiest places I saw were naturally on the CDT, in particular a place called Blue Lake, which had about 40 people there one weekend. A little ways from there, though, we found a very nice spot on the Divide. It happened to be the solstice, and at 11500', the light lasted quite a while that night.

This is looking towards the Navajo River drainage, where the purported last CO grizzly was killed. Some suggest grizzlies are still around here. We never saw any sign, but that means very little.

Going north along the Divide you can access the North, Middle, and Adams Fork of the Conejos. The North and Middle Forks meet El Rito Azul (Blue Creek) at Three Forks. This is a relatively popular place, but there is a ton of camping and it affords great views. The hike from the Three Forks TH is quite easy, and a good place to start for a short hike in to start a trip after a drive to Platoro.

Three Forks.

Getting down into Three Forks you can take the Middle or North Fork, or Blue Creek if you are coming from Blue Lake. Blue Creek is a bit steep with not so much camping, but it is really gorgeous with quite a few cascades. We found the North Fork to be not so nice. There is plenty of flat to camp on, but not so many trees. The sun is strong up there, and we just walked down to Three Forks instead. But the Middle Fork provides quite a bit of nice camping. As well as a very impressive waterfall.

You can also see the falls from up on the Divide.

The Middle, North, and South Forks all have quite a bit of blowdown in particular places. In particular the top of the South Fork was brutal and slow going. The South San Juans area experienced quite a bit of volcanic activity, and the rock makes for some cool formations.

Above Hansen Creek. We walked up Hansen from the mouth of the creek, which was a mistake. If you want to see Hansen, I'd recommend going in from the top. Its nice in there, but tough going from the bottom. @Outdoor_Fool I never did find that Bigfoot.

The South Fork Conejos is a great river, with huge gorges. Some of that area really reminds me of the South Fork Shoshone in WY.

The Adams Fork is also very very nice. The trail in there is super easy walking, except for the first 20-30 minutes, which are steep. I headed back there around Labor Day and got to enjoy the start of the color change. The grasses were mostly changing,

The way up to the Divide from Adams Fork isn't so bad either, and you can walk towards Three Forks or northish towards Montezuma Peak. Heading towards Three Forks you get a great view into the Rio Blanco, with really cool cliffs.

There is a lot more to explore in this area, and I look forward to going back. The trails are pretty well maintained for the most part, although a few trails on the maps simply no longer exist, so it's worth asking around if you are thinking of taking some of the cut-off trails etc.

Toadstool on the Divide

Wishing y'all the best.

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Dec 11, 2015
Great report and photos. looks like a challenge.

I have a grainy and blurred photo somewhere around here of Bigfoot sitting on that very toadstool. I'll look for it.

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