Solitude in Every Season

From the Sangre de Cristo to the San Juan Mountains, the jagged peaks and rushing rivers of the San Luis Valley public lands wrap themselves around this Rocky Mountain basin. Whether viewing the mountain scenery from roads or finding challenge on trails, visitors discover solitude and self-reliance through uncrowded year-round recreation opportunities. As recreation pressures increase in other parts of Colorado, the public lands of the Saguache County maintain their remote spirit and traditional culture.

The Rio Grande Forest and adjacent BLM lands form the scenic and cultural backdrop to the Saguache County. With a landscape of high peaks, geologic wonders, and steep river canyons, the spectacular scenery beckons adventurers from near and far. Culturally, the public lands have been significant to generations of users and continue to provide economic benefits to local communities through recreation-based tourism and multiple uses. History is alive at prehistoric Native American sites, historic mining camps, and along the routes of early explorers and settlers.

The Continental Divide National Scenic Trail winds for 236 miles across the Rio Grande Forest and is managed to protect its scenic and recreation values. The CDNST stretches 3,100 miles from Canada to Mexico along the spine of the Rocky Mountains, creating a habitat corridor for wildlife and hikers. For map and more information go to

Special attractions include Sangre de Cristo and La Garita Wilderness Areas, Penitente Canyon, significant migratory wetlands, numerous 14,000 ft peaks, excellent hunting, fishing, and hiking opportunities. Consistent snow and excellent terrain create a winter wonderland ready for enthusiasts of snowshoeing, cross-country skiing and snowmobiles. With nearly half of the land designated as Wilderness or backcountry, and the overall remote nature of our public lands, the opportunities for solitude are outstanding. The area continues to be a safe and inviting place for families and social groups to experience the great outdoors.

The Rio Grande National Forest and BLM lands are managed public lands; the lands combined are called the San Luis Valley Public Lands. Visit the Rio Grande Regional Forest website or the BLM San Luis Valley Field Office webpage for more information.

FACTS: The following are a few facts about the Saguache Public Lands:

  • ACRES OF PUBLIC LAND: 743,544 acres, 515,750 National Forest and 227,794 BLM, of which 89,747 acres are Wilderness.
  • ROADS & TRAILS: 928 miles of roads, 31 miles of motorized trails and 259 miles of non-motorized trails.
  • 14’ERS: (Peaks above 14,000' elevation) Kit Carson Peak, Crestone Peak, Crestone Needle and Challenger Point.

For more information regarding these peaks and access visit 

Guard Station Campground List

CAMPGROUNDS: Saguache Public Lands manages six campgrounds on the Forest and one on the BLM. Reservations are not available for these campgrounds. Please note there is a 14 day stay limit on SLV Public Lands.

CABINS: Saguache Public Lands also have cabin rentals. These primitive cabins are refurbished Guard Stations that were built in the early 1900s. Cabins are available for reservation; at click the links in each of the listings below , or visit, or by phone 1-877-444-6777.

BREWERY CREEK GUARD STATION: About 15 miles west of Villa Grove. Bunks 9 people. $50.00 per night.

CARNERO GUARD STATION: 27 miles southwest of Saguache, or 12 miles northwest of LaGarita. Bunks 12 people. $50.00 per night.

STONE CELLAR GUARD STATION: 56 miles southwest of Saguache located in Saguache Park. Bunks 10 people. $50.00 per night.

UPPER CROSSING GUARD STATION: 8 miles west of Saguache, Bunks 8 people and has more amenities, such as running water and electricity. $75.00 per night. Cabins are Pack It In – Pack It Out and must be cleaned before you leave. Call the Saguache office 719-655-2547 for more information.


Colorado’s Best Kept Secret - The Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve

great-sand-dunes-crestone-peaks FB0FB3FA-155D-451F-67842C476C55A693-largeNPS PhotoIt may seem like Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve is a little off the beaten path, but whether you have just a couple of hours or several days to spend exploring, the National Park and Preserve offers great opportunities to discover, recreate and reconnect with nature. From easy strolls to sandboarding to true wilderness adventure, the unusual combination of landscapes found within Great Sand Dunes National Park The Great Sand Dunes & Preserve has something for everyone!

The best part of the secret is that the vast majority of the Park is located within Saguache County. The recent expansion of the park has allowed access to the northern backcountry boundary via the Liberty Gate and Trail. Hikers, horses and pack animals may use this trailhead to access the National Park and National Forest lands in this area. Until further National Park and National Forest planning has been completed, Saguache County has granted temporary approval for horse trailer/ vehicle parking at the designated parking area near the terminus of Camino Baca Grande in the Baca Grande Subdivision, locally known as the “Liberty Gate,” just outside the northern edge of the National Park. Wagons or other horse-drawn equipment are not permitted to enter the park. For overnight use, please self-register at the Liberty Gate for a free backcountry permit.
Visit or call the Visitor Center at 719-378-6395 for more information, (a map of road access to the Liberty Gate is available).

The Dunes in an hour or two: If you have only a very short time to enjoy the park, try to take in the contrast between wind-swept dunes and craggy Rocky Mountains. Make your first stop the Visitor Center: watch the 20-minute film and take a peek at the exhibits. Then head into the dunes on foot. Even a short easy stroll will reveal animal and insect tracks in the sand and ever-changing ripples. Attend a ranger-guided terrace talk or nature walk during summer months. All interpretive programs are free and open to everyone.

“Can we sandboard on the dunes? What about sandskiing?” Yes! You can give either option a try, but be prepared. For most people, the trek up the dunes carrying the gear is more memorable than the slow and gritty descent. “Snowboarding in winter, when the dunes are snow-covered, is awesome!” says Noelle, an avid snowboarder. Don’t bother to wax and avoid any areas where there is vegetation growing.

great-sand-dunes-medano-creek-kids FB2BE176-155D-451F-67D9B3283FE12577-largeNPS Photo
Explore Medano Creek, flowing at the base of the dunes during the spring and summer months, only during years of adequate precipitation. Medano Creek exhibits a phenomenon called “surge flow.” Its surges may remind you of waves at a beach. Each time a surge occurs, a mound of underwater sand (which had temporarily dammed some of the water in the creek bed), collapses. Surge flow occurs in only a few places on Earth, and none are as easy to visit as the Great Sand Dunes!

Youngsters can spend time building sand castles, flying a kite, or sliding down the dunes. When you're ready to call it quits, find the footwash just outside the rest room building in the Dunes Parking Area.

With a little more time to spend, climb the High Dune, the prominent dune visible from the Visitor Center. Although it is not the tallest dune at the Great Sand Dunes, it looks – and feels if you’re hiking up it – impressively tall. Elevation gain to the top is 650 feet. From High Dune are splendid views only motivated hikers are privileged to see, including the spectacular Star Dune, which rises 750 feet. Star Dunes have three or more arms and are created by complex wind patterns. Star Dunes are also very photogenic; be sure to take your camera, and plenty of water, for the 4-hour round trip hike to the Star Dune. Consider a walk on the dunes around sunset. Moonlight walks on the dunes can be enchanting, and the night sky may amaze you with its brilliance!

Scenic Drive (County Rd 41G)

This is a well maintained largely gravel road departing from Hwy 114 about 12 miles outside of Saguache and ending up in La Garita.  In La Garita, you can enjoy a refreshing soda or a meal at the Trading Post.

Penitente Canyon

Natural rock formations that create a small hidden canyon. Trails circle the top of the canyon that are open to hikers mountain bikers an horses. A trial runs along the floor of the canyon where you can see the painting of the Madonna left by the penitente movement and watch rock climbers scale the cliffs. This is a great place to take kids but please exercise vigilance as the cliffs can pose a risk of falls.