Best Hikes in Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre, and Gunnison National Forests (CO)

Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre, and Gunnison National Forests Overview

Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre, and Gunnison National Forests offer scenery and an abundance of opportunities for outdoor recreation. Located in western Colorado, over three thousand miles of trails and routes provide access to areas of rugged beauty and solitude. Many of the best hikes in Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre, and Gunnison National Forests were carved by indigenous peoples, early explorers, and miners.

Grand Mesa, the crown jewel of the region, stands as the largest flattop mountain in the world, adorned with enchanting alpine meadows, shimmering lakes, and dense forests. As you hike along the magnificent trails that crisscross this majestic mountain, you’ll be greeted by panoramic vistas that stretch as far as the eye can see. Whether you’re an avid hiker, mountain biker, or horseback rider, Grand Mesa offers an unparalleled setting for outdoor enthusiasts to immerse themselves in the beauty of nature.

Uncompahgre National Forest, nestled in the rugged San Juan Mountains, showcases a rugged terrain that is as awe-inspiring as it is challenging. Its towering peaks, deep canyons, and cascading waterfalls create a dramatic backdrop for adventurous souls seeking thrilling experiences. With over three thousand miles of trails and routes to explore, be prepared to encounter the remnants of Native American cultures, the footsteps of early explorers, and the relics of the area’s mining history.

Gunnison National Forest, with its mixture of alpine tundra, deep canyons, and lush valleys, offers an unparalleled diversity of natural landscapes. From the towering peaks of the Elk Mountains to the tranquil shores of Blue Mesa Reservoir, there is something for everyone to appreciate and enjoy. Whether you’re casting a line in the crystal-clear mountain streams, embarking on a scenic drive along the breathtaking Kebler Pass, or simply indulging in a leisurely picnic surrounded by nature’s beauty, Gunnison National Forest invites you to embark on a journey of discovery.

A visit to Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre, and Gunnison National Forests is not just an opportunity to revel in the wonders of nature, but also a chance to detach from the hustle and bustle of everyday life and reconnect with the tranquility of the wilderness. So, lace up your hiking boots, grab your camera, and prepare to create lasting memories amidst the picturesque landscapes of these awe-inspiring national forests.

Nearest Metro AreaGrand Junction, CO
Area Size2,973,920 acres
EstablishedDecember 24, 1892
Hiking Trails3,531 miles

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Trailhead Traveler’s Recommended Best Hikes in Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre, and Gunnison National Forests

(*** = Best hikes in Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre, and Gunnison National Forests)

Bear Creek Trail #635*** – 4.6 miles out and back

The Bear Creek Trail #635 begins at the south end of Pine Street and is on the Town of Telluride’s Bear Creek Preserve and it ends at Bear Creek Falls about 0.2 miles past the intersection with the Wasatch Trail #508.  Firstly, the trail follows a wide dirt track that heads up hill, climbing through an aspen and mixed conifer forest. After about 0.6 miles the trail enters Bear Creek Canyon and continues south following Bear Creek which is not visible from the trail.  There are spectacular views through openings in the trees of the cliffs and peaks in the surrounding area. At about 2 miles the trail intersects the Wasatch Trail #508. Continue for about another 0.2 miles to the trail ends at the base of beautiful Bear Creek Falls. 

Blue Lakes Trail #201*** – 8.0 miles out and back
Blue Below
Blue Below, Photo by Ben Cappellacci

The Blue Lakes Trail #201 begins at the Blue Lakes Trailhead on Forest Service Road #851.1. After passing through a gate, the trail reaches a “Y” at approximately 0.14 miles. Continue to the right to follow the Blue Lakes Trail. The trail ascends through a forest of spruce/fir and reaches the Mt. Sneffels Wilderness boundary in approximately 1.4 miles. Further, it passes through meadows that provide spectacular views of the surrounding peaks. At approximately 3.2 miles, the trail reaches the Blue Lakes where fishing for Cutthroat Trout can be good. The trail continues southeast and then east to a series of steep switchbacks leading to Blue Lake Pass, at 13,000′. Prior to the switchbacks would be a good place to turn around for a day hike. Mount Sneffels can be reached from the pass by going up the Southwest Ridge but an easier alternative option is described below.

Bridal Veil Falls Trail #636*** – 4.5 miles out and back
Telluride From Bridal Veil Falls
Telluride from Bridal Veil Falls, Photo by Daniel

The Bridal Veil Trail #636 starts at the road closure gate on Forest Service road #648 . It proceeds south on an old mining road 1.2 miles to the base of the 365-foot falls or you can continue to the top of the falls, the power plant and a vantage point of the valley below. Bridal Veil Falls is the tallest free-falling waterfall in the state of Colorado. However, visitors are asked to stay on the trail and respect private property. As the trail ascends into the basin, there will be opportunities to take side roads/trails to Silver Lake and Blue Lake.

If you are an adrenaline junkie with a sense of adventure, strongly consider trying Telluride’s Via Ferrata which intersects the hike to Bridal Veil Falls. The Via Ferrata is less of a hike and more of a rock climbing experience but with a guide and the proper gear, can be completed by most anyone. Traversing a cliff side on iron rungs, even if harnessed in, can be intimidating and should not be attempted by anyone that is unsure. However, this is a beautiful thrill seeking opportunity that will be remembered forever.

Crag Crest National Recreation Trail #711*** – 10.3 mile loop

The Crag Crest Trail #711 is a designated National Recreation Trail and is restricted to foot travel except for the first 1.5 miles of trail from the West Trailhead. This trail has become popular because it offers many scenic vistas and a unique display of geologic history. It connects Island Lake with Eggleston Lake, however, this may be extended to a circular hike by returning to the original trailhead on the Crag Crest Lower Loop Trail #711.1A. The trail rises steeply to the crest from the East Trailhead, and more gradually from the West Trailhead. Some sections along the top portion of the crest are narrow with drop-offs on both sides. Due to the high elevation of this trail, travel is often hampered by snow drifts until early July.

Crested Butte Mountain Summit #605 – 6.1 miles one-way
A view from the summit of Mountain Crested Butte, Photo by Yanjipy

Begin the hike from the base area by taking the Lower Westside Trail. But, if you want to avoid the strenuous hike up you can take the Silver Queen lift to the start of the Crested Butte Mountain Summit Trail #605. From here, the trail heads left from the top of the lift and starts to climb uphill into the trees, here you will see a sign. Climb the wooden steps through the forest and continue climbing until it will level out near the picnic tables. Follow the trail up the saddle where the path gets steeper once you get above the tree line. Stay to the right where the trail will begin to ascend a steep, slippery slope to the viewpoint that is signed. From here the views of the town of Crested Butte are spectacular. You’ll see plaques, memorials, and flags when you reach the top.

Dark Canyon Trail #830 – 13.8 miles one-way

The Dark Canyon Trail #830 begins at the trailhead which is part of the Erickson Springs Recreation Area and ends at Horse Ranch Park. Firstly, the trail follows Anthracite Creek up through the towering rock walls of Dark Canyon. In the early season, waterfalls thunder down from cliffs and canyons high above the trail. After passing through the rocky depths of the canyon, the trail climbs the Devil’s Staircase to emerge on easier terrain. The Dark Canyon Trail #830 is popular and well maintained, it is the major route across the southern portion of the Raggeds Wilderness, but it is rocky in the canyon with occasional wet spots. Three narrow foot bridges cross the creek which becomes a raging river in the spring. The trail is good above the Devil’s Staircase, which is a series of switchbacks and not as bad as the name implies.

Hope Lake Trail #410 – 6.4 miles out and back

The Hope Lake Trail #410 begins at the Hope Lake Trailhead and ends at the forest boundary with the San Juan National Forest. This is a favorite hike for viewing wildflowers and is one of the most popular trails in the Telluride area.  The trail begins to gently ascend through spruce-fir forests until it crosses rock slides and meadows filled with wildflowers. As it climbs, openings in the trees provide nice views of Trout Lake and the nearby mountain peaks. To the east, spectacular Vermilion Peak rises 13,894 feet.  As the trail tops a grassy slope between two rocky hills, Hope Lake will come into view. About 0.8 miles beyond the lake, the trail crosses into the San Juan National Forest where it continues for about a mile before intersecting with Forest Service Road #585 (South Mineral Creek Road).

Jud Wiebe Memorial Trail #432 – 2.7 mile loop

The Jud Wiebe Trail #432 begins at the end of Aspen Street and ends at Tomboy Road. This popular loop route provides excellent views of Town, the Telluride Ski Area, Bear Creek, and several neighboring peaks. It ascends through aspen and spruce/fir forests with some wide open meadows as it climbs 1,300 feet in elevation.  An overlook at Its highest point provides a bench for enjoying the panoramic views. The trail was named in memory of Jud Wiebe, a Forest Service recreation manager who planned the trail but passed away of cancer in 1986 before the trail was completed.

Mount Sneffels Summit – 4.7 miles out and back
Mt Sneffels CO
Mt Sneffels, Photo by Marty B

Mount Sneffels, at 14,158′, towers above the rest of the Sneffels Range in the San Juan Mountains. Begin the hike to the summit of Mount Sneffels from the Yankee Boy Basin Trailhead. Your trip can be cut much shorter if you have 4WD and are comfortable driving up to the upper trailhead. The route up the Lavender Coulier is the easier of the summit routes. When standing south looking at the summit of Sneffels, this route is on the ride/east side. This route pretty much heads up the south basin, up Lavender Couloir, through the V Notch and up to the summit.

Featured Image: Gunnison National Forest Colorado, Photo by David

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