President Theodore Roosevelt established the Rio Grande National Forest by Presidential Proclamation in 1908. The Rio Grande, like others in the 191,000,000 acre National Forest System, is administered by the Forest Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture, for a variety of uses and values. The Multiple Use-Sustained Yield Act of 1960 directs that all National Forests be managed to provide wood products, high quality wildlife and fish habitat, good grazing for domestic livestock, recreation opportunities including wilderness, and pure water for domestic, industrial, and irrigation use. The Forest Service strives to maintain a balanced pattern of land use under the multiple use principle. In this manner, no single use dominates the Forest and the wide range of public and individual needs can be better met on a long-term basis.
Summer temperatures on the Forest rarely exceed 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Winter temperatures are often 30 degrees Fahrenheit or lower. Normally, the frost-free period is about 90 days per year.
Between the ranges with their 14,000-foot summits is the fertile San Luis Valley, one of several high "parks" or basins in Colorado ringed by mountains. The Communities of Alamosa, Del Norte, Monte Vista, Saguache, Antonito, and others, are reminders of the area's long and colorful heritage, while names such as Bonanza, Wagon Wheel Gap, Creede, and Summitville are part of an equally colorful but more recent history.
Variety is the word describing the outdoor recreation opportunities of the Rio Grande National Forest. From the rugged and jagged peaks of the Sangre de Cristos to the forested tablelands and glacial canyons of the San Juans, the outdoor enthusiast can choose an activity suited to the day or the season.
High lakes and tumbling streams beckon the fisherman, while big game and other wildlife lure the hunter or nature photographer. Hiking, backpacking, and camping amid spectacular scenery await the visitor to the Weminuche, South San Juan, Sangre de Cristo or La Garita Wildernesses. The Trail along the Continental Divide, or the rugged Sangre de Cristo backcountry, is equally exciting and challenging.
A good network of Forest highways and roads provides access for the auto traveler, with some fifty Forest Service recreation sites located in convenient spots. Other recreation opportunities include horseback riding, skiing, snowmobiling, or nature study. History buffs may enjoy a thrilling ride on the Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad, a narrow gauge steam route from Antonito, Colorado to Chama, New Mexico. Evidence of early day mining camps is scattered throughout the Forest, while Creede, Bonanza, Platoro, and Summitville are centers of continuing mineral activity. The routes of early explorer Juan Bautista de Anza, and later ones such a Zebulon Pike and John C. Fremont can be traced with a little imagination and effort.
Although each season in the Rockies has a special charm, autumn on the Rio Grande is unequalled. The yellows and golds of the "quaking" or "trembling" aspen blanket the slopes and benches, the air is crisp, the sky a deep blue, and the visitor will find few crowds and little congestion.
As you travel the National Forest, perhaps exploring "out of the way" places and historical sites, remember that the structures, buildings, and land are often privately owned. Please respect the rights and privacy of residents and, if in doubt about a particular site, check with the nearest District Ranger.