Divide District

Wolf Creek Pass area near highway 160,  Divide Ranger District. Photo by Mike Blakeman

Welcome to the Rio Grande National Forest

The 1.83 million acre Rio Grande National Forest is located in southcentral Colorado and remains one of the true undiscovered jewels of Colorado. The Rio Grande begins its 1800 mile journey to the Gulf of Mexico high up in the San Juan Mountains in the western most part of the forest. The Continental Divide runs for 236 miles along most of the western border of the forest and the jagged tops of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains form the eastern border. In between these two mountain ranges sits the San Luis Valley, a large agricultural alpine valley. The Rio Grande National Forest is composed of a myriad of ecosystems ranging from high elevation desert at 7600 feet above sea level to rocky crags at over 14,300 feet in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. Portions of four Wilderness areas make up almost a fourth of the forest.  

Rio Grande National Forest releases Land Management Plan

The forest plan provides management guidance across the 1.8 million acre Rio Grande National Forest for the next 10 to 15 years.  “The revised land management plan is the culmination of working together with local communities, neighboring forests, special interest groups, and state and federal agencies for the past four years,” said Forest Supervisor Dan Dallas. “Over 100 meetings were held and several hundred comments received helped shape the revised plan.”

In the first three years of implementation, the revised plan would provide nearly 2,000 new jobs in the recreation, timber and grazing industries worth $65 million in labor income. The plan also supports healthy watersheds that supply clean, abundant water to the San Luis Valley, supplying an agricultural industry worth more than $500 million.  The plan would use active management to improve forest conditions, while providing for clean air, water, and forest products. Management direction would be updated for all plant and wildlife species, including spruce-fir ecosystems. The land management plan also recommends 40,052 acres be added to the Sangre de Cristo Wilderness Area and three miles to the eligible and suitable Wild, Scenic and Recreation river system.  Cultural values would be protected, while allowing multiple-use access to the forest and improving recreation opportunities.  These values include the availability of and access to firewood and forest botanical products, for use by local communities.  Partnerships and citizen science are prioritized in the land management plan, supporting more monitoring necessary to ensure the work done on the ground is meeting current and future needs.

The land management plan also recognizes the role of naturally-ignited fires on the landscape and encourages them to be used as a tool to improve forest conditions and protect communities from catastrophic wildfires.  The final environmental impact statement analyzes the environmental, social and economic effects of the proposed land management plan and lays out several alternatives. The draft record of decision describes the selected alternative, which will become the land management plan. 

A 60-day objection period begins with the publication of the legal notice in the Rio Grande National Forest's newspaper of record, The Valley Courier (Alamosa, CO) on Friday, August 2.  The objection process provides an opportunity for those who have participated in the process to have their unresolved concerns reviewed prior to the Forest Supervisor issuing a final decision. The reviewing official for the land management plan is Rocky Mountain Regional Forester Brian Ferebee.

The draft record of decision, land management plan, final environmental impact statement and associated documents are available @ https://www.fs.usda.gov/project/?project=46078.

Seasonal Information

Spring: The mountains are still covered with a deep blanket of snow, while the south facing slopes of the foothills often begin to dry out in early April. Temperatures vary widely with the lows usually below freezing and the days are often windy with gusts reaching 30 mph or more.

Summer: The high elevations may hold large snow fields on north facing slopes well into July. July is also when the alpine wildflowers begin to bloom, generally peaking during the second half of the month. Temperatures may often reach well into the 80s in the lower elevations, but often peak out in the mid-70s above tree line. Monsoonal flows will often develop in July and bring afternoon thunderstorms to the mountains until late August.

Autumn: The first aspen begin to turn gold in early September, but generally the colors don’t peak until late in the third week of September in the Creede area and then a week or two later on the rest of the Forest. Every year is different and in some years, the fall can be quite mild with temperatures reaching the 70s during the day all the way into early October. Once the first heavy snow falls on the mountains (sometimes in October), the temperatures can bottom out in the single digits at night.

Winter: The San Juan Mountains in particular are famous for their deep snows. Wolf Creek Ski Area averages over 460 inches of snow a year. The light powder that often falls in December and January attracts skiers and snowboarders from around the world. Temperatures can be extremely cold in the San Luis Valley generally dropping below zero every clear night from mid-December to mid-February. The mountains actually tend to be a bit warmer than the Valley and day time temperatures will often hit the 20s, but feel much warmer than that on sunny days.

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