Monday, August 4, 2014

Boondocking and Campground Sites near Pagosa Springs, Colorado

A couple of weeks ago (late July) we decided to explore the Pagosa Springs area and see if we could find any good boondocking sites and do some hiking and exploring.  We did find a few good boondocking spots.

I had scoped out the area using the Benchmark Maps: Colorado Road & Recreation Atlas.  It was helpful to use Google Maps to zoom in using the satellite view and see if an area looked good for boondocking  (was the road accessible for a 2 wheel drive van, was the area wide and flat, was there an existing fire pit -  Google provides a high enough resolution satellite map to actually see bare areas and fire pits if you look closely).

We were heading up from Los Alamos, NM and so I looked for spots off Hwy 84.  It looked like there were spots off County Road 382 and then up Price Lakes Rd (Forest Service Rd FS 731) and on Buckles Creek Rd (FS 663).

We decided the first night we wanted to be closer to Pagosa Springs, so we turned up Mill Creek Rd (FS 662 & 665 that starts near the Pagosa Rodeo Grounds).  We saw three or four fairly large level spots near where the road crossed into the San Juan National Forest.  They were down in a narrow valley and we were hoping for better views of the surrounding mountains so we kept driving up higher.  (One of the lower spots on Google Maps.)  A few of the spots were kinda muddy from the recent monsoon rains.

A ways up the forest road, we finally saw a side road that looked interesting on the left side.  We drove in a few hundred feet and it opened up into a quite large flat area.  No one was there at the time but you could see more than one fire pit had been used in the past.  You can fit many large RVs in this area and I am sure during hunting season this is a popular spot for use as a base camp in that area.  It included a little pond. It may have been a gravel pit area for building forest roads at one time. (Update: It is marked as a gravel pit on the DeLorme's Colorado Atlas and Gazetteer.)

Site Coordinates: 37.270932, -106.880951

Our Mill Creek Forest Service area boondocking site near Pagosa Springs Colorado.

We drove through this large area and finally settled in, parking on the west side of the large open field.

We pulled out a small table and chairs and had our dinner of potato salad, chips, celery sticks and more.

During our dinner, a truck pulled in with two big and very excited yellow labs jumping about in the truck bed.  We waved to the guy driving the truck.  He waved back.  We had walked around the area just before eating dinner and found a part of the area that was clearly used for shooting target practice.  There were also broken skeet clay pigeons littered all over ground in this area.  The truck headed over to the target practice corner, which was on the other side of the large clearing.  After a while we heard his gun going off.

In the past we probably would have been scared off by the gun shots, but we have learned that if you are going to be boondocking on forest service land you better get use to folks shooting off their guns, because it's pretty common.  This time we just accepted it and kept eating our dinner. 

The guy doing target practice left after about a half-hour and no other vehicles entered our campsite area that night.

At dusk, there we a lot of interesting birds and bird sounds.  We saw two owls flying low and swooping about.  It was exciting to watch them.

A clear night allowed us to enjoyed looking at stars. Eventually we would like to get a nice telescope to take on our travels.

We set up the van for bed, climbed in and got a good nights rest. 

There is some 3G cell phone signal at this location that came in and out. Karen was able to do some Facebook reading and posting.  I imagine if you have a cell phone booster, you probably would receive a good 3G signal at this location.

The road was very good to this location, but if it rained a lot, it could get mushy and you might have trouble getting back down the hill safely in a 2 wheel drive vehicle.  You might have to wait for the road to dry out a bit before heading back down to Pagosa Springs.  Lucky for us it didn't rain that night.

We thought this boondocking site was a pretty great location and would return if we want to boondock again near Pagosa Springs.  It is big enough that if others were boondocking there, you could probably find an empty corner and not feel like you were intruding.

In the morning we decided to check out a side road and a small pond that were farther up the road.   The pond was pretty much just a small algae pond and we didn't see any further good boondocking sites as far up as we went (up to Beaver Lake - not really a lake in my book). 

After exploring for a bit, we decided to head into Pagosa Springs and have breakfast at the Rose Cafe. The cafe is pretty much across the street from the famous springs area downtown.  We had a really nice breakfast.  I would recommend it. They had cornbeef hash, a favorite of mine!

Our plan for the day was to drive up and explore Piedra Rd (County RD 600 to Forest Rd 631).  I had seen that there was a lot of boondocking off FSR 629 into the Turkey Springs area.  We ended up deciding to drive all the way up Piedra Rd that day.  We will have to return to check out Turkey Springs boondocking on another trip.

I had reviewed Pagosa area hiking trails and saw one that started near the well known Sportsman Supply Campground and Cabins and was highly rated in local online hiking guides.  We parked in a wide trailhead parking lot and headed up the trail.  The trail drops into a really super pleasant box canyon.  It's a beautiful area not to be missed.  On the way out we were able to take off our shoes and wade in the river in order to cool off.  Man that was refreshing.

Piedra River south of the Sportman's Supply store. Pretty darn nice.
Coordinates to hike trailhead: 37.430190, -107.194200.

After the hike we headed up to the Sportsman Supply store and got ourselves a totally unhealthy (but tasty) snack. (The benchmark map had the supply store marked in the wrong location, so beware. It is at the beginning of forest road 997.)

After gobbling down our sinful snacks, we headed up to Williams Creek Reservoir.  We explored Williams Creek forest service campground.  It's fairly primitive but it's pretty nice.  There are nice sites next to Williams Creek and a few have water and sewer (in this loop).  It's a fairly large campground.  We were impressed with the serenity of the place.  (There is also a FS campground called Bridge with many sunny sites right on the creek.  It was packed with lots of large RVs.  We didn't drive in to check it out, but could see most of the sites from the road.)

Next, we came to Teal FS campground.  This campground is special with sites overlooking Williams Creek Reservoir.  It's a very pleasant campground.  You can reserve spots there, but there is no electric or sewer.

There is a dump station nearby that services all the campgrounds in this area.  It costs $10 to "take a dump." (Location of the dump station just south of Williams Creek CG.)

Teal Forest Service Campground on Williams Creek Reservoir.  Looks pretty nice and it's popular.

We would have stayed at Teal, but it was totally full so we drove further up to Cimarrona FS campground.  It was another really pleasant campground with a couple of available sites with great views.  We found a great site with a view of great mountains, a cow meadow and the reservoir.  We decided that instead of boondocking that night we would take this site, make a nice meal over the metal fire pit and relax.

The view from our campsite at Cimarrona.

Our site #4 with wonderful mountain views.
Coordinate at Cimarrona Campground:  37.538454, -107.210223

The fee for camping was $18 (no discounts for us, but half price if you have a Golden Age Pass).  There is no cell service that we could pick up in this area.  It has very well maintained pit toilets and fire pits.  The current camp hosts are a really nice couple named Larry and Kathy.   They keep the place looking great.

I believe we were in site #4.  It's the site on the right side just after the pit toilet.

While there we met a full-timer in a Class A Motorhome named Wayne.  (Wayne's Travels -Website)  He had an impressive Canon digital camera with a built in 50x lens that he uses for birding.  He keeps a photo album of birds and flowers where he identifies each species.  Wayne has been full-timing for eight years in his Motorhome!

We spent a pleasant time talking with Larry, Kathy and Wayne at the host site campfire.We compared notes about great New Mexico hikes. Wayne has volunteered for a time at the Bosque del Apache, one of our favorite places in New Mexico to see amazing flocks of wintering birds.

Wayne also told us about a traversing uphill hike from the campground way up to one of the nearby mountain cliff areas with great views.  We plan to return to bag that hike!

Karen talks to Wayne at Cimarrona Campground.

The next morning, after cooking up a very tasty breakfast on our butane stoves, we drove up the nearby Poison Park forest service road (FS 644).  There were five or so really good boondocking sites up along this road.

Our butane stoves ready to cook breakfast.

Here are coordinates and links to Google Maps for the boondocking sites we saw that looked good on Poison Park Road:
Site 1 is actually on FS 640 right at the turn onto FS 644: 37.538604, -107.209363.
Site 2 is next door just up around the corner on FS 644:  37.535668, -107.216092.
Site 3 up FS 644 further has a great meadow and views across the street from it:
37.533411, -107.224201.
Site 4 was our favorite spot that we saw here.  It has nice trees and a fairly large flat area.  You could get a couple RVs in there easily and it was a pleasant spot: 37.526722, -107.240165.
Site 5 was near an algae filled pond. It had nice tree cover and a great fire circle, but there were cows all over that area and even in the campsite. We notice a lot of bugs in that area.  We would probably avoid this site because of the bugs and cow pies: 37.518287, -107.253219

The best looking site (4).

This site (5) is taken, buddy!

We saw a lot of fantastic flowers in the area of Poison Park Road.


  1. Thanks so much for sharing all these great locations. I'll be sure and use this info next summer. If you're looking for a new camera, check out my blog under the tab "cameras". I really like the FZ200 = 600mm lens for birding. Happy trails :-)

  2. Ingrid - I don't know if you have seen the map that Greg created with links to boondock and low cost camp reviews by us and other bloggers. Click on Campsite Review Map on the menu bar of our blog. I will go check out the Camera tab on your blog. I hope you are enjoying the Denver area. You have been going to some fun spots!


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