San Isabel National Forest contains 19 of the state’s 54 fourteeners. It’s located in central Colorado, from Leadville south past Salida. There are many gems spread around this easy-to-access national forest and you can access parts of the San Isabel from nearby Leadville south all the way to Trinidad, by the southern border with New Mexico.
Highway 285 runs from Buena Vista to Salida, passing several great spots, including Clear Creek Reservoir and Chalk Creek Canyon. The former is along County Road 390 and leads west to some interesting ghost towns, Vicksburg and Winfield. The latter leads west on Chalk Creek Drive to the massive and well-preserved ghost town of St. Elmo.
Chalk Creek Canyon: Located on County Road 162, southwest of Buena Vista, there are a number of sights to see including Agnes Vaille Falls, Mount Princeton, Saint Elmo, and Hancock ghost towns, and Tincup Pass (4×4). There is a campground situated near Chalk Lake, but primitive, car camping does not exist in the canyon.
Clear Creek Reservoir: Located between Leadville and Buena Vista on US 24, the reservoir is located very close to US 24, with a campground. There are also countless primitive sites along the county road. The ghost town of Winfield lies 12 miles down at the end of the road, passing Vicksburg, another former mining town on the way back.
Cottonwood Pass: This scenic highway connects Buena Vista and the San Isabel NF to the east, with the town of Almont (near Gunnison) and the Gunnison NF to the west. Primitive car camping is easy to find.
Independence Pass: A scenic, summer shortcut to Aspen, the drive is 36 miles from Twin Lakes. Camping is easy to find near the pass. Twin Lakes has 3 campgrounds available with 104 campsites (no RV hook-ups or shower facilities).
Activities: Biking, Boating, Camping, Fishing, Hiking, Hunting, Picnicking, OHV, Scenic Drives, Cross Country Skiing, Snowmobiling, Snowshoeing
- Read about the camping near Buena Vista and Nathrop.
- Read about the camping near Salida and Poncha Springs.
- Read about the camping near Trinidad, Walsenburg, and La Veta.
Map: San Isabel (PNG)
Motor Vehicle Use Maps:
- Leadville (PDF) – Leadville, Buena Vista
- Salida (PDF) – Buena Vista, Poncha Springs, Salida
- San Carlos North (PDF) – Cañon City
- San Carlos South (PDF) – Walsenburg
San Isabel Campgrounds: Reservations
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