Colorado’s Wet Mountains

Just south of Pueblo, Colorado is a sub range of the Sange De Cristo Mountains called the Wet Mountains.  The Wet Mountains rise in the south eastern part of the state and push to the north west and fall into the southern unit of the San Isabel National Forest.  In the San Isabel National Forest, you can find hundreds of miles of off pavement riding in the form of fire roads and two track OHV trails along with some of the most challenging single-track trails in Colorado. Personally, I believe the Wet Mountains and parts of south eastern Colorado are some of the most underrated riding areas in the state and are often overlooked for more popular areas out west around Silverton and Grand Junction.  The Wet Mountains were a short ride away it was one of the areas that I rode the most when I lived in Colorado and was a personal favorite for moto camping.  The area is a perfect place for a new rider to cut their teeth on off road riding since it offers many different surfaces and conditions plus it didn’t have any of the issues of altitude or remoteness that some places do in the western part of the state.

My 2011 Kawasaki KLR 650 loaded up and ready to

For this entry I’ll detail a 120-mile route for an overnight trip that showcases the Wet Mountains and all they have to offer.  I’ve ridden this route numerous times on both my Yamaha XT225 and Kawasaki KLR 650 and it’s a ride that any size bike can do.  The area has a mix of dirt and gravel roads for the unpaved portions but nothing that’s technical or challenging except when it rains some of the dirt roads can become quite slick especially those on the western side of the route.

The route that for the day trip

I usually head into the Wet Mountains from the quiet town of Beulah that’s about 20 miles south west of Pueblo.  Beulah is small but does have a local general store to get some last-minute supplies as well as gas.  From Beulah you start heading into the mountains and are off the pavement fairly quick as you begin ascending up to Green Hill Divide which is at 9,347 feet.  As you head down the other side of the divide the route shortly jumps back on pavement as it heads north on Colorado State Highway 165.  One interesting place to check out on this part of the route is the hand-built rock structure known as Bishop’s Castle.  This structure has been undergoing construction for nearly 60 years and is worth taking a few minutes to check out.

Bishop’s Castle

Back on the bike, Colorado State Highway 165 is a beautiful ride in itself and one that I also recommend, since this trip is mostly about riding off pavement, we will jump on Ophir Creek Road about a mile north of Bishop’s Castle.  The National Forest Service has a really nice primitive camp ground at Ophir Creek that’s perfect to use for moto camping.  Following Ophir Creek Road, you start to gain some elevation and are treated to scenic views of the area along with some old homestead cabin ruins that you can stop at.  Ophir Creek Road is a nice compacted dirt road that takes you up to an area locally known as “Four Corners”.  This is an intersection of Ophir Creek Road, Deer Peak Road, Gardiner Road, and Forest Road 369.  Both Deer Peak Road and Forest Road 369 take you to two of the higher elevations in the Wet Mountains and are pleasant rides in themselves and the intersection also has a couple dispersed camping spots with some beautiful mountain views.

From “Four Corners” you begin to descend in altitude through a series of subtle switchbacks, one thing to take note of is the terrain will start to change from a heavily forested mountain area to a mountain valley that can get quite dry and hot with heavy exposure to the sun. This part of the route is known as Gardiner Road and for just over 25 miles you are treated to a nice gravel and dirt road that offers some amazing views of the Sangre De Cristo Mountains to the south.  Gardiner Road ends at Colorado State Highway 69 which will take us north through the Wet Mountains Valley towards the town of Westcliffe.  The town of Westcliffe isn’t too large but it does offer gas and a small grocery store and is also a great jumping off point for riding into the Sangre De Cristo Mountains to the west or to push further north towards the Front Range.

Heading down Gardiner Road with the Sange De Cristo Mountains in the distance

As we ride north on Colorado State Highway 69, we peel off just south of Westcliffe and start heading east into the northern parts of the Wet Mountains.  At this point we are back off the pavement and on a series of dirt county roads that take you past ranches and homesteads.  In this area I would highly recommend treading lightly since people do live here and I have also seen loose cattle roaming around quite a bit.  An interesting note about this area are the old ghost towns of Rosita and Querida.  During the 1880’s these two towns along with Westcliffe were the site of numerous silver mines and some mining debris and mine ruins can still be seen to this day.  After riding along several county roads, we come to Colorado State Highway 96.  For a quick ten miles we are treated to some amazing scenery as we head east through Hardscrabble Pass at just over 9,000 feet.  Once we get through the pass we head back off the pavement on a series of gravel roads that link back up to Colorado State Highway 165.

Outside of Hardscrabble Pass

Once we hit Colorado State Highway 165 it’s a fun pavement ride as we head south through some tight turns and long straights before we reach our destination for the day at Mingus Ranch.  The ranch is a restored 1908 cabin complete with barn and outhouse.  While it’s rustic it does have an electric stove and some lights but it does not have electrical outlets or running water.  The ranch is owned and operated by the National Forest Service and can be rented from May 1st to November 30th for $50 dollars a night and is well worth it location wise. The ranch would be a great base camp for a weekend trip and can sleep six people with plenty of room for bikes outside.

Finishing the day at Mingus Ranch

The Wet Mountains in southern Colorado are an adventure or dual sport riders dream with all kinds of riding readily available.  The area is perfect for an overnight trip or a weekend getaway or can be visited for a multi-day trip across Colorado.  Since the area is mostly in the San Isabel National Forest there are several National Forest campgrounds in the area or if you want to be more secluded you can disperse camp almost anywhere in the forest.  On your next trip to Colorado I highly recommend exploring the Wet Mountains and you just might see why I think it’s an underrated area to ride.

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