San Juan National Forest ► Columbine Ranger District
Hermosa Roadless Area
The largest unprotected roadless area in the San Juan Mountains, and in the entire Southern Rocky Mountains, is contained within the Hermosa Creek watershed. The 162,965-acre* Hermosa roadless area encompasses one of Colorado's largest and most biologically diverse forests, including at least 17 separate ecosystems. Tracts of virgin timber exist at elevations as low as 7,000 feet, well below the typical elevation of most protected forested areas in Colorado.
Hermosa serves a particularly important role spanning the Animas and Dolores watersheds. It provides the only mid-elevation, roadless corridor between the Animas Valley (at Hermosa Creek) across the La Plata Mountains to the Dolores Valley (via Bear Creek). Hermosa contains perhaps the most diverse array of forest habitats on the entire San Juans, with some of the largest stands of old-growth ponderosa pine remaining in the San Juan Mountains, and two significant proposed Research Natural Areas. Hermosa also harbors thriving populations of Colorado River cutthroat trout.
Hermosa’s extraordinary ecological variety has compelled a proposed Research Natural Area covering approximately 26,000 acres of Hermosa Creek’s western tributaries, centered on Buck Creek and Hope Creek. This RNA provides representation of exceptionally varied mixed-conifer forests containing Douglas-fir, white fir, aspen, blue spruce, ponderosa pine, southwestern white pine, and Gambel’s oak. Extensive stands of old-growth spruce-fir occur at the highest elevations to complement the lower forests, and riparian communities in excellent condition occur throughout.
The Hermosa Roadless Area has been managed to retain its wild character since the 1970s Roadless Area Review and Evaluation (RARE) studies. Current management plans focus on preserving Hermosa’s undeveloped backcountry values by prohibiting logging and mining. Mountain bicyclists discovered Hermosa in the 1980s, however, and the main Hermosa Creek trail now serves as one of the most popular and scenic mountain bike routes in Colorado. The undeveloped Hermosa watershed and dendritic drainage pattern offers extraordinary opportunities for backcountry treks, and providing an inviting alternative to heavily-used routes in nearby wilderness areas such as the Weminuche. More than 125 miles of trails lace through the roadless area. The extremely popular Hermosa Trail is presently open to all forms of backcountry recreation, including hiking, horses, mountain bikes, motorcycles, and ATVs. Ten tributary trails branch from the main Hermosa Trail and offer access to numerous more remote valleys.
The crest of the La Plata Mountains defines Hermosa's western boundary, along which runs a 20-mile segment of the Colorado Trail between Kennebec Pass and Hotel Draw. Hermosa allows hikers the uncommon opportunity to ascend from the Animas Valley at 7,000 feet through a dramatic change in ecosystems to the La Plata's summits above 12,000 feet. Hermosa's colorful landscape owes its beauty to thick sedimentary formations, including the crimson red shales and sandstones laid down as marine deposits during the Permian period some 250 million years ago. The area's wild core hosts significant wildlife populations and provides quality habitat for elk calving and summer range. Several major migration routes cross the roadless area. The endangered peregrine falcon inhabits the area and Hermosa provides habitat for the Mexican spotted owl as well. The Colorado River cutthroat trout occurs in Hermosa Creek and its tributary streams.
The Hermosa roadless area includes a western spur that descends along Bear Creek to the Dolores River. Travelers can thus traverse from the Animas to Dolores Rivers, over the crest of the La Platas, without crossing a road or otherwise encountering signs of civilization. Not only does the Hermosa roadless area provide a critical corridor between the two river drainages, in a larger context it constitutes a link in the landscape between the state's largest protected area, the Weminuche Wilderness, and lower elevations along the San Juan Mountains' western perimeter.
*Forest Service inventories show 116,956 acres for this roadless area. Local conservation organizations have been conducting inventories of boundaries for all roadless areas included in the 2001 Roadless Area Conservation Rule. In many cases, this field work revealed that the extent of the unroaded area was different than that reflected in the 2001 Rule. In addition, citizens' inventories reported additional units of at least 5,000 acres that had been excluded from the 2001 Rule. For more information on the difference between Forest Service and Citizens' inventories, click here.