Remember that when you leave this Earth, you can take with you nothing that you have received, only what you have given, a full heart enriched by honest service, love, sacrifice and courage. -St. Francis of Assisi

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Hiking Priest Gulch Trail

The San Juan National Forest is 1.9 million acres and was established in 1905. The San Juan Scenic Byway is 236 miles through the San Juan and Uncompahgre National Forests. It is the longest national forest scenic byway in the country and the first designated one.

I had 1 1/2 days off work and decided to go camping about an hour northeast of Mesa Verde National Park.  I was heading into the San Juan National Forest.  I was nervous about going into the forest with all of the wildfires burning in Colorado. I checked a few websites and there were no fires in the direction I was heading.  I am very glad that I didn't let my fears keep me from going.

I drove to Priest Gulch Campground north of Dolores, CO on the San Juan Scenic Byway.  Wow, everything is so much greener up here. I didn't realize that I missed seeing patches of thick green grass and the trees are taller and healthier looking here.

I left MVNP around 11am on Sunday after working for a few hours, stopped for a few groceries and headed to the campground.  I got set up on a nice corner site and headed out for a walk.

I talked to one of the camp hosts and he said there was a path at the end of the campground that followed the river and that I would find a large boulder near the shore that I could sit on - so that is what I did. I just love being near the water.

Later that day, I walked around the rest of the campground and ended up on a covered bridge with 4 nice porch swings.  I stayed there for an hour or so and went back there the next day after my hike.

This campground is meticulous and very well landscaped with native materials and the Dolores River goes right through the middle, with campsites on both sides. You'll need to drive your RV over this bridge if your site is on the south side of the river (mine was).

On Monday morning, I decided to go for a hike.  The trail head for the Priest Gulch Trail is across the street from the campground.  The trail meanders along Priest Creek.

Starting elevation 8050' - highest elevation 12,150' - trail length one-way 7.5 miles. For a five mile loop take the Priest Gulch Cutoff Trail at mile 1.5, which will take you (it is steep) to the lower portion of the Calico Trail and back down to the Priest Gulch Trailhead. Moderate - Difficult.

I hiked for about 30-40 minutes (uphill) and started to hear thunder.  At about the same time I met a couple on the trail, they had started at the other end.  They said it takes them about 2 1/2 hours to do the loop and that includes a stop for lunch.  They said I would be heading up towards an open meadow and the top of the ridge. With the thunder and the threat of lightning, I decided to just walk a little more and turn back.

In the morning, I had put on a pair of Turquoise stud earrings.
Years ago, I had read that Turquoise would protect one from lightning.
Not sure how true this is, but no harm in wearing them.

After I returned to the trailhead, I walked a little bit up the other direction of the loop.  I will have to go back another time to complete this hike. I was not tired and would have liked to go further, but did not want to hike with thunder and a possibility of lightning.  We did get a little bit of rain when I returned to my RV.

my hiking shoes, socks and legs were covered in a fine, red dust

I've already made a reservation to go back to this campground in September and I will have a riverside site.  I want to complete the hike and maybe do some other hikes in the area.  Since this was a spur-of-the-moment trip, I was not able to get a riverside site on this holiday weekend. 

I woke up very early Tuesday morning for the one hour drive back to MVNP.  I had to be at work at 8:30 and arrived early. Traffic was light and it was mostly downhill.  It's a beautiful drive that follows the Dolores River. 


  1. oooooh pretty! love Colorado period! ... no wildfire smoke there, I see... so sad

  2. Nice place and not too far from MEVE.

  3. A couple of years ago I spent a week at the campground just east of Dolores right on the river. Just a beautiful area.

  4. What a beautiful place.
    Bet you can't wait to go back and be on the river.

  5. Colorado is definitely on our list but we haven't made it yet. Really need to go there though. Glad to see your blog is back. Did you know your blog disappeared for a couple of days?

  6. Looks great out there Teri - glad u r having a great time

  7. What a great entry you wrote today. Very peaceful and tranquil. Thanks for sharing with us.

  8. I love hiking,looks like you had an enjoyable day. Happy 4th!

  9. Nice to see you back....beautiful pictures.....thanks for sharing

  10. Such a delightful post and pictures. Love the scenery. This will have to go in my notebook of places to visit. Glad you had such a wonderful time!


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