Spend the Perfect Summer Weekend in Colorado’s Frontier Country
The landscape of the West End of Montrose County on the Western Slope of Colorado is like nothing you've ever seen before. Photo credit: Sage Carver
When the daytime temperatures heat up and the snow starts melting off of even the tallest peaks, it’s time for summer vacation, and a weekend getaway to Colorado’s Western Slope is just the adventure that your family is looking for.
From mesas to dramatic red rock canyons, from deep river gorges to rolling ranch land, the landscape of the West End of Montrose County on the Western Slope of Colorado is like nothing you’ve ever seen before. In Colorado’s Frontier Country, you won’t find crowds of people hunting for campsites nor will you find lines of hikers on the trails. You can, however, expect to find beautiful lakes, roaming wildlife, and a thriving outdoors culture with endless opportunities for hiking, mountain biking, off-roading, and other outdoor recreation pursuits. This Colorado destination is also home to some of Colorado’s most storied mining history, and the remnants of that history can still be seen today in the ruins left behind in the ghost towns and old mines that dot the landscape.
To help you make the most of your summer weekend getaway, we’ve put together an itinerary that’ll take you camping, paddleboarding, fishing, off-roading, and more. See you out there!
Day 1: Camping, Paddleboarding, and Fishing
Start your weekend by setting up camp at one of the two reservoirs in the West End, Buckeye Reservoir and Miramonte Reservoir. These stunning destinations offer unparalleled access to endless opportunities for outdoor fun. The Pioneer Campground, part of the Buckeye Recreation Area, has 30 reservable campsites as well as 18 less-developed sites dispersed around the reservoir. Located on the Dan Noble State Wildlife Area, the Miramonte Reservoir Campground with 32 total campsites (including RV and tent sites) sits on the shores of the 405-acre Miramonte Reservoir near Norwood, Colorado.
Buckeye Reservoir is a popular destination for camping, OHV/ATV trails, hunting, and fishing. The reservoir and adjacent recreation area are located in a beautiful valley at about 7,600 feet above sea level. Views of the La Sal Mountains and lakeside grasslands are visible from these pristine shores. Anglers will also enjoy catching rainbow trout, Snake River cutthroat trout, and brown trout in addition to trapping crayfish at the Miramonte Reservoir.
Finish the day with a late afternoon paddleboard or kayak adventure on the lake and then cook up some classic campfire s’mores while enjoying the outdoor time with your family.
Day 2: Off-Roading, Hiking, and Photography
After a restful night’s sleep under the stars, an early start brings you to the trailhead for an off-road adventure on either four wheels or two feet. If your family is into off-roading, there’s no more iconic Western Colorado route than the Rimrocker Trail. This 160-mile route connects the towns of Montrose, Colorado with Moab, Utah. The trail traverses alpine, high desert, and riverside landscapes as it winds its way through the West End of Montrose County to Nucla and up and over the Uncompahgre Plateau. The trail is split into four parts and is well marked from beginning to end: 1) Montrose to Nucla, 2) Nucla to Highway 141, 3) Highway 141 to the Colorado-Utah State Line, and 4) Colorado-Utah State Line to Moab, Utah.
You could definitely spend the day exploring the Rimrocker Trail, but if you’re looking for a shorter off-roading excursion, head to either the Uncompahgre Plateau for world-class rock crawling or the Thunder Trails System for 19 miles of singletrack organized into four interconnecting loops near the town of Norwood. The loops include: 1) the Goshom Loop beginning near the southern parking lot, 2) the Naturita Rim Loop situated north of the Goshom Loop, 3) the Portis Loop, and 4) the northernmost Thunder Loop located by the trailhead parking lot closest to Norwood. The trails west of Thunder Road (Forest Road 609) provide a rockier, more technical riding experience with amazing views of Naturita Canyon, while the trails east of Thunder Road take riders through ponderosa pine forest and open meadows. Note that in addition to motorcycles, the Thunder Trails system is also open to mountain bikes, horses, and hikers, so be aware of your surroundings as you explore this beautiful trail system.
If you prefer to explore on two feet, the 7.2-mile round trip Dolores River Trail is a great family-friendly option. This trail begins at a BLM developed campground and then winds its way along a long-abandoned state highway roadbed that was active from the 1890’s to the 1930’s. You can expect to find stunning views of the Dolores Canyon, the Dolores River, and at 2.5 miles into the hike, you’ll come across a large boulder field. Be sure to pause at this spot because amongst these boulders you’ll find petroglyphs, pictographs, and dinosaur footprints.
The 6-mile round trip Shamrock Trail (Y-11) is also a great option if you’re into spectacular views and wild western mesas. As a hiking trail, this intermediate route takes you above the San Miguel and Dolores Rivers to beautiful views of the Hanging Flume and West End canyons. This trail is more of an expert route if you choose a mountain bike over hiking boots.
As you’re exploring this summer, make it your family’s mission to find the best spots for group photos! Believe us, when you’re curled up on the couch this winter as snow falls over the city, you’ll want to look back and remember all of those adventures you had in the West End this summer.