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Mountain Biking: Colorado > Rio Grande National Forest > Divide Ranger District

Quick Facts

West Bellows Creek Trail

Beginning Elevation: 8,800 Feet (2743.1 Meters)
Difficulty: More Difficult
Elevation Gain: 2,400 Feet (748.1 Meters)
Ending Elevation: 11,200 Feet (3491.3 Meters)
Length, One-way: 4.1 Miles (6.83 Kilometers)
Trail Number: 871
Usage: Light
USGS Maps: Wagon Wheel Gap, Halfmoon Pass

Satellite and Topo Map

General Description

Access across La Garita Ranch property is often denied. Opportunities for good fishing exist along West Bellows Creek, but camping areas are rare in this drainage. Views of spectacular cliffs and rugged country can be seen while hiking up the narrow canyon. The trail crosses West Bellows Creek many times. Hikers can count on getting their feet wet. Creek crossings are not safe during the time of spring snow melt. Check on conditions at the Divide Ranger District Office or La Garita Ranch.

The trail makes a moderately steep climb paralleling West Bellows Creek for its entire length. Many creek crossings exist. The canyon bottom is narrow, with rugged cliffs towering above the trail in the upper portions of the drainage. The trail winds along and through several rocky sections. The trail then joins Forest Service Trail # 790 to the Wheeler Geologic Area about 0.25-0.5 mile below the base of the unique formations.

Although several excellent possibilities exist for cross-country skiing or snowshoeing in the Wheeler/Wason area, few people take advantage of the opportunities. The foot and horse trails in this area offer only limited skiing opportunities for those who may desire to take a look at this winter wonderland and only the foolhardy would ski in the narrow canyon of West Bellows.

Directions from Creede, Colorado: Hikers should call La Garita Ranch to secure permission to drive across their private land to the trailhead. Travel south on Colorado Highway 149 for 7.3 miles, to private road entering La Garita Ranch. Follow this road across private property to the trailhead.

Seasonal Information:
Normally Open: June through September .

Current Conditions & Trip Reports

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Filed By: Brian G. Angevine (Lenexa, KS)
Time of Day: various
Length of Time: various
Difficulty: Easy
Number of People Encountered: 0-10 ppl
Recommend to a Friend: Highly
Report: Fishing the Highway of Legends Brian G. Angevine I am not much of an optimist. There are days I decide to go fishing when I am pretty sure I will not catch anything. The weather might be all wrong, or the rivers muddy, but I don’t really expect to catch anything. But, still, I go. Why? Mainly because I like to be outside in an environment I enjoy. That environment includes a certain amount of solitude, flowing water (hopefully clear and cold), pine trees, mountains, and trout. When I first bought my cabin near Weston, Colorado, I had that kind of thing in mind. I had been looking for someplace near a trout stream and a ski area for a long time, but the prices were way out of my reach. I finally settled on a place I could afford that was nowhere near a trout stream that I knew of and certainly no nearby ski area. Imagine my surprise when I discovered the Bosque del Oso (Forest of the Bear) and the south branch of the Purgatoire River. The first time I drove the 25 miles to the wild area I was not impressed. The stream was tiny, shallow, and altogether unpromising looking. A branch wedged between rocks was literally bristling with caddis cases, though, which showed an ample food supply for trout. The area is catch and release only, and flies and lures only. That eliminates a whole bunch of “meat” fisher people. I found myself completely alone on the stream. Of course there is the annoying roar of trucks up and down the dirt road racing to drill ever more gas wells hoping to reap a profit, yet destroying the wilderness in the process. But I have learned to almost ignore them. That day yielded no fish. I was not sure how or where to fish the stream, nor what to use other than the caddis indicated by the multitude of cased larvae. I wasn’t even sure there were any fish there. I never saw one and was discouraged by the shallow water. But I guess I’d have to say I’m an optimist where trout fishing is concerned. The next time I went back I caught several small browns. As I got the hang of how to fish the stream I began to catch lots of fish, all of them small, all of them browns. A friend I was trying to teach how to fly fish counted me catching and releasing 35 fish in an hour one day. Finally as my expertise grew I landed a few 12 to thirteen inchers and even a good sized rainbow once. How a rainbow survived in that warm, shallow water I don’t know. Then two years ago a devastating forest fire struck the area. I was fishing during the fire drawing concerned looks from the firefighters driving by on the road above. I finally quit when a bulldozer began cutting a fire line up the ridge behind me. That is where they stopped the fire later that day. Ash and other detritus from the fire probably killed most of the life in the stream. When I visited a few months after the fire, there were no caddis cases, no insect life, and I saw no trout. Now, almost two years later, I decided to try it again. The insects and fish are back but in fewer numbers. But the fish I have caught are larger than any I ever caught before. But they are also harder to catch. Although I hate to give up my “secret” spot, I will share some of my techniques for fishing the south fork of the Purgatoire in the Bosque del Oso. The stream is very narrow in most spots and there is a lot of brush along most of the banks. As a result I usually wade the center of the stream and fish upstream. During normal water I can usually wear just shin high irrigation boots, or wading sandals and go bare legged. In higher water nothing more than hip waders are needed. The only problem with wading upstream is that spooked fish usually go upstream spooking other fish. Emerging Caddis patterns work very well, also dry Elk Hair Caddis. Royal Coachman has landed quite a few fish along with Adams of various types. Blue Winged Olive will work as will Pale Morning Dun. Sizes run from 18 to twelve. Hopper imitations do well during the heat of the day. As usual with most streams the largest fish I have caught have been on nymphs. Gold Ribbed Hares Ear is always good and surprisingly, for a spring creek, Golden Stonefly nymphs. The only rainbow I caught fell for the Golden Stonefly. I haven’t had much luck with other nymphs but some fisher people might. Midges have always been a source of frustration for me. I see trout taking them and try to fish them but never seem to do well, especially the nymphs. Just my poor fishing techniques I am sure. One other unusual part of the fishing is that I have never caught anything before about 9:30 a.m. I have gotten up before dawn and arrived on the river very early only to fish until 10 or so before catching anything. I haven’t fished late since I am a little afraid of the bears and cougars that inhabit that area, plus I don’t relish the drive back home that late at night. So far in June 2004 I have not caught anything before 11:45 a.m. The hatches have not been starting until noon and then a lightning storm usually drives me off the river by 1:00. But the water is high so far this year and the prospects for the future of the fishery look good if the moisture stays more steady for a few years. To get there take Highway 12 (The Highway of Legends) west from Trinidad or south from LaVeta. One of the entrances to Bosque del Oso is a quarter of a mile east of Weston. The dirt road goes south with big green signs marking the area. The first 4 miles or so is private property, but a big sign marks the beginning of the public area. There are about 4 miles of stream that can be reached from the road with several parking spots along the way. Another 4 miles or so must be walked but a road still parallels the stream all the way. Fisher folk will find many tumbling riffles and lots of corner holes where the stream runs into rock banks. Some mud banks cause some silting, but for the most part the stream is clear. The peace of the river and the wild area will be soothing to most souls. I use a four weight, full flex, 7 and a half foot rod with a double taper line. It is perfect for such a small stream. It has enough backbone to cast against the wind--which blows often--but is easy to handle in the tight spaces. I miss a lot of strikes on nymphs with that rod and probably could do better with a stiffer rod for nymphing. But I love my four weight. If you get bored with that stream, the main branch of the Purgatoire follows highway 12. A few miles upstream from Weston is another entrance to Bosque del Oso with about a two mile stretch of stream to fish there. It is also catch and release, the setting is not as pristine, but the fish are bigger. Then there is North Lake on up the mountain on highway 12. It is beautiful, heavily fished, and has a lot of nice trout. You can keep some there, but no bait is allowed. Monument Lake is a fee area that is also heavily fished. In all I am quite pleased with southern Colorado fishing east of the Rockies. It is far better than I expected and very much uncrowded. Enjoy! --1334 words Brian G. Angevine 9290 Oakcrest Lenexa KS 66227-4005 913-441-0605 brianangevine@mac.com

Recreation Opportunities
Activity Remarks On Site
ICON Cross-country Skiing Several excellent possibilities
ICON Cold Water Fishing Along West Bellows Creek
ICON Hiking & Walking West Bellows Creek Trail
ICON Horseback Riding Trail crosses West Bellows Creek many times
ICON Snowshoeing Several excellent possibilities

Related Activities
Marshall Park Campground - This site is located near Colorado Hwy. 149 and is the closest forest campground to Creede. There is very little screening or trees, so heavy vehicle traffic along Colorado Hwy. 149 is visible.

Palisade Campground - Some sites are open, while other sites are screened with cottonwoods/aspen/spruce/fir. Campground is located adjacent to Colorado Highway 149 for easy access to travelers passing through.

Palisade Trail - This trail goes north towards Blue Park and Long Park and is mostly used by hikers and hunters.

More Information
Frequently Asked Questions
Email the Local Ranger

Visitor Information:

Divide Ranger Station, 13308 West US Highway 160, P.O. Box 40 , Del Norte, CO, 81132, Phone: 719-657-3321, TTY: 719-657-6038


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