Monday, October 25, 2010

An easy family hike to Spud Lake, Potato Lake, Durango Colorado Road Trip

Spud Lake, Durango Colorado.  San Juan Mtns
Our road trip to the Southwest portion of Colorado encompassed a lot of driving and spending time in the car.  While it's fun to drive through the beautiful area, its much more fun to hike through it!  On the second day in the Durango area, we vacated our spot at the Haviland Campground and drove up the road to find another campsite and hike.  We continued driving north on 550 and turned down National Forest access road Lime Creek Road.  After a few miles of tough driving, we stopped at what we thought was an amazingly secluded campsite and set up camp, then walked up the road around a curve and found a trailhead to Spud Lake.  We thought we were so very lucky to find this amazing campsite, but once we returned from our hike at 1:00pm, the entire camp site was filled with cars and our secluded amazing site was no more.  When I returned home to research this hike, I found that it's called Spud Lake, but the actual name of the lakes are Scout Lake and Potato Lake, "Spud" lake is a nickname given to the lakes by locals in the area.  The hike is also very popular among locals for being an easy trail for people of all ages. 

Views from side trail of San Juans

Getting there:  From Durango, drive north on highway 550 for 28 miles and make a right turn at a sharp curve onto Lime Creek Road/CO Rd 1, there is a large brown National Forest sign naming this turn and road.  Continue down the bumpy Lime Creek Road for approximately 3 miles to the trailhead.  The parking lot can accommodate only about 4 cars, and there is additional parking on the road past the trailhead and before the trailhead (i.e. our campsite).  When we started the hike at 10:45am there were just three cars in the lot and we were pretty sure it would be a nice hike with solitude so far up this bumpy road, but we were definitely wrong! 
There are no bathrooms at the trailhead or anywhere in the vicinity.  Click here for more info. 

The Hike/Journey:  When we arrived at the trailhead, we had no idea how far the hike was or if it was difficult or easy and we asked some people just starting to hike if they knew and were told; 'its an easy hike to the lake, about 2 miles away.'  And they were right!  The hike was very easy and started in the pine forest with lots of aspen trees all around just past peak color.  In the first half mile of the hike, there is a short side trail that takes the hiker to an amazing view of the valley and surrounding San Juan Mountains in the photo above.  With the color still near peak, the views were amazing.  From there continue hiking up the trail with gradual incline and passed several small ponds that had the reflection of the mountains in them and I snapped numerous photos of the scenery.  We didn't see many hikers on the way out to the lake, and we took our time, taking photos and checking out the views.  We finally made it to the lake after about 1 hour, and the views were even more amazing with the craggy mountains in the background. 
Josh and I with the dogs, the San Juan Valley behind us
At this time we sat down and ate our little lunch of crackers and tuna fish and an apple and we talked about finding another trail to continue our hike.  The short 1 hour hike wasn't quite enough for us, so we hiked all the way around the lake in hopes to find another trail that we could continue on, but we had no luck.  After we walked all the way around the lake, ate lunch, snapped photos and enjoyed the views, then we decided we'd hike back.  By this time it was past noon and several other hikers were making their way up the trail.  I was surprised so many people started this hike so late in the morning, in Denver people would have been at the trailhead 3 hours prior.  It only took 40 minutes of slow hiking and snapping photos and we were back to the trailhead and walked back to our campsite. 
When we turned the corner to the site, we saw our truck and Chalet, and 10 other cars surrounding it!  Neither of us could believe so many cars had parked so close to people camping, there were kids running around our camper, people touching our stuff, and two trucks parked us in, not 2 feet from our bumper!  Josh, who rarely gets mad, was very angry; mostly because he was so shocked people would park us in.  Plus we were both so disappointed that our secluded campsite was not secluded at all.  At this time, we couldn't even hang out by or go into the camper because so many dogs and people were nearby that we didn't feel comfortable, so I suggested we take some beers and walk up the road for a while.  
Engineer Mtn in the fall, click for pic on etsy
 We started up Lime Creek Road and noticed another trailhead about 1/2 a mile from Spud Lake trailhead that didn't have a name.  No cars were at this trailhead.  We continued up the road further until we reached a sharp curve with great views overlooking a valley, so we climbed up the mountainside and sat here enjoying our beer and the views. 
After a couple of hours we decided to walk back to the campsite with high hopes that all the cars would be gone, but were disappointed they were not.  Josh wanted to pack up and find a more secluded site, so by 3:30 we were on the road again, looking for yet another camp site.  We continued down Lime Creek Road which had several other dispersed sites along the road, but none with great views like our earlier site.  We ended up camping north of Silverton in a campground with only one other vehicle in a very secluded site next to the river. 

After having a difficult time the whole trip finding secluded campsites, I'd love to hear from someone locally who has some insight on a great campground or national forest dispersed sites with amazing views.  With so many national forest access choices and no familiarity with the area, it makes it very difficult to choose a road to find a campsite

Here is a google map of the area, click on map to input your personal directions. 
Below are more pics of the area. 

View Larger Map
Looking through the Aspen Trees, available on etsy

Reflection on the water, photo on etsy for purchase.

Grove of Aspens on way to hike

Morning glow, on drive to hike

Our not so secluded campsite. 

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