Saturday, October 23, 2010

Haviland Lake Campground, Durango Colorado, San Juan Mountains Road Trip

Haviland Lake, campground on hill to right
On the second night of our road trip, we planned on camping 'somewhere' between Durango and Ouray.  We wanted to spend most of the time in this area hiking and camping, but we weren't sure which campgrounds were open or where we could find good national forest camping.   We drove north of Durango on Hwy 550 and the aspen trees were still near peak color and the groves of aspens were much bigger than we were used to living on the Front Range.  I decided we needed to camp here since the color was still near peak, plus it was getting dark, so we began to search for a spot.   I really wanted to camp in a national forest dispersed site so that the dogs could run free, but after searching down a few dirt roads and not finding a good site, we decided to continue up 550 farther north.  Just as we reached 550 and started north, we found the Haviland Lake Campground.  Two of it's three loops were still open during the fall and the camping fee was just $7.50, but the bathrooms weren't open and the water wasn't turned on; however there was garbage service.  Because we were tired, we camped here and planned to get up early to find a more secluded spot and to hike. 

Picnic area at Haviland Lake Campground
Getting there:  The campground is 17 miles north of Durango on highway 550 on the east side of the street.  You will see the sign for Haviland Lake Campground.  Here is a link to their website.   Many of the sites had decent seclusion and some had great views of the lake, but those were all taken when we arrived; we chose one of the many sites on the hill under the ponderosa pine above the other sites.  The campground has pit toilets and water only open through September, and garbage service which was still open through November 21st per the sign. 

The Journey:  After getting to our campsite pretty late at about 7pm, we decided to stay inside the Chalet and had veggies and crackers for a late dinner before playing cards and drinking some beers and heading to bed.  We decided we'd look for a more secluded campsite the next day and wanted to wake up early.  I was a little annoyed that we didn't find a better site and had to move again, but at least it offered some variety to the trip.  We would have stayed at Haviland Lake had it been less full and we had a better site, but that wasn't in the cards for us. 
The next day we woke up early, packed up and drive up the road to Lime Creek Road, a dirt road that had national forest access and looped back to 550 in approximately 10 miles so if we didn't find something we could continue north.  The dirt road was pretty well maintained for about 1 mile, and then it got rough.  Josh started to worry that the Chalet couldn't handle it, but we continued on.  Eventually, after a long, steep incline, we reached the top of a hill with amazing views of the San Juans all around and a couple of small lakes. 
'Secluded' campsite until we returned from hike to CARS!
There was also a fire pit designating a national forest dispersed site; we decided we had to camp here!  We set up again, ate a quick breakfast and walked up the road to find a hike; we walked around the corner about 100 feet and there was a trailhead!  We were so excited at how perfect this was, so we hiked the trail to the lake and enjoyed the afternoon taking photos and walking around the water taking in the views and fall color.  As we hiked back to our campsite lots of hikers were passing us on the trail on their way out to the lake, and when we reached the trailhead the parking lot was completely full.  I said to Josh, "I hope people aren't parked by our camper," and sure enough...7 cars had parked all around us at every angle!  So much for seclusion, privacy and the dogs running free.  Little kids were running around our camper, our dog Belle was going nuts trying to 'protect' us from everyone, and two trucks had parked not 2 feet from our SUV blocking us in.  Josh was mad.  My husband rarely gets mad at all, it is a very, very rare thing, and he was mad, shocked people had parked us in!  Josh was not going to camp here tonight, I just knew it!  We grabbed some food and decided to walk down the road to see if we could find another trail and wait out the crowd.  We did this for several hours, and upon return only a few cars were gone and more were driving up to hike.  Josh said he wanted to leave and we were able to back out since one of the other drivers had finally left, so we packed up (again!) and drove away. 
If only this site would have stayed 'secluded', its perfect!
We ended up camping the third night north of Silverton at a secluded campground with no other campers in site! 

If you are from this area, I'd love to hear about more great campgrounds or secluded areas to camp! 

Click on map below to input personal directions to the Haviland Lake Campground. 

To read the rest of the road trip blog, start at the Valley View Hot Springs here

View Larger Map


  1. It's a beautiful lake and decent winter. We let our dogs off leash all the time in winter. The roads are not plowed so they offer a wonderful snowy trail all over the park.

    Christmas Holidays are busy with cross country skiers, snowshoers, and sleigh rides from the nearby stable. Depending on the snow year it can get busy even off Holiday season, but people are there to enjoy the trail, and there's no camping in winter.

    There are many days when my husband and I are the only ones on the winter trail. We maybe pass two or three people the entire time we are there.

    Summer is another story! If you want seclusion this is not the area or time of year for that because many people with second homes in the area visit in summer. Leash laws are much more strict in summer for obvious reasons (too many kids and wildlife that don't mix well with loose dogs).

    There are more back-country trails here for hiking than secluded camping. I recommend getting a forest service map, parking at one of the campgrounds and taking a backcountry trip for a few days if you want seclusion. If you have a family - Haviland is a wonderful place to experience camping with the kids. There are bears in the area so keep that in mind.

  2. Thanks so much for the info! We were shocked to see so many people around and had expected more seclusion, which we did not get!