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recreation areas


On the Scenic Highway of Legends (Hwy 12), west of Trinidad.
Photo by Paul Alhadef

Highway of Legends Video


Scroll down or choose from these options:

Apishapa SWA
Blue and Bear Lakes Bosque del Oso SWA

Comanche NG
James M. John SWA Lake Dorothey SWA Lathrop State Park

North Lake SWA
Purgatoire Campground Spanish Peaks SWA

Spanish Peaks NWA Trinidad Lake State Park Day Use Areas


To the west of Trinidad is lake country. A distinctive feature of this Highway of Legends region is huge dikes that radiate like spokes of a wheel from the ancient Spanish Peaks. The Sangre de Cristos march along the horizon.

The area is superb for easy access to fishing, boating, swimming, water skiing, wind surfing, camping, hiking, mountain biking, horseback riding, and wildlife watching. Those who want demanding adventure follow trails to the mountain peaks and choose the four-wheel-drive backroads. Afternoon rains in summer freshen the forests of pine, spruce, cedar, and aspen. Autumn on the Highway of Legends is a wash of gold when the aspen leaves turn.

The eastern region includes the Mountain Branch of the Santa Fe Trail, one of the three major trails of western history. Here in wide-open country, it is easy to envision wagon trains rumbling toward Trinidad, where early travelers rested beneath cooling cottonwoods on the banks of the Purgatoire River.

In this region, a network of canyons holds rare prehistoric sites for those undaunted by difficult terrain but ready to tread lightly in these special places. Come to stillness and watch in the Comanche National Grassland, which provides refuge for countless wild inhabitants such as the golden eagle and the swift fox.

In the volcano and mesa country of the southern region, visitors can take a fascinating tour of a working buffalo ranch, hike into an extinct volcano, and follow sky-skimming roads across the mesas.

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For maps of State Wildlife Areas

cpw.state.co.us/learn/Pages/Maps.aspx


What is the difference between a Colorado Wilderness Area and a Colorado Wildlife Area?

There is no such thing as a state wilderness area. “Wilderness” areas are federal. “SWA” always means State Wildlife Area, land the state owns or leases for the purpose of providing refuges for wildlife and managed sites for fishing and hunting.

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Photo by Jay Slater

Apishapa State Wildlife Area

Apishapa State Wildlife Area is not often visited, which is good news for those seeking the wildlife-watching experience. In these 7,935 acres of rolling to level shortgrass prairie with piñon-juniper, birders will find an “undiscovered jewel,” according to coloradocountybirding.com (see Wildlife Watching).

Bighorn sheep have been reintroduced to the area by the Division of Wildlife. Antelope, mule deer, bobcats, rabbit, and coyotes also live here.

Being There

Camping is allowed with no open fires. No fishing. Hunting in season, September 1–February 28, is for deer, antelope bighorn sheep, rabbit, turkey, scaled quail, and dove. The area has no facilities; pack everything in and out.

Two-track roads allow vehicle travel to different portions of the property, which is in three separate parcels. Most roads lie past the parking lot. Traffic is prohibited unless roads are dry, and no off-road driving is permitted. If roads are wet, proceed on foot or horseback from the welcome sign and parking area. If you come to a fence, please go no further; private property surrounds the area.

Part of Apishapa Canyon, enormous and cedar-scented, runs through the SWA. Follow the roads past the parking lot and you will find the canyon rim. Most people hiking in the canyon use game trails.

Getting There

This area is in the eastern region. For the north entrance: Take Highway 10, which can be reached from I-25 near Walsenburg (which is 37 miles northwest of Trinidad) or from east of La Junta. From Walsenburg, go east on Highway 10 for about 18 miles, then south on County Road 77 for 7 miles. Then go east on County Road 90 for about 11 miles to the property. You may meet “no trespassing” signs along the way, but state signs reassure you that you are on public roads.

For the south entrance: From Highway 10, the sign says “Apishapa SWA 20 miles.” Once you are on county roads, there are signs pointing which direction to go for the north entrance or south entrance.

Current open-fire regulations: 719-846-2211 (Las Animas County Sheriff)
Current hunting regulations: cpw.state.co.us/thingstodo/Pages/BigGameDatesandFees.aspx
Other information: Colorado Division of Wildlife office in Pueblo, CO: 719-561-5300
Area wildlife officer: 719-680-1412
cpw.state.co.us/swa/Apishapa

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Blue and Bear Lakes

This restful mountain retreat is scattered with wildflowers and butterflies. Trails wind through idyllic woodlands and meadows. Both lakes have good hybrid cutthroat trout fishing.

Being There
The area has 30 campsites with picnic tables, fire rings with grill, and camping spurs. Drinking water and restrooms are provided. Tributaries of Cuchara Creek run through the campgrounds. Blue Lake campground is four miles from the highway on Road 422 and has 15 campsites. Bear Lake campground, further up and about a quarter mile from Bear Lake, has 15 RV-tent-combined sites with a maximum of 10 people per site. It has one wheelchair-friendly vault. Both campgrounds are on a first-come basis, and the maximum stay is 14 days.

No swimming or sailing is allowed. RV hookups and waste stations are not provided.

Trails in the area are multiuse, serving mountain bikes, motorcycles, and ATVs (see Hiking & Biking). In-state ATVs and motorcycles without valid license plates must have Colorado OHV registration, available at State Parks or online. Out-of-state OHVs without valid license plates must have Colorado permits, available wherever fishing licenses are sold.

Getting There

Blue and Bear Lakes are 50 miles west of Trinidad on the Scenic Highway of Legends (Hwy 12) at Road 422 (left turn). ATVs are not allowed on the main access road (Road 422). The road into this Cuchara River Recreation Area winds along the river, then continues through several switchbacks to Blue Lake, known for its blue color and shores covered with spruce trees. The road continues for about a mile until it reaches Bear Lake.

The area is usually open by Memorial Day weekend and through early October. During open season, the camp host lives on site at Blue Lake campground. Fees for camping, picnicking, fishing, and parking.

More on area trails: Hiking & Biking

Forest Service Office in La Veta, CO (preferred number): 719-742-3681
Forest Service Office in Cañon City, CO (alternate number): 719-269-8500

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Bosque del Oso State Wildlife Area

Bosque del Oso (Forest of the Bear) is Colorado’s largest wildlife management area, 30,000 acres. The entire SWA is managed primarily for the benefit of wildlife and is closed December through April to protect bald eagles and wintering elk.

Being There

Two streams flow through the refuge: the middle fork and south fork of the Purgatoire River, both of which offer catch-and-release fishing with flies and lures. Hunting is by limited license for deer, elk, black bear, and turkey. See Colorado DOW regulations (link below) for application information.

Facilities are spartan: two packed-ground camping areas with restrooms—Oso Malo Campground and Apache Canyon Campground. Besides the campgrounds, there are six additional parking areas. Access by foot or horseback is permitted only from these parking and camping areas.

There are working gas wells on the Bosque del Oso. Please do not tamper with the wells and be aware that maintenance vehicles daily use the roads to perform service operations.

Visitors are expected to take the highest precautions regarding regulations and their own safety and should be prepared to bring everything with them and take it all back out. All food should be kept in bear-proof containers locked in the vehicle.

Getting There

Bosque del Oso is 21 miles west of Trinidad on Highway 12, the Scenic Highway of Legends. Take a left turn at the sign.

More on area wildlife: Wildlife Watching

Current open-fire regulations: 719-846-2211 (Las Animas County Sheriff)
Current hunting regulations: cpw.state.co.us/thingstodo/Pages/BigGameDatesandFees.aspx
For special hunting seasons outside state seasons:
719-680-1410 (area wildlife officer)
Other information: Colorado Division of Wildlife office in Pueblo, CO: 719-561-5300
cpw.state.co.us/placestogo/parks/Pages/WildlifeAreaMap.aspx

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Comanche National Grassland

The grassland east of Trinidad has many stories to tell, from dinosaurs roaming the shoreline of a vast lake 150 million years ago to Mexican and American traders traveling the Santa Fe Trail 150 years ago.

Being There

Visitors find unequaled sunsets, golden prairies, fragrant juniper canyonlands, and extraordinary wildlife viewing. Opportunities abound for hiking, biking, horseback riding, and camping in these 440,000 acres in two parcels in southeastern Colorado.

During the Jurassic period, dinosaurs roamed this area of tropical forest. Today you can see the largest dinosaur trackway in North America—Dinosaur Guided Tour.

Ancient peoples created rock art on walls of canyons that lace the area. It has been suggested that some of the petroglyphs in the canyons, mixed in with the more familiar art of the native Plains Indians, were made by a culture with roots in Asia.—Magical Canyon Daytrip.

Visitors can still travel sections of the Santa Fe Trail by foot or horseback and can view well-preserved wagon ruts immediately north and west of Iron Springs.

Timpas Creek was the first source of water for Santa Fe Trail travelers after leaving the Arkansas River to head southwest to Trinidad. A one-half-mile mile loop nature trail takes visitors to Timpas Creek and back. Hikers and horseback riders can follow a 3-mile section of the Santa Fe National Historic Trail to Sierra Vista Overlook.

Getting There

From Trinidad, take Highway 350 northeast to the upper parcel of the Grassland, or take Highway 160 east to the lower Grassland.

To reach Iron Springs, travel from Trinidad on Highway 350 for 42 miles. Turn left (south) at County Road 9 for 1 mile and then turn right (west) to the parking lot.

For the Timpas picnic area, drive northeast on Hwy 350 for 56 miles. Turn left (north) at Hwy 71 for 0.5 mile, then turn left (west) to the parking lot.

More on area wildlife: Wildlife Watching
For trails in the area: Hiking & Biking

Comanche National Grassland at U.S. Forest Service site: Comanche National Grassland
More on the Santa Fe Trail: santafetrailscenicandhistoricbyway.org
More on canyons in the CNG: springfieldcolorado.com
Comanche National Grassland La Junta, CO Office: 719-384-2181
Comanche National Grassland Springfield, CO Office: 719-523-6591

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turkeys

James M. John State Wildlife Area

This little-known 8,200-acre recreation area is high and wild at 7,000–10,000 feet. Fisher's Peak, the distinctive landmark rising to the south of Trinidad, is in this wildlife area. For hiking Fisher's Peak, see
Hiking Fisher's Peak.

Being There

This is a wilderness camping experience with no restrooms, water, or other modern amenities; pack it in and take it all back out.
Birders will see area raptors, golden and bald eagle, turkey vultures in season, and, if lucky, sharp-tailed grouse. Hunting is for deer, turkey, elk, bear, mountain lion, coyote, waterfowl, bobcat, and small game. There is no fishing on the property.

Getting There

This area is south of Trinidad. Follow the directions to the lower Lake Dorothey SWA. From the Lake Dorothey parking lot, proceed by foot or horseback about 3.5 miles northwest on an unmarked trail to the top of Raton Mesa. The area is open April 1– November 30.
Current open-fire regulations: 719-846-2211 (Las Animas County Sheriff)
Current hunting regulations: cpw.state.co.us/thingstodo/Pages/BigGameDatesandFees.aspx
Other information: Colorado Division of Wildlife office in Pueblo, CO: 719-561-5300
Area wildlife officer: 719-680-1412
cpw.state.co.us/placestogo/parks/Pages/WildlifeAreaMap.aspx

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Lake Dorothey State Wildlife Area

This region’s claim to fame is the first state record of acorn woodpecker, which colonized the area for a few years in the mid-1990s. The habitat is generally ponderosa and scrub-oak with some higher meadows to 10,000 feet. Mountain birds, elk, deer, bear, mountain lion, small game, and turkey live here.

Lake Dorothey SWA is the access for hiking Fisher's Peak, the distinctive landmark that rises to the south of Trinidad. For details on this hike, see Hiking Fisher's Peak.

Being There

Access to this 4800-acre area is restricted to foot or horseback from established parking areas. Camping is prohibited within 200 feet of Lake Dorothey and 100 feet of streams. Fishing in the coldwater lake and streams is with artificial flies and lures only. The area offers hunting for deer, elk, and turkey.

NOTE: A fire with consequent erosion filled the lake with sediment in 2011; restoration is in progress as of 2013. Check phone numbers below for current conditions. The lake will be redredged,and the slopes stabilized in a process that will take several years. Thus visitors should be aware that the area is more active with the restoration and should also be alert for widowmakers, especially in windy weather.

Getting There

Although in Colorado, this remote area south of Trinidad is easily accessible only through New Mexico. If you have four-wheel-drive, are plucky & lucky, see Four-Wheeling for access from Colorado.

Otherwise, from Raton, New Mexico (17 miles south of Trinidad on I-25) go 7 miles east on NM Highway 72 for about 4 miles, then north on 526 for about 6 miles to the Colorado–New Mexico state line. It’s approximately another 12 miles on Road 85.5 to Lake Dorothey SWA. The area is open year-round.
More on area wildlife: Wildlife Watching
Current open-fire regulations: 719-846-2211 (Las Animas County Sheriff)

Current hunting regulations: cpw.state.co.us/thingstodo/Pages/Hunt.aspx.
Other information: Colorado Division of Wildlife office in Pueblo, CO: 719-561-5300
Area wildlife officer: 719-680-1412
cpw.state.co.us/placestogo/parks/Pages/WildlifeAreaMap.aspx



Lathrop State Park

Colorado’s first state park has golf and two lakes offering water sports for the whole family. The ancient Spanish Peaks tower over the park’s high-plains grassland of 1,594 acres. A recently updated and expanded visitor center boasts a historical mural and interactive interpretive displays.

Being There

Martin Lake (180 acres) offers waterskiing, fishing, power and sail boating, wind surfing, and swimming. Horseshoe Lake (140 acres) offers wind surfing and sailing, boating at wakeless speeds, and fishing.

Lakes are stocked with rainbow trout, channel catfish, tiger muskie, bass, walleye, bluegill, and crappie. Horseshoe Lake provides an opportunity to fish for the toughest fish to catch in fresh water: tiger muskie. Ice fishing on the lakes is not recommended.

The park has 104 campsites on two campgrounds and two group camping areas. Sites accommodate motor homes, trailers, and tents and offer either a basic or improved camping experience. Call for specific amenities—such as tent pads, campfire rings, grills, and picnic tables—available at different sites. General amenities include showers, dump stations, community hydrants (no hookups), restrooms, a playground, and trash receptacles. Unreserved sites are available on a first-come, first-served basis.

A group picnic area for large gatherings accommodates up to 50. The park has hiking trails; one three-mile, closed-loop trail is handicap accessible. See Hiking.

The Walsenburg golf course, next to the park, is open to the public. A restaurant, lounge, and pro shop occupy the spacious clubhouse.

Posted areas around Horseshoe Lake are open for waterfowl and small-game hunting during regular seasons. Hunting is prohibited anywhere in the park from the Friday before Memorial Day until the Tuesday after Labor Day. Only shotguns and bows and arrows are permitted during open seasons. Hunting licenses are required and available at the visitor center. The center also provides park passes, camping permits, firewood, bagged ice, maps, and nature-oriented publications.

Getting There

From Walsenburg (37 miles northwest of Trinidad), go 3 miles west on Hwy 160 to Road 502.

Camping reservations: 800-678-2267
Specific questions: 719-738-2376
Website: parks.state.co.us/parks/lathrop
Mailing address: 70 County Road 502, Walsenburg, CO 81089

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Photo by Jay Slater

North Lake State Wildlife Area

The lake is right next to the Scenic Highway of Legends for quick access.

Being There

The area has excellent fishing in the lake and streams (flies and lures only). The lake has a boat ramp, restrooms, and parking area and is stocked with rainbow, brown, and cutthroat trout; kokanee salmon; and splake. In the north fork of the Purgatoire River are rainbow, brookies, and cutthroat.

Craft may be propelled only by hand, wind, or electric motor. Access is by foot or horseback only from parking areas. No camping or fires are allowed in this 840-acre wildlife area. Big game and turkey hunting in season.

Getting There

The area lies 35 miles west of Trinidad on the Scenic Highway of Legends, Highway 12.

Current hunting regulations: cpw.state.co.us/thingstodo/Pages/Hunt.aspx.
Other information: Colorado Division of Wildlife office in Pueblo, CO, 719-561-5300
Area wildlife officer, 719-680-1410
cpw.state.co.us/placestogo/parks/Pages/WildlifeAreaMap.aspx

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Photo by Jay Slater

Purgatoire Campground

This campground is especially popular on summer weekends and holidays, so it’s a good idea to make your reservations early.

Being There

The campground has 23 campsites and 13 RV sites, including 10 sites for tents and 8 that accommodate larger horse trailers and have spacious grassy areas for horses. If you have horses, bring only hay, cubes, or pellets that are certified weed free.

Parking spurs, tables, fire rings, grills, restrooms, drinking water, and trash receptacles are provided. Wood may be purchased from the camp host. Drinking water is from a well with a hand pump. There are 3 double-vault toilets. All food must be stored in bear-proof containers.

The campground is located at the headwaters of the Purgatoire River and offers stream fishing, hiking trails, mountain biking, and horseback riding. A camp host resides on site throughout the open season, usually late May through mid-October.

Reservations for 13 of the sites are required and made by calling 1-877-444-6777 or with recreation.gov. A nonrefundable reservation fee will be assessed. Reservations may be made up to six months prior to your arrival or as late as four days prior.

Getting There

West of Trinidad on Hwy 12, take a left turn onto Road 34, between Monument and North Lakes, and follow the road for 4 miles to the campground.

For more on trails at the campground: Hiking & Biking

Other information:
Forest Service Office in La Veta, CO (preferred number): 719-742-3681
Forest Service Office in Cañon City, CO (alternate number) 719-269-8500

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Photo by Jay Slater

Spanish Peaks State Wildlife Area (SWA)

This 6450-acre area in two sections is set aside for camping, hiking, and wildlife observation.

Being There

Access is by foot or horseback only from established campgrounds. No parking, camping, or fires are allowed outside of designated areas. Restrooms and drinking water are provided. There is no fishing on the property. Hunting in season is for deer, elk, rabbit, squirrel, turkey, bear, and mountain lion.

Getting There

Route 1. From Trinidad, for both sections of the SWA, take Highway 12 west for about 13 miles, just past Segundo, until you see the sign on your right (north) for Sarcillo Canyon Road, CR 41.7. This road is better traveled when dry. For the eastern section of the wildlife area, go about 9 miles on this road and turn east on CR 30.1 (La Garita) and follow the signs. For the western section, take the same Sarcillo Canyon Road but stay north and travel about 11.5 miles until you reach the entrance.

Route 2. Take Highway 12 west of Trinidad for 8 miles to Cokedale. Then go 18 miles north on CR57.7 (called both Bon Carbo Road and Reilly Canyon Road). Stay to the left when the road forks near the Bon Carbo post office. This road has twists and turns and meets up with CR 30.1 (see route #1). Follow the signs to either the eastern or western section of the SWA.

Route 3. From Aguilar (about 18 miles northwest of Trinidad on I-25), go west on Apishapa Road, CR 43.7 (also called Cordova Pass Road; this road is called CR 46 where it meets Cuchara), to the property. This road takes you to the western section. Consider the weather. This road is recommended only for 4-wheel-drive vehicles.

NOTE: You may on other sites see directions to different named tracts in the Spanish Peaks State Wildlife Area. For your information, the eastern section contains the Beebe, Dochter, and Oberosler Tracts. The western section is the Sakariason Tract.

Current hunting regulations: cpw.state.co.us/thingstodo/Pages/Hunt.aspx.
Colorado Division of Wildlife office in Pueblo, CO: 719-561-5300
Area wildlife officer: 719-680-1410
cpw.state.co.us/placestogo/parks/Pages/WildlifeAreaMap.aspx

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Spanish Peaks National Wilderness Area

The Spanish Peaks are known by geologists the world over for spectacular rock walls radiating like spokes from the peaks. These "dikes" are made of intrusive igneous rock that was forced into softer sedimentary layers. As the softer rocks eroded, walls of hard rock were exposed, some 100 feet high and as long as 14 miles. The region, now designated as a National Natural Landmark, has around 400 of these formations. Nowhere else are these geologic phenomena found in these patterns or in such abundance.

These ancient Spanish Peaks—called by Native Americans Wahatoya, or "breasts of the earth"—watch over 17,500 acres of wilderness. The area provides not only dramatic scenery but some of the best wildlife watching and hiking in Colorado.

Being There

For hiking trails in this area, see Hiking & Biking, West Peak Trailhead.
Also see Four-Wheeling and Hiking Daytrip.

Access is prohibited except from parking areas, where restrooms, drinking water, and trash service are provided. Camping and fires are allowed only in designated areas, and fishing is not permitted. In higher elevations, be especially aware of the possibility of afternoon thunderstorms.

Getting There

From Aguilar, take the four-wheel-drive Cordova Pass Road, also called Apishapa Road. Or access this road at Cuchara. (The road is County Road 43.7 where it meets Aguilar but is CR 46 at Cuchara.) The trailhead for access to the wilderness area is 29 miles from Aguilar and 6 miles from Cuchara. It has 3 one-night campsites with restrooms and trash service.

Forest Service Office in La Veta, CO (preferred number): 719-742-3681
Forest Service Office in Cañon City, CO (alternate number): 719-269-8500

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Photo by Jay Slater

Trinidad Lake State Park

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Trinidad Lake State Park encompasses 2,700 acres and offers fishing, hiking, camping, geocaching, water sports, and, during the summer, extraordinary family programs. The 800-acre lake is rated one of Colorado’s fishing hot spots.

Being There

Programs include interactive nature classes for children and evening weekend entertainmentin the amphitheater. Discover horno (outdoor adobe oven) cooking and sample typical horno bread. Learn knife-throwing, buckskinning, fire-starting, and the mountain man lifestyle. Build your own kite and learn about the wind. Find out how plants adapt to fire. Make animal tracks and learn how to identify animals from their droppings.

Available for year-round fishing, Trinidad Lake is stocked with rainbow trout, black crappie, largemouth bass, channel catfish, saugeye, walleye, wipers, yellow perch and smallmouth bass. “This place is amazing,” says angler John Branstatter “Riley Canyon [west end of Trinidad Lake] is a smorgasbord offering everything from crappie to walleye.”

The lake is popular for water skiing, kayaking, canoeing, and motorized boating. Boaters can borrow a life jacket for up to a week at a time at no cost. During months when the lake ices over, ice-skating and ice-fishing are allowed in winter (at visitors’ own risk). Cross-country skiing is available as conditions permit.

Seventy-three campsites are available for RVs, trailers, or tents with 25 sites open year-round. Five sites are provided for persons with disabilities, and 7 sites in the Carpios Ridge campground are full hookups. Facilities include restrooms, pay showers and laundry, electrical hookups, shared water hydrants, and a sewage dump station. Excellent sheltered picnic areas with all amenities as well as a group camping area can accommodate large groups—perfect for company picnics, graduation parties, RV clubs, weddings, and family reunions.

The park has eleven miles of trails for hiking, mountain biking, and wildlife watching (Hiking & Biking, Wildlife Watching). Visitors can choose a short walk, interpreted nature trails, or eight-mile hikes into primitive backcountry areas. The Park View Trail complies with ADA requirements. Horseback riding is allowed on the south shore. Daypacks that include binoculars and field guides are available at the visitor center.

Near the center of the campground by the park’s amphitheater, you will find Native American tepee rings. A nearby state-of-the-art playground is available for children under 12, and the park has a volleyball court.

Evidence of the K/T boundary, marking the time when dinosaurs disappeared from the planet, can be seen in Long’s Canyon Watchable Wildlife Area, at the west end of the park. This area and the western shore are good for birding.

During season in designated areas, hunting is allowed with shotguns and bows only. Information and licenses are available at the visitors’ center.

Getting There

The park is only 3 miles west of Trinidad on the Scenic Highway of Legends (Hwy 12).

More on area wildlife: Wildlife Watching

Camping reservations: 800-678-2267
(Denver Metro area: 303-470-1144)
Reserve a picnic space or schedule a program for your group gathering:
719-846-6951

Website: parks.state.co.us/parks/trinidadlake
Mailing address: 32610 Hwy 12, Trinidad, CO 81082

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Day Use Areas

For a lovely drive, a picnic, and a hike, enjoy Cuchara Day Use Area and Spring Creek Trailhead Day Use Area.

Cuchara Day Use Area is on the access road (422) to Blue and Bear Lakes.

Spring Creek Trailhead Day Use Area is 0.5 miles this side of Cuchara. For trails in this area, see Hiking and Biking.

Forest Service Office in La Veta, CO (preferred number): 719-742-3681
Forest Service Office in Cañon City, CO (alternate number): 719-269-8500


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