Colorado: Gunnison National Forest

Pitkin, Colo.

We get questions all the time that go something like: "We want to ride in Colorado, where should we go?" Our first response is "just about anywhere west of the front range."

But when pressed to narrow it down to a specific location, the Pitkin area of the Gunnison National Forest is one of our favorites.

Why?

Once you get your ATV unloaded, this is the only transportation you will need until you are ready to head home, which you won't want to do.

The Pitkin area is as rich in history as it is in scenery. The fun part is you can head out from Pitkin in almost any direction and explore the numerous ghost towns, long-closed gold and silver mining operations, and miles and miles of great riding.

If you go east you can ride up to the western portal of the Alpine Tunnel at an elevation of 11,523 feet. Begun in 1880, it was the highest railroad tunnel in North America, chiseled through solid granite.

On the ride up make sure to stop and check out the workmanship of the ``Palisades''—a 432-foot-long retaining wall built with hand-cut stone and no mortar more than 100 years ago.

Continuing east, you can negotiate Hancock Pass. This trail can have very difficult sections as you near the summit. Once over the top you can ride into the ghost town of Hancock. If you want to park your ATV you can hike up to the eastern portal of the Alpine tunnel.

If you head north from Pitkin you will ride over Cumberland Pass, elevation 12,000 feet, then into the town of Tincup. This very small town has a restaurant and small general store, but no gas.

East of Tincup is Mirror Lake, which is always a favorite spot to stop for lunch.

We have only mentioned the major trails in the area. You can spend an entire week's worth riding exploring miles and miles of side trails.

When it comes to where to stay, you have just about every option there is. For those who don’t like campgrounds and want to rough it a little, primitive camping is allowed almost anywhere in the national forest. Just find a wide spot and set up camp. Please remember to leave the area better than you found it.

The U.S. Forest Service has three campgrounds with water and vault toilets. The closest campsite to Pitkin has 22 sites, and some will accommodate large vehicles. Eight of those sites are handicap accessible.

Two smaller campgrounds are just up the road, Quartz and Middle Quartz. To make reservations for any of these sites call (877) 444-6777.

In the quaint little town of Pitkin you can choose from the Quartz Creek Cabins (970) -641-5631 or the historic and a little rustic Pitkin Hotel (970) 641-2757.

Pitkin has a small general store that normally has gas, soda, ice and snacks. There is also a sandwich shop and ice cream parlor.

Gunnison, about 26 miles west, is a full-service town with everything you will need from ATV dealerships to motels and restaurants.

Remember, in all national forests a spark arrestor is required, and Colorado requires your ATVs to be registered. The ATVA recommends wearing a helmet and never riding double.

For more information you can contact the Gunnison Ranger District at 216 N. Colorado, Gunnison, CO 81230; telephone (970) 641-0471; or visit www.fs.fed.us/r2/gmug/recreation.