There are several lakeside destinations in the San Juan Mountains that are perfect for finding relief from the extreme heat of summer. These lakes are located in a wide range of elevations, which can make a difference in what kind of gear will be needed for the venture. The lakes near Durango, Colorado are in the 6,500 to 7,500 feet above sea level range, so they offer warm comfortable summer temperatures that are perfect for aquatic sports. The environment of the lakes that are over 10,000 feet up in the mountains can be quite a bit cooler. Even in July it may be necessary to dress warm, so it is best to check the weather reports before setting sail.
The further up in the San Juan Mountains that one goes, the more difficult it is to access the lakes and points of interest. This is the nature of the mountainous terrain where smooth paved side roads are a rarity. The San Juan National Forest dirt roads that go to scenic destinations can be difficult to traverse, especially when the Jeep trails are washed out after a heavy snow melt season. For example, the short dirt road to the Molas Lake Recreation area from Highway 550 can be so muddy after a rainstorm that it is like doing a swamp buggy ride. Even when dry, most of the National Forest dirt roads are limited to high ground clearance vehicles and 4x4 ATVs because the terrain is so rough. For those who drive a passenger car, this leaves limited options. Roadside parking with a hike is usually the only option for ordinary passenger car drivers and these conditions do not offer much for those who have mobility challenges.
Fortunately, during the last two decades the Federal Government has greatly improved handicap access in the National Parks and National Forests. Paving the most popular hiking trails and building ramps, instead of staircases, has made access easier for those who have mobility challenges. In fact, there actually are National Forest recreation areas that are specifically designed for the physically challenged and the Andrews Lake Day Use Area is one such place!
The Andrews Lake Day Use Area is located the Million Dollar Highway (U.S. 550) just south of the Molas Lake Park Campground. The sign is very easy to miss because it is set back off the east side of the highway, so it is best to plot this destination on a mapping system ahead of time. The road going into this National Forest Day Use Area is paved all the way through, which really makes it easy for drivers of regular cars. However, the paved one lane road inside the Andrews Lake Day Use Area is narrow and there are turnouts for oncoming traffic, so it is best to drive cautiously slow in this place.
As the information placard states upon entry, the Andrews Lake Day Use Area has an easy access theme for the physically challenged. The hiking paths are paved and these trails even have feeler curbs, so those who have vision limitations can find their way down the paths while listening to the sounds of Mother Nature. There are plenty of park benches along the trails and the picnic areas are also paved, so there is no struggling through soft dirt when having a good time. The main trail at the lake is also paved and there is a smooth wooden bridge to cross when going to the most popular lakeside fishing spot. Facilities are also located by Andrews Lake, so a visitor can enjoy a full day of trout fishing in this easy to access angler's haven!
I used to be a driver for a handicap transportation company in Florida and I do recall some of the customers talking all about their group trip to Andrews Lake, so this destination is well known outside of Colorado. The Andrews Lake Day Use Area is designed specifically for the physically challenged, so this is good to keep in mind when planning a trip into the San Juan Mountains of Colorado. Andrews Lake is as picturesque as can be and the beautiful views of the surrounding mountain peaks and alpine forests reflecting in the calm water are what memories are made of. Andrews Lake certainly is a special place for special people and the trout fishing is pretty darn good too!
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