The San Juan Mountains of southwestern Colorado are a prime time summer vacation destination. There is plenty of cool fresh clean mountain air, lots of rivers and lakes to splash around in and there are endless activities for outdoor adventurists. One of the most popular activities in the San Juan National Forest is 4×4 excursions. In fact, some of the most challenging Jeep trails in the world can be found in this neck of the woods.
The 4×4 vehicle trails in the San Juan Mountains actually are National Forestry Service Roads and old mining roads, so they are in mapping systems and a planned touring route can be plotted on a good GPS device. There are many local Colorado 4×4 websites that publish updates for Jeep trail conditions and closures, so plenty of information is available. The 4×4 touring websites also provide difficulty level ratings for each Jeep trail, so a driver does not bite off more that what can be chewed. The Jeep trails range from easy beginner level to a dangerous high difficulty level and by dangerous I do mean risking life and limb. The infamous Black Bear Road is located up by Ouray in the San Juan Mountains and this dangerous 4×4 road has sent many Jeeps to their grave.
The easy Jeep trails are always best to start with when in an unfamiliar territory and the short Cascade Creek Jeep Trail is as easy going as it gets! This dirt road only goes a couple of miles uphill, but it can be too rough in spots for an ordinary passenger car. A two wheel drive high ground clearance vehicle can handle this road, but a 4×4 is best if things get wet.
Basically, the distance on Cascade Creek dirt road is really the same as a short hike and for those who prefer traveling on foot, there is a large parking area next to the access point on the Million Dollar Highway. The Cascade Creek Hiking Trail actually goes much higher up the mountain than the Jeep Trail and following the old wooden flume uphill on foot can be done too. There are back country camping areas along the trail, so this is a nice nook on the mountain for an overnighter hike.
Both the hiking trail and the dirt road follow Cascade Creek uphill to a small parking area near a picturesque old wooden flume that is still in use. For folks in a big city, a flume is something that is only seen at a water sports amusement park, yet these engineering marvels still have a practical use way up in the mountains. Controlling the water flow from the seasonal snow melt is necessary and the old time mining operations made use of flumes too. The devices are also used to direct water to where it is needed at farms and ranches. Flumes are common in the Alps and the same cultures that built flumes in Europe also built the water movers that can be found in the Colorado Rockies.
Cascade Creek is as picturesque as can be and endless hours can be spent doing the creekside nature walk. Following this trail will literally reveal one small cascade after another when following the creek. The cool water provides relief from the heat and there is plenty of shade under the aspen and pine trees. Mid to late summer is the peak wildflower bloom season in the mountains and there is plenty of wildlife to view. Dispersed camping is available at the base of the trail near the paved highway, so visitors can feel free to spend as much time as they wish when exploring this picturesque wilderness area. This is reason enough to check out the short Cascade Creed Trail and the mountain flume when touring the Million Dollar Highway!
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