The road begins by fording Spring Creek, then climbs upward through a stand of aspen and then traverses its way up through a spruce-fir timber stand until it reaches a vast, beautiful, open subalpine park known as Ouray Park. The road then drops downward and crosses Bennett Creek. From this point, the road flattens out and gently undulates generally following the edge of the spruce-fir timber for the next several miles.
Bennett Creek is the first of three drainages, that the road passes by, which drop off of Ouray Park to the south-southeast. Boulder Creek and Gooseberry Creek are the other two primary drainages to the south, across the park; you will see them as you travel further along the road toward the summit of Bristol Head.
The first 6.8 miles of the road travels over a graveled timber access road which is suitable for travel by both 4-wheel drive vehicles as well as by standard 2-wheel drive pick up trucks, when the road is dry. Because of the ford crossing at Spring Creek (just after you turn onto the Bristol Head Road) and because the last 8.3 miles of the road are rough and rocky, passenger car and van type vehicles are not recommended because they do not have adequate clearance to safely negotiate those sections of the road.
The last 8.3 miles of the road (from the end of the graveled timber road to the top of the peak) has been constructed as a 4-wheel drive road. When the road is dry (as discussed above) this section can generally be safely used by standard 2-wheel drive pick up trucks or similar type vehicles. However, when this section of the road becomes wet or soft, 2-wheel drive vehicles can run into traction and control problems because the road can become slick, soft, and rutted, making such use unsure and potentially unsafe.
Portions of this section, although relatively flat, are extremely bumpy and slow-going, due to rock outcrops in the roadbed. The final 2 miles of road to Bristol Head Peak climbs 700 feet to the top. A Forest Service radio repeater station (radio tower, small building, and solar panels) and a microwave station are located at the top.
From the head of Bristol Head Peak, a magnificent panoramic view of the entire region exists for miles. On a clear day, the San Luis Valley and the Sangre de Cristo Mountain Range - almost 100 miles away to the east/northeast - can be seen. In the foreground, to the northwest sits Spring Creek Pass with Uncompahgre Peak (14,309 feet) raising its rugged head majestically in the background. To the southwest, nestled directly below Bristol Head Mountain lies Santa Maria Reservoir. Twenty miles farther to the southwest, Rio Grande Pyramid stands silent vigil over the Weminuche Wilderness. Piedra, Ivy, and South River Peaks, along with Fisher, Beautiful, Copper, and Snowshoe Mountains lie to the south/southeast.
Caution should be exercised for any out-of-vehicle sightseeing or picture taking in this area due to the steep cliffs bordering the peak. Rocks and soil are extremely unstable along the edges. Also, lightning potential is intensified because of the radio tower and the openness of the peak.
Future plans for development along the road includes interpretive signing which will discuss the multiple use that takes place in the general area such as livestock grazing, timber harvesting, mineral exploration, recreation, etc. Also planned are interpretive signs at the top which will identify what one is viewing in the 360 degree panorama such as mountain peaks, drainage, and other terrain features or landmarks.
In the winter, this is a groomed snowmobile trail that goes to the top of Bristol Head Peak; it is approximately 15.1 miles long. This trail is groomed and maintained for your free use and enjoyment by the Snow Country Explorers of the Upper Rio Grande Snowmobile Club of Creede.
One word of warning. Extreme caution should be used near the start of the trail and near the end at the top of the peak. Stay on the groomed trail after crossing Spring Creek near the beginning of the trail. Just to the south of the groomed trail (in this area) lies the deep, cliff-lined, North Clear Creek gorge into which North Clear Creek Falls tumbles.
Near the top of the peak and at the top, in the general vicinity of the radio tower and microwave station, the entire southwest, south, and southeast sides of the park are formed by sheer cliffs and enormous chutes that can become bridged by the snow making snowmobile travel anywhere near the edges extremely dangerous. So stay on the groomed trail at and near the top as well.
A variety of roads and trails exist for both cross-country skiing and snowshoeing in these areas. An 11.5 mile segment of the Lake City to Creede Cross-Country Ski/Snowmobile trail travels through this area. Other unmarked roads and trails that offer the winter visitor an excellent cross-country skiing experience are described below.
The first 1.5 miles of this route is an uphill climb through open, park-like country. The climb is fairly gentle with only one short, steep pitch after you cross Big Spring Creek. The first 1.5 miles of this route is fine for the winter visitor seeking a short, enjoyable skiing adventure. Only those with strong legs and lungs should try the long, steep second 1.5 mile segment to the flat, rolling hill country found in Ouray Park.
This steep section is in spruce/fir timber stands with some sharp, quick turns required during the trip back to the vehicle. It will take a good skier to negotiate the turns without incident. Snowmobilers travel this route, as it is a part of the District's developed and groomed snowmobile trail system. The route is marked with orange diamond snowmobile trail markers to the top of Bristol Head Peak. If you have the endurance to reach the Ouray Park area - let your imagination be your guide on where to go - there is plenty of country to roam!