- The San Isabel National Forest consists of three ranger districts: San Carlos, Salida and Leadville. Each of these ranger districts contains unique attractions only a few of which are described below. In the San Carlos District the Scenic Highway of legends is a popular attraction. The road begins in Trinidad, follows Colorado Highway 12 over Cucharas Pass, joins U.S. 160 and ends in Walsenburg. The combination of scenery, history, geology and recreation along the route make this drive memorable.
Also in the San Carlos District is the Lake Isabel Recreation Area, which is an hour from Pueblo. The lake encompasses 40 acres in a pleasant mountain setting for fishing, hiking, picnicking, camping and group gatherings. Most of the developed sites at Lake Isabel are accessible for the physically challenged.
The Salida District lies north of San Carlos and exists in the heart of the headwaters of the Arkansas River. More white water exists here than in any other valley in Colorado. It is a haven for rafting, kayaking and other water sports. Salida also includes portions of 3 wilderness areas the Collegiate Peaks, Sangre de Cristo and Buffalo Peaks. These areas are a treat for backpackers, hikers and horseback riders. No motorized or mechanized travel is permitted in these areas, which creates a pristine setting for solitude in the wilderness.
In the Leadville District the history buff will enjoy the Tennessee Pass area and Ski Cooper in the northern section of the district. These sites were used as a training ground for the 10th Mountain Division of the U.S. Army during World War II. The town of Leadville also held national significance during the silver-mining boom years of 1875 through 1890.
Other attractions in Leadville for outdoor enthusiasts include 2 recreation areas centered upon reservoirs. Twin Lakes and Turquoise Lake Reservoirs provide access to water-centered activities including boating and fishing. The terrain surrounding these lakes has been developed by the forest service to include hundreds of miles of trails and four-wheel drive roads.
Recreation - The recreation opportunities in the San Isabel National Forest are countless. Visitors can visit ghost towns or backpack for miles on the Colorado or Continental Divide Trails. The terrain allows challenges for beginners and experts alike. Fishing, hiking, kayaking, rafting, mountain biking and four-wheel driving are only a few of the activities available in the mountains and valleys of the San Isabel National Forest.
Climate - Controlled mainly by the Rocky Mountains, weather in the San Isabel National Forest varies extremely on a yearly, daily and hourly basis. Colorado's high elevation makes the air thinner and harder to breathe. The elevation also makes it easier to get a sunburn, because there is less air between you and the sun to filter ultraviolet light. Temperatures are affected by elevation, cooling four degrees for every 1,000 feet gained.
When hiking, particularly on high mountain peaks, during the summer, morning and early afternoon hikes are best to avoid lightning and thunderstorms. The average yearly precipitation is 16 inches, the majority of which comes in spring and summer. Summer temperatures average 72 degrees during the day. Nighttime freezing temperatures are not uncommon during the summer. The mean winter temperature is 26 degrees. The low humidity on the eastern slopes makes both warm and cold temperatures seem more comfortable.
The northern boundary of the San Isabel National Forest is determined by the Lake County and Eagle County lines. The southeastern section of the Holy Cross Wilderness exists within the San Isabel boundary. The western border of the forest follows the Continental Divide through the Sawatch Mountain Range and the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness to the meeting of the Rio Grande, Gunnison and San Isabel National Forests.
The San Isabel Forest shares the Sangre de Cristo Wilderness and range with the Rio Grande National Forest. The Greenhorn Wilderness Area and the Cuchara Ski Valley form the southern sections of the forest. The eastern boundary of the San Isabel National Forest is somewhat harder to define but includes the land around Salida, the Buffalo Peaks Wilderness and the area west of Fairplay and Alma.