Article & Photos by URGGuide Field Editor Ryan Michelle Scavo
Visitors to the San Luis Valley have many scenic trails to choose from – including the Rio Grande National Forest’s Middle Frisco Trail (Trail #879, Rio Grande National Forest). This moderately difficult (due to its length and elevation gain) multi-use trail is the perfect destination for day hikes, mountain biking, and horseback riding; and for those interested in an overnight backpacking experience, pack your gear and head on over!
The 6.3 mile long trail begins at the end of County Road 13 near the town of Del Norte and climbs over 2,700 feet in elevation before ending at the picturesque San Francisco Lakes.
To access the trailhead, turn south on French St (in Del Norte) and follow the road south for approximately 10 miles. Be prepared for variable road conditions, as French Street transitions from a paved/maintained road to unpaved CR13/San Francisco Creek Road. Parking is available at the trailhead, located just after the cattle guard at the end of the road.
For the first three miles, the trail follows alongside the Middle Frisco Creek, meandering through a mixed conifer/aspen stand and meadows with several creek crossings and some rocky sections on an otherwise smooth path. The remaining 3.5 miles features smooth trail with some steep switchbacks until reaching San Francisco Lakes. Located in a sub-alpine meadow between Pintada Mountain and Bennett Mountain, aka Ole’ Baldy (13,000 feet), this ecosystem is common in Colorado (between 9,000 and 11,000 feet) and is the biotic zone directly below treeline.
While the Middle Frisco Trail is a nice option for horsemen and mountain bikers, hikers and backpackers will appreciate taking a slower pace in the spring and summer time, as wildflowers abound along the path! Look for several color variations of columbines along the path, bluebell and common shooting star near the creek, and elusive orchids like pink lady slipper on the forest floor.
Fly fishing enthusiasts, birders, wildlife viewers and photographers are sure to enjoy this trail. Hikers willing to carry fly fishing equipment should consider bringing along a rod and fly box, as San Francisco Lakes have been known to hold trout worth trying to catch! Additionally, several species of songbirds frequent the aspen/conifer ecosystems and other wildlife such as black bear and deer have been observed along the trail. Whenever traveling in the high country, be sure to drink plenty of water, carry snacks, and bring appropriate gear. During the summer months, watch for changing weather conditions. Summer storms approach quickly and thunder/lighting events are common. Finally, when viewing wildlife, maintain a safe distance and respect their territory.