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The North Fork of the Purgatory Trail, part 1

Something for everybody

 HUERFANO — One of the best trails in Huerfano and Las Animas Counties, maybe the best trail, is the North Fork of the Purgatory. Also known as the North Fork Trail or NFT, this trail boasts fabulous geology, abundant wildlife, stunning views, wildflowers galore and much, much more. Starting in downtown La Veta, head south on Colorado Hwy 12. The turn off to the trailhead is 25.5 miles, but there is much to see between these two points. A prominent feature one will spot to their right, or west, as they travel Hwy 12 is the Dakota Wall. This incredible sandstone structure runs from Wyoming to New Mexico through our state and gives the town of Stonewall its name. Continue past the village of Cuchara and head up Cuchara Pass. It is worth taking a few minutes atop the pass to take in the view to the south, as one can easily see deep into New Mexico. Now, heading down the south side of Cuchara Pass, the highway becomes an exciting rollercoaster of a ride. (Really fun on a bicycle!) This is a road that car commercials are made of. Scenic and winding, it is easy to forget that herds of elk are often seen to the west in large open meadows. Enjoy the ride as you head toward North Lake State Wildlife Area. North Lake SWA is a water resource belonging to the city of Trinidad and managed by Colorado Parks and Wildlife. The fishing is great year round and even boasts Kokanee Salmon. Here one can rock climb on the Dakota Wall just west of and southwest of the lake. Just one-tenth of a mile beyond the lake’s inlet (you have now traveled 25.5 miles from La Veta) keep your eyes peeled to your right for the turn off to the United States Forest Service Purgatory Campground. You will come to a “T” intersection. (Remember this intersection!) As you take this turn, note that you are still in the North Lake SWA. For the next 1.5 miles, the land along the North Fork of the Purgatory River is still owned by Trinidad and managed by Colorado Parks and Wildlife for fishing and hunting. Note this is a rocky road, and can get washed out a bit after heavy rains, but it is accessible by two wheel drive vehicles. Some advice, unless you like visiting the dentist – do not, I repeat, do not try to drink out of a glass bottle on this road! No overnight camping is allowed in this SWA, but there are two parking areas off to your right along this stretch and several pullouts on your left. Beaver ponds and the river hold some nice sized brook trout to catch for dinner. Wondrous valleys head off to the north where, in the fall, one can hunt deer, turkey, grouse, and more. Once you cross over a cattle guard, you are entering the San Isabel National Forest. From the turn off at Hwy 12, the campground and North Fork trailhead are 3.5 miles. At 29.7 miles one reaches the campground entrance and pay station. Overnight camping is $16/night and day use is $6, but there is no charge to park at the NF trailhead. Bathrooms and water are available at the turnoff to the trialhead, which is one-tenth of a mile beyond the pay station.