About South Fork

History

Tucked high in the San Luis Valley in southern Colorado and surrounded by the San Juan Mountains, South Fork sits along the confluence of the South Fork and the main stem of the Rio Grande.

For most of its history, this area was part of the range of the nomadic Capote band of the Ute tribe, which also included Chama, New Mexico, to the south.  European explorers first entered the valley in the 15th century, and contact with explorers and early settlers allowed the Utes to benefit from trade, but they were also decimated by disease.  When gold and silver were discovered in the San Juans to the west and north, increasing numbers of settlers meant an increase in conflict between the Utes and the settlers.  In 1868, the tribe was moved to a reservation in western Colorado.  After this, the South Fork area’s history was shaped largely by transportation.

By 1874, the Upper San Luis Valley, mostly inhabited by farmers and ranchers, was a stopping point for a stagecoach line that ran from Missouri to Lake City, Colorado, one of the region’s gold mining boom towns. It next served as a water stop for the steam trains traveling the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad, constructed in 1882, which shipped the many natural resources from the San Juan Territory to points across the Western US.  The railroad and nearby mining activities spurred logging operations in the surrounding forest, and a few lumber mills dotted the valley.  In the early 1900s, the automobile inspired the creation of a highway to connect southern Colorado, and passed through South Fork on its route from Alamosa west to Pagosa Springs and on to Durango.

South Fork began catering to a different type of traveler in the 1930s when the State of Colorado created a program to promote skiing. Southwest of town and just east of Wolf Creek Pass was a prime location for a ski area, just north of the highway. Wolf Creek Ski Area, now on the other side of the highway and known for having the most snow in Colorado, was established in 1935 and has been a draw for snow enthusiasts ever since.

Still a quiet stop for travelers and tourists today, just as in the late 1800s, South Fork is Colorado’s “newest” town, incorporated in 1992.  If you’re looking to “get away from it all”, this is a relaxing gateway to experience southern Colorado’s wild landscapes up close. In June 2013, the wild got a little too close for comfort – the West Fork Fire Complex forced most of the community to evacuate as it burned within two miles of the town’s southwestern border, evidence of which still remains.  But the signs of fire are few and far between in this overwhelmingly scenic “mountain oasis”.  Offering plenty of amenities for its small size, and a friendly, laid-back atmosphere, South Fork will make any trip on the CDT extra memorable.

Information courtesy of the South Fork Chamber of Commerce and the South Fork Visitor Center.

Stats

Elevation: 8,209′
Population: 372 (2013)

The Essentials: Where to Stay and Eat

Lodging

This page has an extensive listing.
Wolf Creek Ski Lodge: 31042 US-160, (719) 873-1900
Grandview Cabins & RV Park: 613 CO-149, (719) 873-5541
Alpine Trails RV Park: 111 Wharton Rd, (719) 873-0261.  Has a pavilion for rain protection.
Kabin Keeper has many lodging options available
Rainbow Lodge: 30306 US-160, (719) 873-5571
Spruce Lodge: 29431 US-160, (719) 873-5605
Four Seasons Lodge: 30362 US-160, (719) 675-1140
Aspen Ridge RV: 700 Hwy 149, (719) 873-2248; Long distance hikers manage the RV park. They are a great resource!

Food

Dining
Ramon’s Mexican Restaurant: 31519 US-160, (719) 873-0231
Feelin’ Good Café: 20 Lodge Dr West, (719) 873-5150
The Malt Shoppe: 29956 US-160, (719) 873-5852
The Old Firehouse: 30B Jackson St, (719) 873-0169
Two Rivers BBQ: 29411 US-160, (719) 657-1122
Check out more options here!

Grocery
Rainbow Grocery: 30359 US-160, (719) 873-5545
South Fork Farmer’s Market: Visitor Center parking lot, Jct US-160 & CO-149
Fridays from June 18 – Sept 4, 10 AM – 2 PM

Drink

Coffee
Feelin’ Good Café: 20 Lodge Dr West, (719) 873-5150

Libations
Wolf Creek Liquors: 98 CO-149, (719) 873-5200
Ramon’s Mexican Restaurant: 31519 US-160, (719) 873-0231

Other Resources: Gear, Information, etc.

Outdoor Gear

Rainbow Sporting Goods: 30359 US-160, (719) 873-5545
8200 Mountain Sports: 30923 US-160, (719) 873-1977

Internet

Aside from businesses like Feelin’ Good Café and Ramon’s Mexican Restaurant, visitors can use free internet at these locations:
Carnegie Library, South Fork Branch: 31 Mall St, (719) 873-5079
South Fork Visitor Center: 28 Silver Thread Ln (Jct US-160 & CO-149), (719) 873-5512

Bicycles

So that hikers can get around town easily and independently, the Greater South Fork Community Foundation has provided bicycles specifically for use by thru-hikers. The bikes are located at Wolf Creek Ski Lodge, and are available to checkout whenever the lobby is open.

Post Office

US Post Office: 130 W Frontage Rd, (719) 873-5611
Monday – Friday 9 AM – 4 PM, Saturday 9 AM – 10 AM
Wolf Creek Ski Lodge also accepts packages for CDT hikers.

Showers

Alpine Trails RV Park: 111 Wharton Rd, (719) 873-0261. $5 showers for non-guests
Aspen Ridge RV Park: 700 CO-149, (719) 873-2248. $5 showers for non-guests

Laundry

Four Season’s Laundromat: 20 Four Seasons Dr, (719) 873-0165

Information

South Fork Visitor Center: 28 Silver Thread Ln (Jct US-160 & CO-149), (719) 873-5512
Monday – Friday, 8 AM – 5 PM.  Wifi, public restrooms, water, information.

Transportation & Trail Access

Getting Here

The Durango-La Plata Airport, about 2 hours from South Fork, has regional flights.  An hour away in Alamosa, the San Luis Valley Regional Airport flies to Denver on a single airline.  Both airports have rental cars available.

8200 Mountain Sports offers fee-based transportation on a space available basis

Getting Around

Bicycles are available for thru-hikers to use, free of charge, to get around town easily and independently. Purchased by the Greater South Fork Community Foundation, the bikes are located at Wolf Creek Ski Lodge, and are available to checkout whenever the lobby is open. Contact the Visitor Center (Jct US-160 & CO-149, Phone (719) 873-5512) about local transportation.

For additional transportation assistance, contact Karla Roquemore: (719) 850-8932

Continental Divide Trail Access

From Wolf Creek Pass
Highway 160 makes some spectacular alpine sections of the CDT easily accessible. At Wolf Creek Pass, 19 miles south of South Fork, park on the side of the highway near the large Continental Divide kiosk.  On the south side of the highway, the trail takes off behind this kiosk, heading southeast across a small bridge visible from the highway.  You’ll then climb for about a mile through cool spruce and fir forest on the backside of Wolf Creek Ski Area until you reach cleared ski slopes and an open, grassy ridge.  About 2.5 miles from the highway, Alberta Peak’s rocky summit is just a short scramble from the CDT on the peak’s southwest side. Enjoy fantastic views of the surrounding San Juan Mountain’s rugged terrain and Alberta Lake below here at just under 12,000’, then return to the trailhead or continue south. Note that Wolf Creek Pass is at nearly 11,000’ above sea level, and the trail can be snowy well into June. Be conscious of the effects of altitude, particularly if coming from a low-elevation area.

From Elwood Pass
From about mid-June to early fall, Elwood Pass (11,875’) is a popular and scenic access point high in the San Juans. From South Fork, travel southwest on Highway 160 for about 7 miles.  Take a left on Park Creek Rd/Forest Road 380.  Follow the dirt road for about 18 miles to the Forest Service’s Elwood Cabin. This is ¼ mile from the CDT at Elwood Pass – continue to park at the signed pass or stop here.  Take the CDT south from the pass, winding through timber and alpine vegetation.  In just less than 2 miles, you’ll arrive at a small pond. A little further along, a marked trail splits off and descends about 1000’ and 3 miles to the west to Crater Lake, a picturesque spot known for good fishing.  Alternatively, continue straight along the CDT for more high alpine scenery. Keep an eye on the weather: much of this terrain is high, exposed ridgeline – not the place to be in a thunderstorm!

Many thanks to Doug Knudsen with South Fork’s outdoor recreation group, the Silverthreaders, for his assistance and suggestions. He invites you to join them on a hike!

Events & Attractions

Events

Independence Day Celebration
July 3, 2016.  A full day of events, including a fish fry, rodeo, and fireworks.

Rockin’ the Rio Grande Rodeo
July 3 & 16, 2016. Enjoy good old fashioned rodeo fun at South Fork’s Bulls & Broncs rodeo series with barrel racing, saddle bronc, team roping and mutton busting.

Logger Days Festival
July 15, 2016. South Fork celebrates the area’s culture and history during the Logger Days Festival. Events and competitions taking place throughout the weekend celebrate the time-honored tradition of logging, an initial economic draw for the area.  Crowd-favorite competitions include chainsaw carving, the ax throw, the two-man cross cut, and a relay-type race with team members pulled from the audience.

Rhythms on the Rio
August 5-7, 2016. A 3-day music festival with a unique, multi-genre blend of local and national artists.  Not just music! Includes horseshoes, river tubing, yoga, vendors, food, beer, wine, and much more.

Community Bingo
Each Thursday at 7 PM from June – August at the Community Center, on Highway 149 near Alpine Trails Campground. Inexpensive snacks for sale. Visitors are welcomed!

Visit this page for more!

Attractions

Outdoor Activities
Rafting, hiking, fishing, mountain biking, ATVing, camping, horseback riding, skiing, snowmobiling – South Fork is a destination for all things outdoors. 8200 Mountain Sports offers CDT hikers/CDTC members a great discount on half-day rafting trips on the Rio Grande, and the section of the Rio Grande through South Fork also happens to be designated Gold Medal Waters for excellent fishing.

Explore Backroads
Dozens of scenic spots await on the South Fork area’s many byways and backroads.

Massage
While you’re enjoying South Fork’s relaxed atmosphere, make sure to relax those weary hiking muscles too.

Explore more here.

Explore South Fork
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Thanks to Karla Roquemore, South Fork’s Gateway Community Liaison, for her assistance with this webpage.