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Wolf Creek Pass

Wolf Creek Pass goes through the heart of the Eastern San Juan Mountains. This Continental Divide crossing is a favorite X country ski destination in late fall and early summer, when the snow lingers long into the hot days. Traditionally the area often gets the state's largest snow fall amounts. In the winter of 1978/79 over 70 feet of snow were logged.

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1.(mile00,7080ft) START-FINISH SOUTH: Pagosa Springs
2.(mile23,10850ft) TOP: Wolf Creek Pass
3.(mile30,9220ft) dirt road ascending Pass Creek joins from right
4.(mile36,8480ft) dirt road ascending Park Creek joins from right
5.(mile43,8200ft) START-FINISH NORTH: South Fork


From South. A wide fast road with a good shoulder leads to the summit. About eight miles below the summit the road does two very large radius switchbacks. At the summit road signs warn of these "dangerous curves", which cyclists still can take without using brake pads. Still - these two curves and the vantage points they give on the scenery are the most distinctive part of this pass. There are good views of west fork of the San Juan River below. After that it's grinding climb on the wide shoulder of broad highway with several waterfalls tempting the touring cyclist to admit that this is not a race and stop. 

From North From South Fork there is no sign of the high mountains to the south. Following the south fork of the Rio Grande, the valley seems to deepen gradually. The first part of this climb has no shoulder and traffic can be dangerous. This changes when the road passes a trailhead on the north side, several miles after the junction with the Park Creek forest road. It is a mystery to me why the shoulder happens to start at this point.

The road now goes through a short tunnel and then later a little longer gallery tunnel. The slopes on the side of the road seem gradual and subdued, considering this is the heart of the Eastern San Juan Mountans. When the road passes the ski area, you are almost at the top. From the gentle wide summit and interesting foot trail heads south, following the continental divide. It climbs a small knoll of a mountain above the ski area, which is a great vantage point onto higher peaks to the south.

A Dayride with this point as intermediate summit is on page: Elwood Pass

Three Day Road Tour. Wolf Creek Pass has been the finishing touch of many a Memorial Day weekend tour, conducted by the Denver Bicycle Touring Club and later the Heartcycle Club. The first day of this tour begins in Alamosa and leads over La Manga and Cumbres Passes to Chama, New Mexico, once measuring 87 miles. The second day ends in Pagosa Springs, 79 miles. The last day constitutes a 90 mile return to Alamosa and includes this pass. Sometimes car shuttles have been used to shorten the first or last days. (m1:86.05.26).

One Week (Very) Large Group Ride: (<Red Mountain Pass|Yellowjacket Pass>):  The Denver Posts "Ride the Rockies" crossed Wolf Creek Pass three times between 86 and 05, during 91 96 and 02. The day's stage was Pagosa Springs to Alamosa or reverse, covering all of 89, 90 or 99 advertised miles, depending on what year's tour description you believe.


Hayden Survey (<Elwood Pass|Hayden Pass>): In 1873 the nearby mining boom in Summitville was in full swing. A subgroup of the Hayden Survey examined this pass as part of the passes around that area.

Modern Highways (Raton Pass>): When viewing this area from today's highway, the area immediately surrounding the pass road does not make a particularly vertical impression. The road was surveyed by an army lietenanat in the 1870s, but  reportedly he gave up, because the terrain was too rough. Instead the military used nearby Elwood Pass, something that is difficult to comprehend from just touring the terrain today.

After main invented the car, he needed a place to drive it. And so his interest returned to Wolf Creek Pass. Modern road building became a larger priority than in the days of the quaint, but slow horse drawn carriage. So strong was the desire for good roads that it became a national priority. And where there is priority there is money. In 1907 president Roosevelt backed a plan to spend 25 percent of national forest gross income on automobile roads through the forests. Several pass roads were already automobile fit before it became a national priority, amongst them Ute Pass near Colorado Springs and Old La Veta Pass. 

In 1913 the Colorado Highway Comission received federal funds for its first major project, and together with the forest service started work Wolf Creek Pass. Wolf Creek Pass received no noticeable use prior to 1913. Now it became the frist designated automobile route crossing the continental divide. It formed a connecting link for automobile travel between the Front Range and Durango, and was given the name "The Spanish Trail". The entire route that was being made travel fit was Walsenburg, La Veta Pass, Fort Garland, Del Norte, Durango and onwards to the newly created Mesa Verde National Park.

Wolf Creek Pass (Summary)

Elevation/Highest Point:
10850 ft
Southern Approach:

from Pagosa Springs (7080ft)
23+1/2 miles
Western Approach:

from South Fork (8200ft)
18+1/2 miles
from junction with Park Creek road (8480ft)
12 miles