Powderhorn Wilderness

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Powderhorn Wilderness
Calf Creek Plateau, Powderhorn Wilderness, Hinsdale County, Colorado, USA 02.jpg
Calf Creek Plateau, the highest summit in the Powderhorn Wilderness.
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Location Hinsdale / Gunnison counties, Colorado, USA
Nearest city Gunnison, CO
Coordinates 38°6′N107°11′W / 38.100°N 107.183°W / 38.100; -107.183 Coordinates: 38°6′N107°11′W / 38.100°N 107.183°W / 38.100; -107.183 [1]
Area62,050 acres (251.1 km2)
EstablishedJanuary 1, 1993
Governing body Bureau of Land Management / U.S. Forest Service

The Powderhorn Wilderness is a 62,050-acre (251.1 km2) wilderness area in Hinsdale and Gunnison Counties, Colorado, USA, located 5 miles (8.0 km) northeast of Lake City. Most of the northern part of the area, 48,115 acres (194.71 km2), about 77.5%, is located on Bureau of Land Management land and its southern portion, 13,935 acres (56.39 km2), about 22.5%, is located within the Gunnison National Forest. Elevations in the wilderness range from 8,500 feet (2,600 m) at the West Fork Powderhorn Creek to 12,661 feet (3,859 m) at the summit of Calf Creek Plateau. [2] [3] [4]


The Powderhorn is an important watershed for the Gunnison River. The area protects the East, Middle, and West forks of Powderhorn Creek, which merge and then have a confluence with Cebolla Creek. Calf Creek, which is on National Forest land flows south and eventually joins the Lake Fork Gunnison River that also flows into the Gunnison via Lake City. Within the area there are numerous small lakes and beaver ponds. The largest of these are Devil's Lake and Powderhorn Lake.

Much of the area sits above timberline at 12,000 feet (3,700 m) and it is recognized as one of the largest expanses of tundra in the contiguous United States. [5] [6]


Basaltic rock of the Hinsdale Formation. Devils Lake, the largest lake in the Powderhorn Wilderness, is in the distance. Devils Lake, Powderhorn Wilderness, Hinsdale County, Colorado, USA.jpg
Basaltic rock of the Hinsdale Formation. Devils Lake, the largest lake in the Powderhorn Wilderness, is in the distance.

The Powderhorn Wilderness is within the San Juan volcanic field and volcanic rocks dominate the region. The central, highest terrain of the wilderness is composed of basaltic lava flows of the Hinsdale Formation, which are dated at 16 to 19 million years old. These lava flows are thought to be among the last volcanic events in the area and are some of the best preserved. The Hinsdale Formation lava flows form an expansive alpine highland where the two highest ridges are Calf Creek Plateau and Cannibal Plateau. [7] [8]

Underlying these basalt flows are sheets of older volcanic rocks that are exposed around the periphery of the wilderness. From youngest to oldest, these rocks include Cochetopa Park Tuff, Nelson Mountain Tuff, Carpenter Ridge Tuff, and Fish Canyon Tuff. The volcanic ash that formed these tuffs came from Oligocene eruptions within the San Juan volcanic field. These eruption sites are the Cochetopa Caldera, San Luis Caldera, Bachelor Caldera, and La Garita Caldera, respectively. On the northern and western reaches of the wilderness there are yet older volcanic rocks exposed. These Oligocene lavas and breccias have been dated at 32 million years old. [7] [8]

The Powderhorn Wilderness was glaciated, and the most prominent glacial cirques are located on the north side of the wilderness. Powderhorn Lakes, popular hiking destinations, are located in one of these cirques. [7] [5]

Flora and fauna

Wildflowers in a subalpine meadow within the Powderhorn Wilderness. Powderhorn Wilderness (9470231399).jpg
Wildflowers in a subalpine meadow within the Powderhorn Wilderness.

Half of the Powderhorn Wilderness is above tree line and the alpine tundra here is dominated by grasses and forbs, though there are also extensive thickets of willow. Below, the subalpine forest is dominated by Engelmann spruce and subalpine fir, and interspersed are numerous subalpine meadows of grasses and forbs. There are also stands of aspen. At lower elevations, particularly in the northern extension of the wilderness, montane forests occur and ponderosa pine is often dominate. Sagebrush steppe becomes increasingly common at lower elevations, particularly on drier hillsides. [5] [6]

The wilderness serves as important summer range for mule deer and elk. Other mammals include mountain lions, black bears, bobcats, coyotes, martens, marmots, and pikas. [6]


Powderhorn Lakes. Powderhorn Wilderness (9470187153).jpg
Powderhorn Lakes.

Travel through the wilderness is limited to those on foot and horseback. There are six trailheads that provide access to the wilderness. To the west is the Devils Creek Trailhead (8,478 feet (2,584 m)). Along the north and northeast boundary are the Powderhorn Lake (11,143 feet (3,396 m)) and Ten Mile Spring (9,327 feet (2,843 m)) trailheads. And to the south are the Deer Lakes (10,444 feet (3,183 m)), Brush Creek (9,926 feet (3,025 m)), and Powderhorn Park (9,047 feet (2,758 m)) trailheads. These trailheads provide access to 45 miles (72 km) of interconnecting trails allowing multiple options for trips in the wilderness. [5] [6] [9]

The most popular destination in the wilderness is Powderhorn Lakes. These two lakes are nestled in a beautiful glacial cirque, and the 4.8-mile (7.7 km) trip one-way is well worth the effort. Start at the Powderhorn Lake Trailhead and take the well-maintained Powderhorn Lakes Trail south to the lakes. The upper lake is at an elevation of (11,860 feet (3,615 m)). Given the popularity of this trail, those seeking remoteness and more solitude may find other trails and destinations more rewarding. [5] [6] [9]

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La Garita Caldera

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Cannibal Plateau

Cannibal Plateau is a summit in Hinsdale County, Colorado in the United States. The broad 12,533-foot (3,820 m) mountain is located in the San Juan Mountains and within the Powderhorn Wilderness, a protected area managed by the Bureau of Land Management Gunnison Field Office and the Gunnison National Forest.

Hermosa Creek Wilderness Wilderness Area in Colorado, United States

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Cochetopa Dome is a mountain in the San Juan Mountains, in Saguache County, Colorado. The 11,138 ft (3,395 m) mountain is located in the Gunnison National Forest.

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Gunsight Pass is a high mountain pass in the Sawatch Range of the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. It is located in Gunnison County and in the Fossil Ridge Wilderness, which is managed by the Gunnison National Forest. The pass is at an elevation of 12,185 feet (3,714 m)) on a ridge connecting Square Top Mountain to the west and Broncho Mountain to the east. It divides the watersheds of Brush Creek to the north and Lamphier Creek to the south.

Calf Creek Plateau Mountain in the northern San Juan Mountains of the Rocky Mountains of North America

Calf Creek Plateau is a mountain in the northern San Juan Mountains of the Rocky Mountains of North America. The mountain is located in Hinsdale County, and at an elevation of 12,661 feet (3,859 m), it is the high point of the Powderhorn Wilderness.


  1. "Powderhorn Wilderness". Geographic Names Information System . United States Geological Survey . Retrieved August 12, 2012.
  2. "Powderhorn Wilderness". Wilderness.net. Archived from the original on July 1, 2012. Retrieved August 12, 2012.
  3. "Powderhorn Wilderness Area". Colorado Wilderness. Retrieved August 12, 2012.
  4. "Powderhorn Wilderness". Public Lands Information Center. Retrieved August 12, 2012.
  5. 1 2 3 4 5 Pearson, Mark; Fielder, John (2005). The Complete Guide to Colorado's Wilderness Areas (2nd ed.). Englewood, Colorado: Westcliffe Publishers. ISBN   978-1-56579-516-7.
  6. 1 2 3 4 5 Warren, Scott S. (2002). Exploring Colorado's Wild Areas: A Guide for Hikers, Backpackers, Climbers, X-C Skiers, and Paddlers (2nd ed.). Seattle, Washington: The Mountaineers. ISBN   0898867843.
  7. 1 2 3 Steven, T. A.; Hail, W. J., Jr. (1989). Geologic map of the Montrose 30' X 60' quadrangle, southwestern Colorado. Reston, Virginia: U.S. Geological Survey. Retrieved 12 February 2021.
  8. 1 2 Lipman, Peter W.; Steven, Thomas A.; Luedke, Robert G.; Burbank, Wilber S. (1973). "Revised Volcanic History of the San Juan, Uncompahgre, Silverton, and Lake City Calderas in the Western San Juan Mountains, Colorado". Journal of Research of the U.S. Geological Survey. 1 (6): 627–642. Retrieved 16 February 2021.
  9. 1 2 Trailhead and trail information is available at Colorado Trail Explorer. This includes information on the Powderhorn Lake Trailhead and the Powderhorn Lakes Trail. Off-trail distances can also be computed. Accessed 16 February 2021