Wolf Creek Pass is a legendary route across the Rockies in southern Colorado’s San Juan Mountains. It lies at 10,856 ft (3,309 m) on the Continental Divide. I’ve driven across the pass several times now and it makes for a great stop along a road trip with sights including Lobo Overlook, Treasure Falls, and fantastic wilderness scenery of the San Juan Mountains. Streams on the east side of the pass are some of the headwaters for the Rio Grande River and on the west side, the San Juan River which eventually meets the Colorado.
The pass was notorious for being a difficult road for truckers and even had a country song written about it by C.W. McCall. Now the road and US 160 is greatly improved here but it can still definitely be dangerous in wintry or white-out conditions.
When travelling west, you climb out of the arid San Luis Valley, which is already fairly high elevation itself, into higher elevation forests following along the South Fork of the Rio Grande River. Near the top of the pass on the eastern side is located the Wolf Creek Ski Area, a great little ski area known for receiving the highest annual snowfall of any in Colorado. At the actual pass summit there is a little parking area and some signs about “The Great Divide”, “History of a Road”, and “Continental Divide Trail”.
Driving to Lobo Overlook
On the other side of the road from the signs and just east of the summit is the entrance to Lobo Overlook with a 3 mile dirt/gravel road leading up – Forest Road #402. It’s an easy, slow drive (4wd not required) that winds about 1.5 miles to the very top of the 11,760 ft unnamed peak north of Wolf Creek Pass. In winter, snowmobilers take this same route to the top. If you want to go on foot, you can hike the road up, or hike the Continental Divide Trail which starts just west of the road and tracks just west of the overlook. By the way, heading south on the Continental Divide Trail lets you head up the ridge to the summit of Alberta Peak, the top of Wolf Creek Ski Area.
Once you get a chance to look around, you’ll find great views of the San Juans all around. There aren’t many places where you can drive to the top of a high elevation mountain on the Continental Divide!
What’s at the Top?
At Lobo Overlook you can see the surrounding peaks of the San Juan Mountains and lands that lie within the San Juan National Forest (including Weminuche Wilderness) and Rio Grande National Forest. Near the parking area, there is a vault toilet, some picnic tables, and a roughly fenced overlook area.
Depending on the time of year, you may see snow up there and in the surrounding mountains, abundant wildflowers, and wildlife such as deer. As you walk around and poke your head in different directions, you’ll probably notice one thing that’s missing at the top – a fair amount of oxygen 🙂 There is also a neat geocache nearby if you’re so inclined.
Other Nearby Sights
Back on the main road, partway down the pass on the west side, there is a good overlook that allows you to look down on the scenic valley that leads toward Pagosa Springs. The overlook is perched on some interesting volcanic formations as well. Further down the road west, there is a pullout and a parking area that gives access to the short trail to beautiful Treasure Falls. I saw Treasure Falls in March and the waterfall was about 70% ice and 30% cascading water. The falls probably have quite a spectrum of appearances throughout the seasons.