San Miguel River: South Fork Preserve
South Fork Preserve Upstream view of San Miguel River, middle San Miguel Preserve, Colorado. © Harold E. Malde

Places We Protect

San Miguel River South Fork Preserve

Colorado

A striking spot along the San Miguel River.

The Conservancy established its first preserve on the San Miguel River in 1988. The South Fork Preserve, protected in the summer of 1989, was our most recent acquisition. Now, with three preserves and cooperative projects with the Bureau of Land Management and other partners, we have helped protect more than 30 miles of the San Miguel.

Location

Southwestern Colorado: near Telluride

What to Expect

There is a handicap-accessible, 180-foot elevated boardwalk and viewing platform with interpretive signage. There is also a half-mile gravel hiking trail of moderate difficulty.

Fishing

Catch-and-release is allowed, but only with artificial flies and lures.

Why The Conservancy Selected This Site

Because it contains one of the best-known examples of the globally rare narrowleaf cottonwood-Colorado blue spruce/black twinberry plant community. The Conservancy's foremost concern here is preservation of the riparian habitat. Staff and volunteers focus on:

  • Non-native weed control
  • Creating partnerships within the region to promote conservation
  • Educating the local community about riparian plant and animal communities

Why You Should Visit
More than 80 percent of Colorado's wildlife depends on rivers and riverside habitat. The San Miguel, one of the few remaining naturally functioning rivers in the West, supports some of the best riparian (streamside) habitat in the Upper Colorado Basin.

Natural flood cycles and a history of very little development have kept many parts of this river in pristine condition — much as they would have appeared before the state was settled.

Perhaps the most striking of the three Conservancy-protected preserves along the San Miguel, the South Fork Preserve lies below the towering 14,000-foot Wilson Peak of the western San Juan Mountains.

The preserve also fronts a backdrop of several incredible sights, including Ophir Needles, a designated National Natural Landmark, and Ames Wall, which is composed of stratified rock types (granite, sandstone and shale).

When to Visit
Year-round, dawn to dusk

Explore the preserve through a handicap-accessible, 180-foot elevated boardwalk and viewing platform with interpretive signage. Or hike along a half-mile gravel trail of moderate difficulty. Things to see:

Plants

This site plays host to the rare narrowleaf cottonwood-Colorado blue spruce/black twinberry plant community.

Animals
  • Black bear
  • Beaver
  • Mountain lion
  • Peregrine falcon
  • River otter

You could say the ranch is a kind of birder's paradise. The site has been designated as an Important Bird Area by the Audubon Society. To make the most of your trip, consider visiting the two other Nature Conservancy preserves downstream: San Miguel Canyon and Tabeguache.