San Miguel River South Fork Preserve

Open to the Public


Things To Do

Birding, hiking View All

Plan Your Visit

Pack your binoculars! View All

Get Directions

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.


Southwestern Colorado: near Telluride


67 acres

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.


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; and
  • 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:



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



  • Black bear
  • 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.


From Montrose:

  • Take 550 south to Ridgway.
  • Turn right onto 62 West at the light.
  • Continue for about 15 miles, then turn left onto Hwy 145 S towards Telluride.
  • Make a right onto Ilium Valley Road at the bottom of Keystone Hill and follow it until you reach the preserve (about 5 miles).
  • Park on the right. 

From Durango:

  • Follow Hwy 160 West to Mancos.
  • Turn right on 184 towards Dolores.
  • Turn right on Hwy 145 North to Telluride.
  • After you go over Lizard Head Pass and pass Trout Lake, look for a sign on the right at Ophir; turn left towards Ames on FS road 625.
  • You will see the preserve on your left about 1.5 miles down the hill.
  • Park at the second South Fork sign on the left — you will be able to see the boardwalk.

Have you been to this preserve? Are you thinking of visiting? See what others are saying about their experiences and add your comments below.

Add Your Comments

Time for you to join the discussion. Tell us about your experience at this preserve. What plants and animals did you see? When did you go? You can help others plan their visit when you share your thoughts. And thank you for visiting one of our nature preserves!

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