What to do in Browns Canyon National Monument
The 22,000 acre Browns Canyon National Monument is located between Salida and Buena Vista on the eastern side of the Arkansas River Valley. Characterized by steep granite gorges and rock outcroppings within a healthy piñon-juniper forest, this area provides outstanding year round recreational opportunities for non-motorized travel and exploration. Surrounding the monument however, are thousands of acres of BLM and US Forest Service land that can be enjoyed with motorized and mechanical use like OHV’s and mountain bikes. This area has something for everyone.
Hike Browns Canyon National Monument
The best place to access the monument is from the Ruby Mountain Campground near Nathrop. A 10 mile system of developed hiking trails take the visitor through dry gulches and rock spires to Arkansas River access points and overlooks providing incredible views of the mighty Sawatch and Sangre de Cristo Ranges. The quiet nature of these trails may enable one to spot wildlife like elk, mule deer, bighorn sheep, coyote,mountain lion, and black bear. For a quick 2.5 mile round trip, take the Turret Trail (#6045) to the junction of Little Cottonwood Creek. Hike the dry wash down to the river for a picnic while watching rafters float by. Return the way you came. For the more adventurous, take the Turret Trail to the newly created Catkin Gulch Loop (#6046). This 11.5 mile round trip takes the explorer deep into the backcountry for an unforgettable wilderness experience.
Raft Browns Canyon National Monument
Another way to experience this amazing place is via the Arkansas River. Whether you book a commercial raft trip from one of the many outfitters or go at it on your own, you are guaranteed to have have a unique time. The trip can begin at Fisherman’s Bridge or Ruby Mountain and travels through the deep Browns Canyon with class three rapids eventually ending at Hecla Junction or Stone Bridge. This option allows for great access to the Gold Medal designated fishery of the Upper Arkansas River.
Explore Around Browns Canyon National Monument
Surrounding the monument are miles and miles of maintained trails for motorized and mechanical use. A great loop to explore starts from Ruby Mountain CG continuing up scenic Bald Mountain Gulch (#300). Take a right on trail #185D to the crest of Aspen Ridge for outstanding views of the Arkansas River Valley. A 50” wide ATV trail (#1434) completes this adventurous loop. This very scenic route passes through stands of aspen trees, up and down ridges, and through several gulches before taking the rider back to Ruby Mountain CG. Another remote option traversing below towering Aspen Ridge is the motorized portion of the Turret Trail (#184) accessed from the ghost town of Turret.
History buffs may enjoy exploring little known Railroad Gulch from the town of Turret down to the Arkansas River. During the late 1800’s a narrow gauge railroad ran up the the gulch to the Calumet Mining District in order to take ore to the smelter in Salida to be processed. Remnants of the short lived railroad grade and mining artifacts can be spotted along this narrow cliff lined canyon.
Indeed the Browns Canyon National Monument and surrounding public lands support many types of recreational opportunities both motorized and non-motorized. There is so much to see and do here. Explore the area and find your own secret spot.