Looking for a place where you can get your powder fix and catch fish on a fly rod? Head to the little town of South Fork on the east side of Wolf Creek Pass. This tiny town packs a big punch when it comes to deep snow and shimmering fish.
Last winter when we ran our best ski town in Colorado reader poll, South Fork got an avalanche of support, almost beating out Silverton for the top small town spot in our ranking. South Fork? Ok, I confess, I have lived in Colorado for 15 years, and I had never heard of it. Turns out that was my loss, since this little town right near Wolf Creek serves up two of the things I love best: steep, powder skiing and big, healthy trout. Springtime is the ideal season to combine the yin and yang of angling and flying down a mountain. So here’s how to head down to the best little town I didn’t know about and get in on the action.
The town is named after a stream, so it’s no surprise that it’s an angler’s paradise—the big surprise is how little respect the place gets. It’s easily one of the best spots in Colorado for fly-fishing and arguably on a level with famous waters like Utah’s Green, Montana’s Gallatin and Wyoming’s Snake Rivers. The Rio Grande is the centerpiece of South Fork fly fishing. It’s so good that the Colorado Division of Wildlife has designated 20 miles of the stream here as Gold Medal Waters. That designation means that the section of river supports at least 12 trout that are 14 inches or longer per acre on a sustained basis. The hottest stretch runs from the Rio Grande Reservoir to Del Norte, with the very real possibility of landing lunker browns and rainbows right in South Fork itself. This section of river is active in the spring, just when corn snow is forming. If you are not sure of your abilities or just want to get out with a local expert who can key you in on the water and hatches, book a trip with Rio Grande Angler and South Fork Anglers (riograndeangler.net). With a fly (and coffee) shop based in nearby Creede, the guide service offers full-day float trips for $450 or full-day wading trips for $375 (half-day $275).
If you prefer combining your fly casting with a backpacking trip, head to the area’s high lakes in the summer. Perched at 11,720 feet in the Weminuche Wilderness, Archuleta Lake is a seven-mile hike and lies along the Continental Divide Trail. It’s stocked with rainbows, brookies and cutthroat, but it is popular, so you may want to bring an inflatable pack raft, to get out away from the competition on the banks. Hunter’s Lake may not be as remote (just a mile hike in) but you can mountain bike to the fishing here, combining the trail with 9 miles of forest road riding for a fun cycle-and-cast outing.
It’s pretty simple: Wolf Creek receives the most snow in the state, averaging a Utah-ish 430 inches each year. Consider this past fall when the unpretentious resort got dumped on to the tune of 44 inches by the first week of December. There’s a lot of room to breathe and share the powder love here, too, since the closest big population base is Santa Fe, 4 hours south. The place to be on a powder day, or in spring corn ego-snow, is the Alberta lift, which accesses 1,000 acres of steeps, trees and stashes. But it’s the hiking that’s the real highlight here: Bonanza Bowl, accessed from the top of Treasure chair is barely a hike and pays big dividends. The Peak Chutes off of Alberta offer the type of steep thrills you won’t find in Summit County. Horseshoe Bowl is a much longer hike from the top of the Alberta chair, but well worth the effort, and a good place to hunt for freshies post-storm. When the resort has closed and backcountry snow conditions have stabilized, there’s also world-class skiing off Wolf Creek Pass itself—check out Powerline Ridge, The Plunge and The Mainline. wolfcreekski.com
PASS CREEK YURT
If you can only plan one backcountry trip this year, head here. Open year-round, the Pass Creek Yurt rests just below the Continental Divide at 110,250 feet, just three miles southeast of Wolf Creek Pass. It’s a family friendly spot—especially if your family likes to ski pow. The yurt records a whopping 300 days of Colorado sunshine but don’t despair, it’s also graced with up to 40 feet of snow each winter, and serves up countless opportunities for scoring fresh tracks. Additional perks include a wood burning stove, solar-powered lights, comfy futon beds to sleep up to six and the opportunity to take part in avy training through the Wolf Creek Avalanche School. wolfcreekbackcountry.com