Visitors are often attracted to the natural and rugged beauty of Del Norte, as were the first Europeans to settle the area from Northern New Mexico in the late 1850’s. Beginning its history with agriculture and wool production, this area quickly changed in the late summer and fall of 1870 when gold was discovered in the Summit district. Del Norte became the county seat when Rio Grande County was formed in 1876. The late 19th and early 20th centuries were a boom-time with the town providing supplies to the San Juan mines and towns to the west.
Today the mines are gone and the once rough and ready Del Norte is a town frozen in time. The shops that once supplied the mining needs of western Colorado, today provide a unique shopping experience featuring antiques, sporting goods, and fine gifts. For a glimpse into the past, visit the recently restored Windsor Hotel.
The Rio Grande County Museum and Cultural Center offers displays and programs on the area’s cultural and natural history as well as featuring regional artists. The River Walk along the Rio Grande gives young and old alike the chance to enjoy the great outdoors on a paved, handicapped accessible sidewalk
As the Gateway to the San Juan Mountains, Del Norte is an ideal location to start your Rocky Mountain Vacation. Fire and Ice formed and shaped the San Juan Mountains into a spectacular landscape for rock climbing, hiking, mountain biking, and ATV’s. Winter now transforms the landscape into an ideal area for backcountry skiing, snowshoeing, and snowmobiling.
For a quiet time with a chance to experience starry nights and get away from the “fast lane”, come and enjoy the unsurpassed, year round magic of Del Norte.
Pfeiffer’s Grave and Freemont’s Camp Colonel Pfeiffer was a tough but understanding man during a time when no white man was trusted by Native Americans, however through his kind heart he was taken into their community and buried with honor. Freemont’s Camp is the site of an ill-fated group of settlers caught by snowstorms and stranded in the San Juan Mountains.
Natural Arch, Wagon Trails, and Elephant Rocks The Natural Arch was formed by the action of wind, rain and weather on a volcanic dome. The Elephant Rocks are part of the Fish Canyon tuff; volcanic ash welded together over time and has been determined to be at least 28.8 million years old. While the origin of the Wagon tracks is still greatly debated it is believed that these tracks were cut into the soft volcanic tuff by the action of Conestoga wagon wheels.
Penitente Canyon “Rock Climbing” Penitente Canyon served as a place of worship for a small sect of the Catholic Church known as Los Hermanos Penitente. In some areas you can see historic/religious painting left behind on the rocks. Originally named for its seclusion over recent years this area has emerged as one of the state’s premier sport climbing areas. The Canyon and Rock Garden has a variety of bolted climbing routes with a difficulty level of 5.8 to 5.13. This area also includes Shaw Springs with 30 technical routes ranging in difficulty from 5.1 to 5.13.
Rio Grande County Museum Located in Del Norte, which is also the county seat, the museum is open year round. Started in 1961 the museum moved to its current location on Oak Street in 1987 where it now features a gallery of contemporary as well as historic exhibits. Including Native American rock art, History on Hispanic settlers, horno baking, fur trappers, the search for land, freedom, gold and silver. Other museums in the area include: Transportation of the West Museum, in Monte Vista, Home Lake Veterans Center Museum
Lookout Mountain Lookout Mountains non-motorized trails are open to hikers, runners, bicyclists, and equestrians and provide diverse experiences. The more difficult one mile trail to the summit has an elevation gain of 600 feet with wonderful craggy switchbacks near the top. Its breathtaking summit view displays the entire San Luis Valley and the Upper Rio Grande corridor. Mid way and at the base of the mountain are nearly four miles of looping trails, which are easy to moderate in difficulty. They are flanked by sage, cedar, rabbit brush, prickly pear cactus, yucca, grama grass, Indian paintbrush, and many other wild flowers. The trails also connect the town to BLM land on the south and to the Rio Grande Hospital and Medical Center on the west.
Hiking From the open valley floor to the surrounding mountain tops, we have a variety of terrain, scenery and ability levels available on more than 20 trails in the area. The Del Norte Trail Organization is a group of like-minded individuals who want sustainable world-class trail experiences in Rio Grande Country and the Western San Luis Valley, working to improve, expand and connect our regional trail systems. For specific trail information please contact South Fork, Del Norte, or Monte Vista for descriptions and maps. The Silver Thread Outdoor Recreation Club sponsors group hikes from the South Fork Visitors Center each week, and love to take new comers along. Trail Maps are available.
Camping Tents, RV’s or sleeping under the stars, no matter what your choice, camping is easy in Rio Grande County. We have 10 National Forest campgrounds and numerous privately owned RV parks and campgrounds in the area. For a complete lodging list, click here.
Four-Wheeling (Jeeps, ATV’s, Dirtbikes) Surrounded by 2 million acres of National Forest opportunity abounds with endless miles of forest service roads and trails to wander down. ATV’s and dirt bikes can also find adventure on any of the 8 trails located in the area. Please consult a current forest service map for open roads and trails. The Silver Thread Outdoor Recreation Club takes group rides from the South Fork Visitors Center. They welcome anyone to join them on a ride for great scenery, friendship and tons of fun. FREE TRAIL MAPS ARE AVAILABLE. However, we also strongly recommend serious travelers purchase a Rio Grande Forest Service map for the most current details.