Jeep Trail To Bradfield Recreation Area, Lone Dome, McPhee Park & Dolores
As a general rule in the mountains of Colorado, the low elevation dirt roads usually thaw out much earlier than the high elevation Jeep trails. After a winter of drought, trails like the Alpine Loop can be ready for trail riding as early as mid spring, while after a heavy winter snow pack, the dirt roads high up on the mountain may not be clear till sometime in July. After a heavy winter, the shallow water crossings will be like raging whitewater rapids and the danger of rock slide avalanches will be around every corner. There will be plenty of fallen trees to clear and deep mud pits to negotiate after a heavy winter, so doing the trails way up in the mountains will be a roll of the dice till the lingering snow pack disappears.
When the condition of a Jeep trail way up in the mountains is in doubt early in the summer season, the best option is to seek a dirt trail in the lower elevations that is guaranteed to be smooth sailing. Some folks are up to the challenge of driving a 4×4 in very rough dangerous conditions, but most folks would rather not face the ensuing high price repairs and a towing charge that will be heftier than a second mortgage at the end of the day.
There are many great low elevation Jeep Trails in the San Juan Mountains that offer an opportunity to experience destinations that are often overlooked by the mainstream 4×4 crowd. The reason why is because most 4×4 enthusiasts only focus on the Alpine Loop Trails when visiting this region, so there are many lesser known Jeep destinations to be found in these mountains that offer plenty of elbow room. One such lesser known low elevation Jeep destination is the Bradfield Recreation Areas in the western end of the San Juan Mountains, which can look like it is completely forgotten, even on a busy summer season weekend!
There is a dirt road Jeep trail that goes from Dove Creek, Colorado all the way to Dolores in the San Juan Mountains. This long off highway travel route first goes over a few miles of fairly smooth county dirt roads that see plenty of farm truck and gas fracking traffic. The dirt road is smooth all the way to the Bradfield Bridge Lone Dome Recreation Area and Bradfield Campground, so a higher than average ground clearance passenger car can do this section of the trip. The rest of the dirt road touring route to McPhee Park and Dolores is a bit rougher, so a dedicated high ground clearance 2×4 or 4×4 ATV, truck or Jeep is best suited for the second half of the trip. This is especially true in McPhee Park, because the forest roads near the McPhee Reservoir Lake can be nothing but deep mud ruts. The dirt road from McPhee Park to Dolores is also a smooth section, so passenger cars can at least get to this reservoir lake park from the direction of Dolores, which is better than doing a long roadside hike.
The total distance of this route from Dove Creek to Dolores is 46 miles, so be sure to top of the tank before getting the show on the road! The Jeep trail travel route actually starts on Highway 491 about 9 miles east of Dove Creek and the Lone Dome signage is easy to spot. The road to look for is County Road 8 heading north. From the intersection, it is about 5.4 miles of smooth dirt road driving to Bradfield Bridge, where two recreation areas can be found.
At Bradfield Bridge, one side of the road is the Lone Dome Recreation Area and the Lone Dome State Wildlife Area. On the other side of the road is the BLM Bradfield Recreation Area, which is where a fair size campground can be found. The Bradfield Recreation Area offers BLM camping, trout fishing, picnic areas and there is a launch ramp for rafts on the Dolores River. The Lone Dome Recreation Area offers the same venue, minus the camping option, because the Lone Dome side of the road is also managed as a State Wildlife Area. There is a dirt road that follows the Dolores River from the bridge to the heart of the Lone Dome Recreation Area where cultural exhibits can be found, which is a nice side trip.
There is one major difference between which side of the Bradfield Bridge you stand on, if you plan to do some fishing. On the Bradfield side of the bridge, you can catch and eat the fish, while on the Lone Dome Wildlife Area side of the bridge, the rules are strictly catch and release! For this reason, it is best to fish the Dolores River on the Bradfield side of the line if you happen to crave some trout for dinner!
After crossing the Bradfield Bridge, it is a steep uphill climb on County Road 8 to a high plateau where the mountain meadow cattle ranches await in the San Juan National Forest. Cattle are lazing about everywhere along this National Forest road, so it pays to take it slow to keep the ranchers from getting peeved. The road composition through the National Forest section is a mix of gravel and clay dirt, so expect muddy conditions on a rainy day.
There are plenty of picturesque green rolling hill landscapes to be seen in the San Juan National Forest meadow ranch section of this trip, which goes quite a distance to the intersection of State Road 526. State Road 526 is the long dirt road that goes around the east side of the McPhee Reservoir Lake to the final destination in Dolores.
All along SR 526 are side road options going south and west into the McPhee Park and to the navigable deep reservoir lake. There are plenty of widely spaced deep pine forest campsites in McPhee Park, so even on a busy day the camping areas never seem crowded. McPhee Park definitely is in the deep woods, so as mentioned earlier, the roads can be rough and deep ruts are practically guaranteed after a heavy rain. The good thing about this camping area is that the McPhee Reservoir Lake is within walking distance, so cool relief can easily be found on a hot summer day!
Upon exiting McPhee Park on any of the access roads, hopping back on the smooth SR 526 dirt road to Dolores will finish the trip. Dolores is the gateway to the the western end of the San Juan Mountains, the Canyons Of The Ancients National Monument and whitewater rafting adventures on the Dolores River, which runs through town. There are saloons that overlook the river in this town, which are nice places to kick it back after getting off the long dusty trail.
The long 46 mile Jeep trail ride from Dove Creek to Dolores and all points in between may not be quite as exciting as a cliffhanger trail way up in the mountains, but this is not what every off highway driver seeks. As far as Jeep trails are concerned, this is a peaceful easy going drive that goes through several panoramic landscapes that offer opportunities for fishing, camping and hiking adventures. For those who only seek good outdoor places to relax that also offer plenty of elbow room, the Jeep trail from Dove Creek to Dolores is just right for you!