Wheeler Geologic Area

Featured Route
in Rio Grande National Forest, CO
  • Total Length
    15mi
  • Ascent
    2,425ft
  • Difficulty
    Difficult

Few landscapes in Colorado are as distinct as the one carved from ancient volcanic tuff (compacted ash) in Wheeler Geologic Area. This route depicts the trail by boot or horseback from East Bellows Trailhead to the formations, feasible as a day trip with preparation and an early enough start. An alternative is the 14 mile drive along FSR 600, a rough stretch only passable by high clearance 4x4 or ATV when it is open. 

Bring a tent and plan to spend the night if you’d like to take a slower pace – dispersed camping is allowed outside the geologic area itself. Stay clear of any dead trees, which may be at risk of falling without warning. 

USFS Page for Wheeler Geologic Area

Get Here
  • Hiking
  • Out & Back
  • Geology
  • Scenic
  • Horseback Riding
Photos
Elevation Profile
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Timeline
1
Trailhead

Camping and restroom facilities are available here. This is a good campsite for horses. Click here for the trailhead page and official URL for more detail. 

Start Hiking
For 7½mi
This area has unfortunately been the victim of the pine beetle and you’ll encounter large areas of dead trees. The route is still a scenic and rewarding one, but one can only imagine its former beauty. It’s the destination that makes this journey most worthwhile.  Biking is allowed up to the creek, which can cut off some distance on foot, but it may not be worthwhile due to fallen trees. 
2
Region

The towers and many other shapes here are the result of tens of millions of years of erosion since large eruptions first covered the area in lava flows and then ash. USGS provides a detailed overview of the various tuff formations at this link.

Continue Hiking
For 7½mi
While this route turns back at the base of the Wheeler loop, a wise choice for any day trip, an additional 2.5 mile loop could take you around the geologic area before heading back.