WRC Blog

A New Effort on Colorado’s Rio de los Piños

Mar 27th, 2017  |  Written by Western Rivers Conservancy

A New Effort on Colorado’s Rio de los Piños
Photo by Russ Schnitzer.

Deepening our commitment to Colorado’s San Luis Valley and the upper Rio Grande, Western Rivers Conservancy is preparing to purchase 368 acres along the Rio de los Piños. This high-elevation trout stream flows from nearly 10,000 feet in the San Juan Mountains and descends swiftly toward the San Luis Valley. Below Cumbres Pass, just off the Los Caminos Antiguos Scenic and Historic Byway, the river enters a high plateau and slows to a picture-perfect, meandering trout stream, surrounded by open meadows and mixed conifer forests of spruce and fir.

This stretch of the Rio de los Piños is one of the few places where the stream takes on the gentle, meandering character of a spring creek, and the river teems with big brown and rainbow trout, making for outstanding fishing. As a backdrop, the historic Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railway runs through the valley, giving it an Old West feel. For passengers on the train and travelers along the scenic byway, the Los Piños provides a stunning centerpiece, stitching the mountain scenery together. In winter, the area is a favorite destination for cross-country skiers and snowmobilers.

Accessing some of the area’s best recreational opportunities can be difficult, however, as much of the land along this scenic reach of the Rio de los Piños is private, and portions of the valley have already been divided for home development. Additional development could preclude public access and interrupt the views that make the area so special. WRC’s purchase of the property will ensure that a large swath of land along the river remains pristine and, for the first time in recent memory, open to the public.

Our efforts on the Rio de Los Piños will also protect montane wetlands and a natural pond, both important habitats that attract migratory waterfowl in spring and fall. Conservation of the lands will also protect potential future habitat for Rio Grande cutthroat trout. Although these cold-water native fish no longer inhabit the mainstem Rio de los Piños, they are found at this elevation and could one day repopulate the river or be reintroduced. For that to happen, the Rio de los Piños needs care—and the conservation that WRC is bringing to this scenic valley, high in the Rocky Mountains.