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Exploring Apishapa State Wildlife Area in Las Animas County

Apishapa Canyon
Apishapa Canyon
Deb Stanley

The state of Colorado protects miles and miles of land in Colorado in the form of state parks, state trust lands, state natural areas and state wildlife areas.

Apishapa Canyon
Deb Stanley

A friend of mine found Apishapa State Wildlife Area on a map and invited a group to go camping and exploring. And when I say exploring, I mean truly exploring. Apishapa has roads, it has canyons and it has wild open scenery. However, it does not have a visitor's center, it does not have marked trails and don't come here when it's raining, because many of the roads are impassible when wet.

Apishapa State Wildlife Area is about 37 miles from Walsenburg in Southern Colorado. While I will give you directions, be aware, the road intersections are sometimes marked and sometimes not. The best advice, stay on what looks like the "main" road and don't turn on any road that says "private land" or "private road."

So what do you here? You explore. Apishapa has an old homestead/ranch area, an overlook, bighorn sheep and canyons.

Basic directions: Take I-25 to exit 50. Turn east on Highway 10 and drive 17 miles to the Apishapa sign. Turn right.

- The old homestead. To visit the old homestead, follow the signs to the "north" section of Apishapa State Wildlife Area. From Highway 10, take the Apishapa turnoff mentioned above and zero your odometer. At the signed intersection for the North and South section, go left toward the North section. Stay on this main road for 15 miles (from Highway 10) until you see the SECOND major sign for Apishapa. Turn right, go over the cattle guard and follow this unnamed (I think) road to the very end (4.8 miles from that signed turn/cattle guard). Around the 4.8 mile mark, you should see a series of homesteads/buildings here (see slideshow).

*Important note, you will pass a sign that warns the final miles are impossible when wet, we can tell you from personal experience, you don't want to drive ANY of these roads when they are wet.

- Canyon hiking. If you want hike, Apishapa Canyon is just below the homestead. It's about 300 feet of down climbing, hiking and scrambling to reach Apishapa Canyon below the homesteads. Once you're in the canyon, you go can up canyon or down canyon for miles. Just make sure you know where to exit the canyon so you can get back to your vehicle.

- The overlook. If you're interested in a great overlook of Apishapa Canyon, you'll want to go to the "south" section of Apishapa. Follow the basic directions above. However, when you get to the first intersection that says "North section" left and "South section" right, turn right and follow the signs for the "South section." Near the end of the road (I'm sorry I didn't get a mileage), after several signed turns (including opening and closing one gate in April 2014), the road eventually ends at an information sign and the overlook. Carefully driven 4-wheel drive vehicles can reach this spot, but it's pretty rough at this point.

I don't recommend trying to scramble from the overlook to the bottom of the canyon. You'll want to hike or drive back a way to find the best place to drop in. And there are no fences here, so keep an eye on the kids and dogs, because the drop-off at the overlook is deadly.

- Bighorn sheep. A sign at the overlook says bighorn sheep like living in this canyon and climbing the walls. One of my camping partners thought he saw three bighorns on one canyon wall, but they can be hard to spot. Bring binoculars if you want to scout the canyon walls for animals.

Learn more about Apishapa Canyon on the Springfield, Colorado website. The state parks' website has a map for Apishapa, but I've been to the park and I can't figure out this map.

In the area, don't miss Picketwire Canyon and the largest collection of dinosaur tracks in the United States. Find many more hiking ideas from across the state in this article.