Sometimes I have the issue of being a “yes man”. I end up driving halfway across the state on a whim just because someone put the bright idea in my head that I ought to spend yet another weekend adventuring random places out in the great outdoors. I guess you could call that a good weekend (but kind of run-of-the-mill for my crew and I). Sure beats sitting on the couch. Also beer, for some odd reason, tastes way better in the great Colorado outdoors than in my house.
So it turns out it is quite nice, even in the late season, in the Buena Vista area. The whole area on the eastern side of the Arkansas River Valley is a semi-arid desert environment. It is notably drier on this side of the valley with a notable abundance of desert-type fauna which echoes that of the western slope and southwest Colorado. This is because the 14,000ft Collegiate Peaks on the western side of the valley provide a rain shadow.
Forest Road 311, in San Isabel National Forest, United States of America, grants you excellent access to a nice area just east of town. Also known as Sevenmile Creek Road. No, not that other Sevenmile Creek Road in Larimer County. (On another note, do you know how many “Beaver Creeks” there are in Colorado?) You literally take a side road out of town and it turns into a county road, and the rest is history. I’ve done the Lenhardy Cutoff a few years back, before I bothered to write about these sorts of things, but it turns out there is a nice little parallel road to that one which makes for a day of fun. I also ran Lenhardy Cutoff around the same time as this one, read about it here. Road 311 is part of a larger network in this area bounded on the east and south by the highway, on the west by the town of Buena Vista, and on the north by Marmot Peak.
It’s actually quite the nice little road that takes you over the ridge and connects Buena Vista to U.S. Highway 285/24 just near Trout Creek Pass. For reference, the highways are concurrent from their junction in South Park until Buena Vista. Sevenmile Creek Rd. is part of the Fourmile Recreation Area just to the east of Buena Vista. Look on the sidebar for more information.
Sevenmile Creek Rd. is actually quite a bit easier and less challenging (sans one short water crossing which is usually shallow), than the Lenhardy Cutoff just to the south. There are steep sections but if you can make it up I-70 from town at 75mph or whatever, you can certainly make it up the steep but wide maintained gravel road at 30mph. Low range, or even 4WD is not required on this road unless it’s really, really muddy or snowy. I wouldn’t recommend offroading in deep snow, anyway (ask me how I know).
The eastern portion of Sevenmile Creek is actually part of the Lenhardy Cutoff. You can also access it via 375A, which is a spur just to the north of the beginning of Lenhardy Cutoff/376.
Heading eastbound on Sevenmile Creek Rd/311, you’re gradually winding up and down the hills. You’re at a higher elevation overall than the Lenhardy Cutoff, and as a result are afforded magnificent views of the Collegiate Peaks, Buena Vista, and the Arkansas River Valley, through the majority of the eastern approach to the ridge before descending to 309/U.S. Highways 24/285.
As mentioned earlier, Sevenmile Creek Rd. is a quite nice road overall. There aren’t that many problematic rocks, although it is bumpy in some spots. My friends in a new Jeep “Cherokee” and an ancient Ford Explorer, both stock, made it just fine. We saw some Subarus too. Case in point:
The one creek crossing isn’t that severe outside of the runoff season. It might be more problematic in the early spring/during peak runoff. Though, since it’s overall drier on this side of the valley, there isn’t nearly as much runoff as, say, a tributary of the Arkansas River coming down from the high Collegiate Peaks. This side of the valley doesn’t see that much snow.
At the bottom of the valley over the ridge, you can actually see U.S. Highways 24/285 (concurrent from South Park until Johnson Village just south of Buena Vista). Road 309 runs north-south at a signed junction. Right here will take you to the Lenhardy Cutoff to get back to Buena Vista, straight will take you to the highway, and continuing past the turn for Lenhardy Cutoff will take you to the highway as well. Left takes you to some more offroad trails such as Salt Creek and Buffalo Peaks wilderness access.
This life, this life we live is the only one we are ever going to get. What our lives are, are what we make of them. Attitude is everything. Our choices make us. It is a choice, to fill your life with adventures or settle for mediocrity. Remember, a person of inaction is a person who lives for nothing. A person of action is a person of character. The choice that separates those who seek a life of adventure, and those that settle for a life of routine and repetitiveness is one of the most important choices one will make. Do not ever let anyone convince you that you have no options. (Obligatory deep, cheesy, philosophical rant)