Carson  
Maps:    
USGS 7.5' Map: Finger Mesa
Statistics:
Difficulty: Number: Miles: Altitude: Obstacles: Time:
Easy 4 FR 518 11.3 10,640 to 13,200 ft. Steep climbs - 1 3-4 hours
County: Hinsdale
Adopted by:      
Managed by: Rio Grande National Forest
Divide Ranger District
13308 West Hwy 160
Del Norte, CO 81132
719-657-3321
Summary: Carson is an easy 4WD road through some remote country to the ghost town of Old Carson on the Continental Divide. It has two side routes that access Heart Lake and Kitty Creek overlook, where elk hang out.
Attractions: Scenic views, wildlife viewing, ghost town.
Seasonal
Closure:
Agency - March 15 to May 15
Best Time: June - Upper section may still be snowed in
July - Best
August - Best
September - Best
October - Watch for early snows
Trail Heads
Accessed:
Garita Stock Driveway/Colorado Trail (Foot)
FT 821 - (Motorcycle, ATV)
Camping: There are a few dispersed sites at the southern end of the Carson 4WD road and a few higher up near timberline.
Base Camp: This would not be a good area to base camp. Other 4WD roads are futher away.
Fall Colors: Average - The southern end of the Carson 4WD road runs through small stands of aspen.
Navigation: From Creede, CO head west on West on CO-149 N for 23.2 miles. Turn left onto County Rd 10 / Forest Service Rd 515 and go 4.0 miles. Turn right onto Forest Service Rd 516 and go 3.9 mile. Turn left onto Forest Service Rd 518, the Carson 4WD road.

From Lake City, CO head south on CO-149 S for 27.2 miles. Turn right onto County Rd 10/Forest Service Rd 515 and go 4.0 miles. Turn right onto Forest Service Rd 516 and go 3.9 miles. Turn left onto Forest Service Rd 518, the Carson 4WD road.
History: Christopher J. Carson discovered traces of gold on the continetal divide several years before he staked the Bonanza King and several other claims. The Carson mining district was organized in 1881 at the head of Wager Gulch on the north and the head of Lost Trail creek on the south. In 1882 a camp was started on both sides of the divide named after Christopher. The upper camp was high above timberline just below the divide while the lower camp at the head of Wager Gulch was situated in a meadow among pines. During the 1880s and early 1890s Carson was very active with several mines; the Chandler, the Legal Tender, the Kit Carson, the George III, Duderber, Iron Mask, Cresco, the St. John's, Maid of Carson, and St. Jacob's.

To get the ore out of Carson a road was needed. One was started from Lake City, but it took until 1887 to reach the town. After the silver crash of 1893 Carson was quiet until 1896 when more gold claims were discovered. In 1898 the St. Jacob's was the best producer of high grade ore with a single year's record of $190,000. A boarding house was erected and a smelter put in with four to five hundred people living in the camp. The Bachelor mine was also a large producer in close proximity to "new" Carson in Wager Gulch. It continued to produce until 1910. But for the two towns, by the end of 1902 they had become practically abandoned.
Description:
The Carson 4WD road starts easy as you leave Forest Service Rd 516 and work your way down through the trees to a wide flat open area. This is the west end of the valley that contains Pearl Lakes and Castle Rock Lake. You will weave through a field of rocks and large boulders as you cross to the other side of the valley. Once you are to the other side the road climbs up through the trees going through small openings that give you limited views of the surrounding mountains.
Crossing the valley

photo by:
Adam M

After climbing up out of the valley for about a mile you will come to an intersection. To the right is FR518.1A which goes through a large area of alpine shrub. This is the area where elk will be. To the left is the continuation of FR518. After approximately three quarters of a mile is another intersection with FR 518.1B to the left which goes just over a half mile to the top of a ridge overlooking Heart Lake where it dead ends. To the right is the continuation of FR 518, which shortly connects back with FR 518.1A. Stay to the left to continue on FR 518.

If you take FR 518.1A it will do a loop to the north of FR 518 and come back to the main road. It runs through low brush that is great habitat for elk. At the northern end of the loop you will climb up to the top of the rim of Kitty Creek where you can look down into Kitty Creek and off to the west toward Coney Peak. This whole area can have multiple elk herds wandering through. Bring a set of gook binoculars and scan the slopes for these large herds. This is also a good area to stop for lunch.
Climbing out of the elk habitat onto Coney Mountain

photo by:
Adam M

When FR 518.1A connects back with FR 518 continue right, up hill, to climb up the side of Coney Mountain. This is the only real challenge as you have to go straight up the mountain to a flat area. Once on top you will have views of the Continental Divide and the surrounding mountains.
View from the side of Coney Mountain

photo by:
Adam M

You will run along the rim of Lost Trail Creek canyon as you work your way to the top of the Continental Divide near Coney Mountain. The next intersection is with the Garita Stock Driveway and the Continental Divide Trail. You will take a left and drop down a steep section to the head of Lost Trial Creek where the ghost town of Old Carson sits. The ghost town of New Carson is on the north side of the saddle in a narrow valley.
Road down to Old Carson

photo by:
Adam M

The town site is spread out among the few tailings that are visible in the valley.
Old Carson town site

photo by:
Adam M

There are a few old cabins and the remains of mining equipment.
Cabin

photo by:
Adam M

Winch and boiler

photo by:
Adam M

Data updated: December 20, 2013        4WD Road driven: September 3, 2010        Copyright 4X4Explore.com - 2000-2014