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Places: Droney Gulch State Wildlife Area

Photos and article by Mike Rosso

Folks who drive U.S. Highway 285 from Poncha Springs to Buena Vista have passed by the interpretive sign on the west side of the highway titled “Christmas 1806.” It describes Zebulon Pike’s expedition as it passed through the Upper Arkansas Valley and how the hunting party shot eight buffalo and feasted on Christmas Day near the mouth of Squaw Creek, a half mile to the south. The following day the party camped at Big Bend along the Arkansas River.

Located next to the interpretive sign are several sheltered picnic tables and additional interpretive signs describing Pike’s explorations, along with those of General Juan Bautista de Anza who recorded the first crossing of Poncha Pass to the south.

At this rest stop is one of several entrances to the Droney Gulch State Wildlife Area (SWA). The 2,949-acre SWA is open to the public from September 1 through February 28 and open for deer, elk and small game hunting during hunting season.

Access to the SWA is by foot or horseback only; no motor vehicles or bicycles are allowed at any time. Overnight camping and fires are also prohibited. Behind a gate begins a sandy path which leads west into the gulch. At first, the trail begins in a meadow sparsely populated with piñon and juniper trees, but as you get deeper into the gulch, you’ll find Spruce and Ponderosa trees and a more varied ecosystem.

The trail is a gradual climb and eventually reaches an old two-track which winds around and up to the south and east, eventually topping off on a large mesa with incredible views of all the surrounding mountain ranges and the valley floor.

Colorado’s State Wildlife Areas are state- or privately-owned lands that offer state-managed, wildlife-related recreation to the public.

While most activities focus on hunting and  fishing, each SWA has different allowed activities based on location and available resources.

These parcels of SWA land are paid for by sportsmen and sportswomen, and managed under state law by Colorado Parks and Wildlife employees for the benefit of wildlife. Colorado Parks and Wildlife manages about 350 SWA lands around the state.

The Droney Gulch SWA is surrounded on several sides by private land, so please be mindful if you choose to explore this diverse landscape.


ENTRANCE 1: From the junction of Hwys. 50 and 285, go four miles north to County Road 251-1. (NOTE: The first mile of this road is private property. After entering BLM land, the SWA can be accessed for the next two miles, through BLM land and SWA property.)

ENTRANCE 2: About One mile north of CR 251-1 is an access point on U.S. Hwy. 285, a “Point of Interest” site about Zebulon Pike. There is parking and a gate into the east portion of Droney Gulch.