Near Ridgway, CO
For a landscape photographer, the Dallas Divide is one of the great American vistas. The combination of rolling hills, colorful underbrush and golden Aspens serve as a perfect foreground to the grandeur that is the San Juan Mountain range. And during the peak fall season, this location will simply take your breath away.
The first time I heard about the Dallas Divide was on the last day of a week long photo trip with some friends. They described the place as beautiful but it will be packed with photographs at sunrise. I was tired from the long week and almost didn’t go, but I got up early and drove to the Dallas Divide. Experiencing this place at sunrise on a cool fall morning will simply take your breath away… and is an absolute MUST if you are in southwest Colorado in the fall.
Trail Difficulty - EASY
I would rate the difficulty of this trail as a 1 on a scale of 1-5 (with 5 being most difficult). The location of this shot is an easy 50 yd walk from the parking lot directly off of CO-HW62. Please note, there is a fence that divides the parking lot from the land and clearly states, “no trespassing”. The owner, Ralph Lauren (Double RL Ranch) takes this sign seriously.
Download KMZ Trail File
Click Here to download the KMZ file for this location.
GPS Coordinates & Elevation
8,701 Ft. Elevation
Google Maps Birds-Eye-View
Click link above to view location in Google Earth
The following directions are from Ridgway, CO (which is a small town in Southwest Colorado). The closest larger towns are Montrose, CO (about 25 miles north of Ridgway) or Durango, Co (about 80 miles south of Ridgway).
From Ridgway, travel west on CO HW62 for approx. 8.5 miles and look for a nice sized gravel parking lot on the south side of the road (just past mile marker 14). The parking lot holds about 50 cars. The shot above was taken on the far right side of the parking lot – down close to the fence.
Best Time of Day to Shoot
For me, the best time to shot the Dallas Divide is at sunrise to capture the scene just as the peaks of the San Juan Mountains glow red from the first light of the sun. Other times would be to shot this location is in early morning after the whole valley is illuminated (but before the sun gets too high and blows out the scene) or potentially at sunset.
Best Time of Year to Shoot
The Dallas Divide is a spectacular location to visit or photograph any time of year. However, the best time to capture this spot is during the fall color season (depending on the year – this ranges between the last week in Sept - 1st week in October). The VERY BEST time to capture this spot in all its glory is: 1) during peak fall colors, 2) after a fresh snowstorm and 3) on a morning with clouds to give the location extra drama.
On most fall mornings (sunrise), there will be between 10-200 photographers at this location. To get the best spot, you may want to arrive an hour or so before sunrise.
The above shot was taken on September 25th
What Lens(es) Do You Need
For most people, this shot is best as a grand vista, which would require very wide-angle lens (16-24mm). The shot above was done as a 3 horizontal pano stitch with a 50mm lens to capture as much detail as possible.
There are no permits required – as long as you stay on the road side of the fence. As noted, there are several “no trespassing” signs along the fence that divides the parking lot from the land and the owner, Ralph Lauren (Double RL Ranch) takes this seriously.
Direction of the Shot
The shot from the parking lot is mainly due south. Depending on where you stand the shot is between 150 – 210°.
Special Nuances of Shot
I wish I could tell you that this is just a show up and get a great shot place - but it is not. To get the perfect shot, everything needs to line up perfectly - the color of the Aspen trees, a recent snow (to dust the mountain), clouds - but not too many to block the sunrise, no recent wind storms (that might blow the leaves off the Aspen trees on the ridge).
I have been to the Dallas Divide several times and only had perfect conditions a few times. If everything is not perfect, you can still get a good shot, but you will be left dreaming of the perfect shot.
This is mainly a straight forward shot, but there are different views based on where you stand along the fence. I would suggest arriving very early (or the day before) to scout out your composition. There are a small group of colorful Aspens between the parking lot and the San Juan Mountains that can make or break the shot. For me, this small grove of Aspens always seems to turn colors before the surrounding area. Also, the group of small Aspens near the road makes the shot – so you might want to time your visit when these trees are at their peak.
Special Equipment Needed
Other than a tripod, there is no need for any special photography equipment unless you plan on doing a panoramic shot. If you arrive pre-dawn at this location in the fall, it is most likely to be bitter cold – so make sure you bring appreciate clothes, hats and gloves.
I rarely use a polarizer for vista (as the polarizing affect is not consistent throughout the sky). However, a polarizer will help to "pop" the colors during the fall season.
Number of Other Photographers to Expect
This location is absolutely stunning and easy to access – so on a perfect fall morning there can be upward of 200 of your closest friends packed into the parking lot. During the rest of the year, there can be between 2 and 10 other photographers at sunrise.
The weather in Colorado is normally mild in the summer, cold (lows in the 20’s) in the spring and fall and downright bitter in the winter. As mentioned, if you are arriving pre-dawn for a sunrise shot in the fall, make sure you bring appreciate clothes, hats and gloves.
I use Verizon and had cell service at the Dallas Divide.
As far as I know, there are 2 hotels in Ridgway (they usually fill-up quickly in the fall – so make sure you plan ahead). Also, Ridgway State Park is approx. 4 miles north of Ridgway and there are also several other hotels and lodging in Ouray, CO (approx. 10 miles south of Ridgway).
Ridgway State Park is a VERY NICE state park with lots of campsites ($24 for tent only and $32 for full hook ups) and includes pay showers, laundry, vending machines, and flush restrooms. Ridgway State Park is reservations only (800) 244-5613 or www.cpwshop.com
Nearby camping and lodging
Camping - click on the campground below for directions
Ridgway State Park (4 miles north of Ridgway)
Lodging - click on the lodging below for a TripAdvisor review
Chipeta Solar Springs Resort & Spa
304 S Lena St, Ridgway, CO
Ridgway-Ouray Lodge & Suites
373 Palomino Trail, Ridgway, CO
Ridgway is a neat little town to stay at, visit and eat. When in town, I always try to visit Kate's Place and the The Grit Cafe.
Kate's Place has a GREAT breakfast/brunch and I always try to stop there after my morning shoot. True Grit Café has a nice selection of cold adult beverages and a good menu. Ridgway was the location of the original True Grit movie with John Wayne and the True Grit Café was part of the opening scene.
I have also enjoyed a very good pizza and a cold brew at the Colorado Boy and in town, the Adobe Inn is a nice Mexican restaurant.
Nearby Restaurants - click on the restaurant below for yelp review
615 W Clinton, Ridgway, CO
True Grit Café
123 N Lena Street, Ridgway, CO
Colorado Boy Pub & Brewery
602 Clinton St, Ridgway, CO
The Last Dollar Laundromat is located at 357 Sherman St. in Ridgway. There is also a laundry mat at the Ridgway State Park.
Other Photography Opportunities Around
The closest airport is in Montrose, CO (MTJ). It is a nice regional airport that services: American Airlines, Delta Airlines, and United Airlines.
Area Guides and Workshops