There is literally unlimited options for camping on the Uncompahgre Plateau. You are pretty much allowed to camp anywhere you can pitch a tent or pull a trailer. Although if you prefer a campground your options are a bit limited. There are three developed campgrounds on the plateau. On the western end you have Divide Forks campground, about in the middle you will come to Columbine Campground and towards the east end you have Iron Springs. Older maps might show an Antone Springs Campground and a SmokeHouse Campground as well, but as stated below, Antone Springs is no longer and I honestly did not see a SmokeHouse Campground.
Iron Springs Campground is located on the Eastern end of the Uncompahgre Plateau. The campground is nestled among a forest of Ponderosa Pine and Aspen trees. The map I have is obviously an old map as it showed Iron Springs Campground then right around the corner it listed an Antone Springs Campground as well. The Antone Springs Campground has been totally forsaken. The road into it is slightly washed out and all the campsites are completely overgrown with weeds and trees. It has obviously been closed for quite some time.
To get to Iron Springs Campground you can start at the intersection of Highway 50 and West Main Street in Montrose Colorado. You will want to head West out of Montrose on West Main Street, shortly after reaching the outskirts of town the road turns into SpringCreek Road. Technically the entire path you will take is on Highway 90. Continue following SpringCreek Road for approximately 2 miles. Turn left and travel about 1 mile. Turn Right onto W. Oak Grove Road, travel approximately 0.8 miles and turn Left. From this point on the road is labeled only as Highway 90. Once you leave W. Oak Grove Road the campground is a little over 19 1/2 miles on your left.
Right around Shavano Valley Road the road turns to gravel and begins climbing in altitude quite quickly. The road itself was a very smooth gravel road. There was only about two moderately steep sections, the rest of the route is a very steady up hill climb. Upon leaving Montrose you climb a deceiving 3800 feet in elevation. Iron Springs Campground is listed as being at an elevation of 9,500 feet. I believe the road is just fine for passenger cars, I seen quite a few of them over the weekend. The only part I would be cautious about is the lower section of the road shortly after is turns to gravel. There really wasn’t much gravel and if it rained a decent amount it could get rather slick.
When we arrived at the campground we were the only ones there and it remained that way until later in the afternoon when a single person showed up and pitched a tent on the other side of the campground. By the time I woke up the next morning our neighbor was gone and we had the grounds all to ourselves once again. The campground itself isn’t the nicest and most maintained one I have been to but it is pretty well taken care of considering the Forest Service does not maintain it and only volunteers take care of it.
The fact that there is no running water could become an issue for some if they planned to stay there for an extended period of time. According to the Forest Service none of the three campgrounds on Uncompahgre have running water, so a person would have to make a run to either Montrose or Nucla in order to get a refill.
There was a nice trail that began at the campground and was beckoning me to follow its meandering path through the forest. It just gives me another reason to go back. If you do take a trip up there and decide to hike the trail, be sure to keep an eye out for motorcycles. Apparently that is the main form of recreation in this area. They seemed to be everywhere the first day we were up there and some of them go pretty fast on those backwoods trails. The following day we didn’t see any motorcycles the whole day. They must of all had to go back to work. As with a lot of places, this area is best enjoyed during the week. There were a lot of trees that looked like they blew over and there were many both Ponderosa Pine and the Aspens that were broke and the top half looked like it was just ripped off. I’m guessing there must have been some pretty high winds up there at one time.
On our way home we decided to traverse the top of the Uncompahgre Plateau and come down in Unaweep canyon and the Whitewater area. From Iron Springs Campground as long as you stay on the Divide Road or Forest Road 402 you will make it to Unaweep just fine. You do need to make absolutely sure you have enough fuel to make it that far because from Iron Springs Campground to the intersection of 32 Road and I-70b in Clifton Colorado is about 88 miles and there is really only two other ways down and they are both towards the East end of the plateau. Once you pass the “Delta Nucla Road” you are pretty much committed to the route as there are no other ways down and no gas stations. We saw very few people until we got close to Unaweep Canyon.
As you travel across the top there is one area that has a pull off where you can see the whole valley to the South and West. On the left you have the San Juan Mountains and on the right are the La Sal Mountains and in the middle is Paradox Valley I believe and Nucla and Naturita. As you continue down you continue to get views of the Grand Mesa to the North and glimpses of the La Sals and San Juans to the South.
The road off of the Plateau and into Unaweep Canyon is steep and twisty. You want to make sure your breaks are in good order and just take it slow. You drop I’m guessing about 600 feet in about 5 minutes.
Overall the campground is a very nice place. I suppose it could feel a little crowded if most of the sites were full. I could do with out the motorcycles on the first day as well. The trip home was very nice and one I would recommend.