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Hiking & Great Hikes in the Sangres

Posted in: Sangre de Cristo Mtns
By Mick Backsen
Feb 22, 2013 - 10:49:10 AM

Great Hikes in the Sangres

The Sangre de Cristo mountains are one of the premiere areas in Colorado for hiking, backpacking, and other back-country activities.  What follows is an introduction to three hikes (one easy, one moderate, and one challenging) in this scenic range.  For more information on these and other hikes in the Sangre de Cristo mountains, consult 'The Colorado Sangre de Cristo: A Complete Trail Guide' by Michael O'Hanlon or 'Hiking Colorado's Sangre de Cristo Wilderness' by Jason Moore.

All three of the hikes presented here start at the Comanche/Venable Trailhead, located near Alvarado Campground.  From the intersection of Hwys 69 and 96 at the Antler Motel in Westcliffe (Mile 0), head south on Hwy 69 to Schoolfield Road(Mile 3.3).  From this point on, Forest Service signs point the way to the trailhead.  Take a right and proceed west on Schoolfield Road.  At mile 7.9, you will come to a T intersection.  Go left, and follow the road as it curves to the right and then winds its way up toward Alvarado Campground.  Watch for the sign indicating the right turn to Comanche/Venable Trailhead (Mile 9.8). The road becomes somewhat rougher after making this turn, but it is still passable in a passenger car for the remaining 4 miles to the trailhead.

Rainbow Trail

The Rainbow Trail is a long trail that traverses almost the entire east side of the range.  A short section of the "trail" south of Alvarado is an easy hike and is a good choice for kids.  Find the sign marking the start of Comanche Trail #1345 (located to the left of the concrete wall as you face the mountains).  Proceed on that trail for approximately1/4 mile to the 4-way intersection of the Rainbow Trail and the Comanche Trail.  From there, turn left on the Rainbow Trail.  After about a mile on the Rainbow, you will cross Hiltman Creek, a great place for a snack and for kids to play in the water.  After another 1/2 mile, you reach another good rest stop, a ridge that provides a scenic view of the valley and of Horn Peak.  Return by the same route.

Comanche Lake

The Comanche Trail to Comanche Lake provides one of the easiest hiking routes to a high mountain lake, in the area.  At slightly more than 4 miles in length and gaining a total of 2,500 vertical feet, you'll do some climbing, but the trail is well designed and is never too steep.  As with the previous hike, follow the sign marking Comanche Trail #1345 and proceed approximately 1/4 mile to the 4-way intersection of the Comanche and Rainbow Trails.  Continue straight on the Comanche Trail and follow the trail as it steadily climbs to Comanche Lake, located at 11,643 feet above sea level.  Take time to eat, drink, and soak up the scenery before returning via the same route.

Venable/Comanche Loop

Strong, experienced hikers can tackle the Venable/Comanche Loop.  This 12 mile trek takes you past two high mountain lakes in two different basins and features more than four miles of hiking above treeline, providing spectacular views of the Wet Mountain Valley to the east and the San Luis Valley to the west.  This loop can be hiked in either direction: the description here is for hiking up Venable Trail and Down Comanche Trail.

At the trailhead, find the sign marking Venable Trail #1347 (located to the right of the concrete wall as you face the mountains) and follow that trail for about 1/4 mile to the Rainbow Trail for only 50 yards or so, then head left on the Venable Trail.  Follow this trail as it works its way up to Venable Lake and continues to the crest of the range.  (Be forewarned that the last couple of hundred yards before reaching the crest lead you will cross the Phantom Terrace, a section of trail that has a steep drop on the left that has turned back some faint-hearted hikers).

At the crest of the range, begin hiking south above treeline.  (Take care not to continue hiking down the other side of the range!). After about a mile of hiking on the crest of the range, the route turns back to the east and drops steeply into the Comanche drainage.  Follow the trail down past Comanche Lake and back to the trailhead, completing the loop.

For additional information on recreational activities in National Forest or on BLM (Bureau of Land Management) land in Custer County, call the local Westcliffe office of the Forest Service at 1-719-783-2079 or the Canon City office at 719-269-8500.



Wild West Properties LLC
201 Main Street - P.O. Box 1519
Westcliffe, CO 81252

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