Lake Isabelle (10,910′), Front Range

Lake Isabelle (10,910′), Front Range

Lake Isabelle (10,910′), Front Range

Lake Isabelle lies hidden in a high, isolated bowl-shaped basin at the top of the South St. Vrain drainage in the Brainard Lake Recreation Area. It lies at tree-line in a stunning alpine valley surrounded by Navajo (13,409′), Apache (13,441′) and Shoshoni (12,967′) peaks. The Continental Divide is located just west of the lake, running along the high peaks above the valley.

Mitchell & Blue Lake and Mt Audubon, are also located in the Brainard Lake Recreation Area and also offer beautiful views of the Indian Peaks Wilderness.

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Trail Directions

From the Long Lake Trailhead, the trail begins its relatively gentle ascent up to Long Lake. After a quarter-mile of trekking, the trail intersects the Jean Lunning Trail, which will take you to and around Long Lake.  This area is known for moose sightings. Avoid the Jean Lunning Trail and continue to the right uphill to Lake Isabelle.

After approximately 1 more mile, the trail intersects the Jean Lunning Trail for the second time.  Again, continue towards Lake Isabelle and Pawnee Pass, bypassing the Jean Lunning Trail.  Lake Isabelle is just another .9 miles beyond this trail junction. From the lake you have the option of continuing further up the trail to reach Isabelle Glacier.

Trailhead Directions

Estes Cone (11,007′), Front Range

Estes Cone (11,007′), Front Range

Estes Cone (11,007′), Front Range

Estes Cone is located about 3 miles from the Longs Peak trailhead on the east side of Rocky Mountain National Park. The peak serves as a prominent landmark in the Tahosa Valley to the east. The peak is named for one of the first settlers in Estes Valley, Joel Estes. The granite peak has a rocky outcrop on the summit that provides unobstructed views of Rocky Mountain National Park.

On the way to Estes Cone you will pass by the old Eugene Mine area, of which there is almost no trace left. Moving on you end up at Storm Pass, after which the steepest part of the hike begins. Just before reaching the summit you will hit a cliff band. Head to the right  and there will be a weakness in the wall that you can scramble up to the summit.

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Trail Directions

The approach to Estes Cone from the Longs Peak trailhead is relatively easy with mild uphills until you reach the base of the mountain. Once you turn off the Storm Pass trail you will see cairns marking the turnoff to begin the steeper 800′ scramble to the top. Once you reach the base of the summit, head right of the rock wall to scramble to the summit.

Trailhead Directions

Wager Gulch (12,350′), San Juan Range

Wager Gulch (12,350′), San Juan Range

Wager Gulch (12,350′), San Juan Range

The road up Wager Gulch (high-clearance 4-wheel drive vehicle recommended), leads to the remnants of the abandoned mining town of Carson, on the way up to the Continental Divide and beyond. Founded in 1889, Carson reached its peak at the turn of the century when some 500 miners worked the mountain. Carson fell victim to the harsh winters of Colorado, being situated almost directly on the Continental Divide. It was considered one of the most inaccessible mining camps in Colorado. To access, take Wager Gulch road located south of Lake City, immediately off the Alpine Loop.

While in the area you may also want to explore Hurricane (12,730′) and California Pass (12,960′)  which intersect further northwest along the Alpine Loop. Stony Pass provides a route to the headwaters of the Rio Grande river.

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Trail Directions

 

From Lake City enter the Alpine Loop on County Road 30. From there take the Wager Gulch Rd turnoff heading south.

As you start Wager Gulch road continue uphill following Wager Creek. Continue on switchbacks as you climb above the creek and head through the forest. Stay on the main road.

After numerous switchbacks the road will cross an open area of the gulch with Carson Mountain to the west. At the next intersection the left road will take you to the ghost town of Carson, which is visible just across Wager Creek. There is an area to park and explore the buildings. Keep in mind that they are private property so repect the property. A short distance up the gulch from the town are the tailings of two mines. The road will top out on the Continental Divide and descend southward.

Trailhead Directions

Alpine Loop (12,800′), San Juan Range

Alpine Loop (12,800′), San Juan Range

Alpine Loop (12,800′), San Juan Range

The Alpine Loop Backcountry Byway is a rugged 4×4 road that winds through the spectacular scenery of the San Juan Mountains, connecting Lake City, Silverton, and Ouray. The loop traverses passes up to 12,800 feet while showcasing old mines, ghost towns, natural wonders, beautiful wildflowers, and abundant wildlife. Take a 10 minute detour while on the way to Cinnamon Pass to treat yourself to American Basin, one of the most beautiful places in Colorado.

Tackling the loop in its entirety is easily an all-day adventure. However, the main loop is only part of the experience; miles of designated side routes allow visitors to either take a short tour or extend their trip to multiple days. Hurricane (12,730′) and California Pass (12,960′) are two such examples that take you north from the Alpine Loop. For something closer to Lake City, tackle Wager Gulch to the Continental Divide.

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Trail Directions

Tucked away in the San Juan Mountains of southwestern Colorado is the Alpine Loop National Backcountry Byway. Located northeast of Silverton, Colorado in San Juan and Hinsdale Counties, the circular route makes its way from Lake City south along CO-149, to County Road 30, which turns west over Cinnamon Pass (12,640 feet) to Animas Forks, and then returns east over Engineer Pass (12,800) back to Lake City along County Road 20. The loop is best traveled in a clockwise direction.

From Lake City enter the Alpine Loop on either County Road 30 or County Road 20. From Silverton enter the Alpine Loop on County Road 2. From Ouray enter the Alpine Loop on County Road 18.

Trailhead Directions

Greenhorn Mountain (12,352′), Wet Mountain Range

Greenhorn Mountain (12,352′), Wet Mountain Range

Greenhorn Mountain (12,352′), Wet Mountain Range

Greenhorn Mountain is the highest summit of the Wet Mountain range, located on the southern end of the range. Greenhorn Mountain can be seen from Colorado Springs, Pueblo, Trinidad, and also from along Interstate 25 rising over 7,000 feet (2,100 m) above the great plains to the east. The mountain range is protected within the secluded Greenhorn Mountain Wilderness Area, which has few trails, accessible for hiking or horseback only.

The seclusion of the area means driving on a dirt road for over 20 miles to reach the upper trailhead. During the summer of 2021 the road was well maintained and can be easily travelled by most stock vehicles in dry conditions. 

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Trail Directions

From the upper trailhead I made a loop that includes both the south and north summits. If you choose to hike the loop counterclockwise like I did, head southeast along the Bartlett Trail for a little over a mile. As the trail begins to wrap around the Greenhorn Mountain summit cone, leave the trail on the southern side of the mountain, and continue a half-mile climb to the summit.  Note: There is no trail to the summit.

From the summit, you can retrace your route back to the trailhead if wind and bad weather are a problem. If the day is clear, a more scenic option is to traverse the easy ridge heading north. To return to the trailhead, I decended off the second saddle, down the west slope of the ridge back to the Bartlett trail close to the trailhead.

Trailhead Directions

Music Pass (11,450′), Sangre de Cristo Range

Music Pass (11,450′), Sangre de Cristo Range

Music Pass (11,450′), Sangre de Cristo Range

Music Pass is a east/west pass across the southern Sangre de Cristo range connecting the Wet Valley in the east with the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve on the western side. The road gets progressively worse as you near the trailhead, so without a high clearance 4-wheel drive vehicle, you should park at the Grape Creek Trailhead and hike the last 2.5 miles to the Music Pass trailhead. The trail stats assume that you are beginning your hike at the Music Pass Trailhead. 

Reaching the pass, you have a stunning views of the Upper Sand Creek basin that includes 13ers Marble Mountain, Milwaukee Peak, Music Mountain, and Tijeras Peak.

The Sangre de Cristo range has a wide range of remote and rugged hikes, such as Lily Lake, South Colony Lakes, and Humboldt Peak

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Trail Directions

From the parking area at the end of Music Pass Road the trail immediately enters a dense conifer forest as it begins climbing toward the pass. Initially you won’t see much but trees, but after about a mile the forest starts to become more open, giving you some great views of the Wet Mountain Valley on the east side of the Sangre de Cristo Range.

Finally, just before reaching the pass you will pass a sign indicating that you are entering the Great Sand Dunes National Preserve, an extension of the Great Sand Dunes National Park on the western side of the range. This point also marks the eastern boundary of the Sangre de Cristo Wilderness Area.

Trailhead Directions

Potato Lake (9,800′), San Juan Range

Potato Lake (9,800′), San Juan Range

Potato Lake (9,800′), San Juan Range

Spud Lake Trail #661 to Potato Lake is beautiful and short, with minimal elevation gain, making this an extremely popular hike. Passing through aspen glades, it offers excellent views of Engineer Mountain, Grayrock Peak, and Spud Mountain, along with good views of the Needle Mountains to the east. The natural lake has excellent fishing and a pleasant place to relax. This is a great summer hike for all ages, and the aspen leaves during the fall can be spectacular. Spud Lake has excellent fishing for brook trout and cutthroat trout.

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Trail Directions

Drive approximately 28.5 miles north on U.S. 550. Just past the bridge over Cascade Creek, turn right onto Lime Creek Road, #591. Follow road for about 3 miles. High clearance vehicles recommended for last part of road. Trailhead is on the north (left) side of road across the street from a beautiful pond full of lilies. 

The trailhead is unmarked but the trail itself is well defined. There are no trail junctions, so just follow the trail to the lake, passing beside beaver ponds until you reach Potato Lake.

Trailhead Directions

Lily Lake (12,385′), Sangre de Cristo Range

Lily Lake (12,385′), Sangre de Cristo Range

Lily Lake (12,385′), Sangre de Cristo Range

This trail is one of the more beautiful in the state with lots of bang for your buck.  The trail starts out at 10,400 feet, hiking in an beautiful valley surrounded by huge mountain scenery, and is virtually flat.   So if you don’t want to make the climb up to Lilly Lake you still have amazing views and really great creek fishing with lots of good camping options on the valley floor.

If you make the hike up, you can see Mt. Lindsey, Mt. Blanca, Mt. Ellingwood, and the Iron Nipple from Lilly Lake.  From the Valley you can see all but Lindsey. Lilly Lake offers amazing views, an alpine environment just above treeline.

The Sangre de Cristo range has a wide range of remote and rugged hikes, such as Music Pass, South Colony Lakes, and Humboldt Peak .

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Trail Directions

From the trailhead, follow clear signs to the Lily Lake Trail (there are no other trails at this TH). Head south and walk through a large meadow. From here, you can see the Blanca Massif straight ahead, with the Iron Nipple (13er) across the basin to its left. Hike one mile on mostly flat, clear terrain before coming to a trail junction with a sign for Lily Lake. Stay right (left will take you up Mt. Lindsey).

Continue up through the forest on excellent trail. You’ll continue to gain little elevation – just 1,500 ft over almost 3 miles from this point on. For most of the hike, Huerfano River will be on your left. At about 3 miles from the trailhead, at 11,600 ft, cross it and come to a large clearing with some boulders ahead and to your right. Loop up and back to your right, dipping briefly back into the forest. Just before the lake you come to a headwall just below the lake. Continue up and reach the lake at around 12,385 ft.

Trailhead Directions

Arikaree River (3,317′), Eastern Plains

Arikaree River (3,317′), Eastern Plains

Arikaree River (3,317′), Eastern Plains

The point where the Arikaree River flows out of Colorado and into Kansas is the lowest point in Colorado, at an elevation of 3,317 feet (1,011 m).

It holds the distinction of being the highest low point of any U.S. state, and higher than the highest points of 18 states and the District of Columbia.

The Arikaree River has been made one of the designated areas under the Colorado Natural Areas Program because it is “part of the largest and best remaining example of a naturally functioning Great Plains river system in Colorado.” It has several species of reptiles, fish, and amphibians that are native and uncommon. The area is a sanctuary for many bird species, including burrowing owls, ferruginous hawks, and greater prairie chickens. The habitat is near-pristine and there are high-quality riparian and native prairie plants.

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All the elevation maps indicate the lowest point is approximately 3,317′. My GPS on the hike recorded elevations in the 3,200′ range. This may be because I was able to walk on the river bottom or possibly a calibration issue with my GPS device, I’m not sure.

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Trail Directions

I was unable to find the recommended route to the Arikaree River basin near the Kansas border from resources online. I initially tried to access the basin from the south, but the area was fenced and looked like I had to cross private property. 

I then approached the basin from the north and found an unfenced area along the border. This is the route I took. I cannot recommend any route as I am not sure of the status of the area I crossed to get to the river. 

The river itself did not have water flowing when I visited in early May. I was able to walk along the river bottom with only a few pools of water scattered along the route.

The approach from the north also provides access to the Tri-Corners area, where the Colorado, Kansas, and Nebraska borders meet. There is a road leading to the point and a plaque describing the area for visitors.

 

Trailhead Directions

Pikes Peak (14,110′), Front Range

Pikes Peak (14,110′), Front Range

Pikes Peak (14,110′), Front Range

Pikes Peak is the highest summit of the southern Front Range of the Rocky Mountains in North America. The prominent 14,115-foot (4,302.31 m) fourteener is located in Pike National Forest, 12 miles (19 km) west of downtown Colorado Springs, Colorado.  The summit is higher than any point in the United States east of its longitude. The uppermost portion of Pikes Peak, above 14,000 feet (4,267 m) elevation, was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1961.

The mountain and it’s flanks offer great hiking, such as Pancake Rocks and the Crags. The other 14,000′ peak in Colorado with a paved road to nearly the summit is Mt Evans.

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Trail Directions

Take HWY 24 west from Colorado Springs for approximately 14 miles until you see the sign for the Pikes Peak Hwy. Turn left and follow the signs.

The road is paved but lacks guard rails so can be unsettling for first time mountain drivers.

This is a toll road with an entrance fee at the base of the mountain.

Trailhead Directions

Blodgett Peak (9,429′), Front Range

Blodgett Peak (9,429′), Front Range

Blodgett Peak (9,429′), Front Range

Blodgett Peak is located in Blodgett Peak Open Space along the Rampart Range of the Rocky Mountains. The peak has a small summit that provides unobstructed views in all directions, rising from the eastern edge of the Rockies. The trailhead is situated close to the U.S. Air Force Academy, north of Colorado Springs.

While in the area, Mt Rosa, Almagre Mountain, and Mt Herman are also great hiking options.

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GPS Route with Elevation