For those who are hikers at heart, Southern Colorado is truly a dream destination. With terrain ranging from prominent fourteeners to deep gorges and everything in between, the biggest challenge is simply prioritizing what hikes to attempt.
The Lamp Post Lodge in Westcliffe, Colorado, makes an ideal base from its location sandwiched between the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and Wet Mountains. From there, incredible (and often intense) day hikes await around almost every corner.
As with any strenuous outdoor activity in Colorado, just be completely prepared before setting out on the trails: Afternoon thunderstorms happen on a nearly daily basis in the summer and the threat of lightning is no joke. The lack of humidity and altitude also necessitate carrying water and other provisions with you.
If you’re up for the challenge, though, here are a few hikes you won’t want to miss during your Southern Colorado vacation:
Music Pass Trail to Upper Sand Creek Lake: (8.4 miles out-and-back; trailhead accessible via 4-wheel drive from Westcliffe) The hills will feel alive when you reach the top of Music Pass Trail, a spectacular vista point that overlooks Sand Creek Valley in the Sangre de Cristos. From there, it’s a steep but worthwhile trek down to Upper Sand Creek Lake, a beautiful alpine oasis for fishermen and sightseers alike. Then it’s back again to complete this intermediate trail.
Thompson Mountain: (7.2 miles out-and-back with a loop; trailhead accessible from Canon City) To give your legs a bit of a break, this moderate loop will take you to the peak of Thompson Mountain. Topping out a less than 9,000 feet, the elevation pales in comparison to those real peaks around it—but the meadows and views of the surrounding fourteeners makes it a thoroughly enjoyable “easy day.”
Ptarmigan Lake Trail: (5.9 miles out-and-back; trailhead accessible from Nathrop) Just down the road from Buena Vista, this moderate hike wears through the forest to a subalpine meadow before arriving at the beautiful Ptarmigan Lake. Although the trail itself is not too intense, the elevation can present a challenge for some who are trying to acclimate—and is something to keep in consideration when setting out. Just be sure to start early and get back to your vehicle before mid-day.
South Colony Lakes Trail: (10 miles out-and-back; trailhead accessible from Westcliffe) The snowpack will determine the length of the trail as the start of it is just a quick drive from downtown Westcliffe. In typical conditions, except to hike a consistent and challenging uphill for five or so miles until the trees open up and you find yourself in an incredible basin (filled with wildflowers in the summer) with panoramic views of multiple fourteeners. Many hikers make this their overnight base for early morning sprints to the top of a peak—but a day trip to the basin alone is well worth it.
Here are a few additional resources to consider before you head out hiking: