Set between the Wet Mountain and Sangre de Cristo mountain ranges, Westcliffe, Colorado, is a haven for hikers, thanks to trail options ranging from mild to wild. For those seeking the toughest of challenges, Colorado’s tallest peaks—called “14ers” for surpassing 14,000 feet above sea level—don’t disappoint.
The news is even better for hikers who want to bag more than one of the Sangre de Cristo 14ers: The three closest to Westcliffe are all accessible from South Colony Lakes Basin. From town, the trailhead is just 10 miles south by Highway 69. Depending on weather conditions and vehicle abilities, the out-and-back trail to South Colony Lakes Basin is approximately 10 miles round trip—so it’s advisable to backpack in and set up a base camp. (Individual peaks may be done in a day for the truly ambitious, but hikers should always take caution to be down below treeline well before typical summer thunderstorms roll in.)
From South Colony Lakes Basin, three of Colorado’s best 14ers are within reach…
For those looking to break into high-elevation peaks, Humboldt is considered the best introduction to the Sangre de Cristo mountain range. But, while it’s fair to say this is the easiest 14er of the bunch, remember that’s all relative! Humboldt Peak is classified as a non-technical, Class 2 trail that climbs to 14,064 ft. From South Colony Lakes Basin, there are great views of nearby 13ers, the basin below and the other 14ers in the range—as well as some as far away as the Blanca range.
Due to its Class 3 or Class 4 classification (depending on the route) and a trail that requires hikers lose and regain 800 feet of elevation en route, Crestone Peak was one of the last 14ers in Colorado to be successfully scaled. For those who make it to the 14,265-foot summit, the views of its neighboring Crestone Needle and Humboldt Peak are remarkable.
The easiest of several routes to the 14,197-foot summit of Crestone Needle is still classified as a Class 3—as the daunting title of “Needle” may suggest. Near the summit, knobby handholds make for some challenging scrambling and make it advisable to wear a climbing helmet in case of loose rock. Although even very experienced hikers often describe Crestone Needle and Crestone Peak as two of the most challenging trails, many also say the ultimate views are legendary.
As with all hikes in Colorado, be sure to do plenty of research and preparation before setting out. Websites such as 14ers.com and Summitpost.com are excellent sources of information on the 14ers of the Sangre de Cristo range.