Columns » Hiking Bob

Road Trip Hike: Lakes of the Clouds; also it's hunting season.


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The Sangre de Cristo mountains, a spine of jagged peaks in the south-central part of Colorado, is a great place for hiking and backpacking. It's an area I've visited many times before, and seem to be drawn back to. On the east side of the Sangres, my favorite hikes are Music Pass and Goodwin Lakes, while the west side features Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve — try the Mosca Pass trail that starts near the visitors center.  Also on the west side of the mountain range, a hike to Willow Lake can either be a one-day challenge or an overnight stop on the way to the summits of popular 14ers  Challenger and Kit Carson Peaks. These, of course, are a tiny sample of the hiking, peak-bagging and backpacking opportunities in the area.

While poring over some maps recently, I spotted the "Lakes of the Clouds," a set of three alpine lakes above 11,000' on the east side of the Sangre de Cristo mountains. Since I like the Sangres, and hiking to alpine lakes, this hike instantly appealed to me. Although a tough hike, the three beautiful lakes made this as pretty a hike as you'll find in Colorado. While it may not be a "must do" for everyone, experienced, conditioned hikers should enjoy it.
See the slideshow below for details.

To Get There: From the town of Westcliffe, take Hermit Road/County Road 160 due west from Colorado Highway 69. At about 6 miles, just past the intersection with County Road 159, bear right at the fork and continue on Sampson Ridge Road (the change in road names is not marked). Follow Sampson Ridge Road to where it ends at the intersection with County Road 172. Turn left on 172 and follow it for about a half-mile to its end at the Gibson Creek Trailhead parking lot.

Things You Need to Know: At about 10 miles round-trip and more than 2,800' of ascent, this hike makes for a long day. The rocky terrain, typical for the Sangre De Cristo Mountains, makes the hike more difficult. I suggest sturdy, waterproof and well broken-in boots for this hike. The trail tops out at over 11,600', so you will want to be accustomed to high-altitude hiking. There are no facilities at the trailhead or along the trail. Either bring plenty of water or a way to purify water from Swift Creek or the lakes. Do not drink untreated water. Bring plenty of snacks or a meal. There are limited places to camp on this hike, except near either the first or third lakes. It was very windy when I did this hike, so take that into consideration if planning on doing this as a backpacking trip.

In other news, hunting season has started in Colorado, and it's a good time to review some common-sense tips to stay safe while hiking on our public lands. Read Colorado Parks and Wildlife suggestions for safe recreating during hunting season here.

Be Good. Do Good Things.


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