Visitors to Alamosa, Colorado cannot help but notice the chain of white capped peaks strung across the horizon to the east. Like the famous Teton’s of Wyoming, the Sangre de Christo mountains are fault-block mountains and are no less grand. Sharply uplifted blocks and high pointed pinnacles characterize the Sangre de Cristo mountains creating one of the most stunning Colorado landscapes. The third largest wilderness in the state, the Sangre de Cristo wilderness is named for the Sangre de Cristo mountains, of which the northern and most rugged portion it contains. The area is long and narrow, a characteristic of fault-block mountains. The Great Sand Dunes National Park immediately immediately adjacent to the wilderness attracts visitors to the western side of the mountains.
High altitude alpine lakes, steep drainages, waterfalls, and jutting peaks, some over fourteen thousand feet in height are just some of the treasures visitors will find here. Crestone Needle and Crestone Peak are popular with mountain climbers and ‘peak-baggers’ who climb the states many fourteen thousand foot peaks.
Due to the fault block geology, the Sangre de Cristo wilderness is crisscrossed east to west by steep, narrow drainages that end at impassable cliffs at their upper reaches. Many, if not all of the hiking trails in the wilderness follow these drainages to high altitude lakes.
When to Visit
During winter the area receives heavy snowfall, albeit less than its neighboring ranges to the west, the San Juans and the Elk Range. For this reason, some of the high elevation hikes may be snow free in early July while trails elsewhere may still be snow bound. Summer can bring sudden thunderstorms with frequent lightning especially near the highest peaks.
How to Get There
The Sangre de Cristo wilderness is located in south-central Colorado between the towns of Westcliffe and Crestone. The small cities of Alamosa to the south and Salida to the north are the nearest towns with accomodations.
An easy hike, accessible from the eastern side of the range via Hermit Pass Rd (Road 160) from Westcliffe. Hermit Pass Rd is steep and rocky and requires a 4WD vehicle with high clearance.
Venable Falls & Venable Lakes
Moderate. A full day hike. Access is from the east (Westcliffe) side of the wilderness. From Westcliffe, head south on CO-69. Right on Schoolfield Rd. (Rd 140) and head west (toward the mountains). Begin the hike from Alvarado Campground. Click for a Google map: Alvarado Campground. Follow the Rainbow Trail north to the turnoff. The hike follows Venable creek to the alpine lakes.
The topographic maps by Nat. Geographic and Sky Terrain do an excellent job of illustrating the various trails in Sangre de Cristo wilderness and surrounding area.
- Trails Illustrated Sangre de Cristo Trail Map (by National Geographic)
- Colorado Wild Area’s Sangre de Cristo Topographic Map
- Sky Terrain’s Sangre de Cristo Topographic Trail Map