The Great Outdoors

Whether your passion is fishing, hiking, horseback riding, biking or 4-wheeling through some of the most spectacular scenery in the country, Custer County is the place for you!

Hiking in Custer County

Rainbow Trail runs 100 miles along the base of the Sangre De Cristo mountains at 9,000-10,000 feet.  Parts of the trail are open to motorized vehicles.  The trail can be accessed from many trail heads.  (According to , this is one of the best rides in the state.)

Gibson Creek Trail Head: Hwy 69 N then left on CR 175, right on CR 171, then right on CR 172 to trail head.

Duckett Creek Trail Head: Hwy 69 N 12 miles, left on CR 198 to trail head.

Grape Creek Trail Head: Hwy 69 S, right on CR 119, then 2 miles north of trail head discover Crystal Falls.

Horn Creek Trail Head: Hwy 69 S, then right on CR 130.

Comanche/Venerable Trail Head: Hwy 69 S, then right on CR 140 to end, right on CR 144.

Leave No Trace

The Sangre de Cristo Wilderness area attracts thousands of visitors each year. Despite its rugged appearance, the wilderness area encompasses a fragile ecosystem that can be easily harmed. A pristine wilderness can be insured if visitors practice minimum-impact or “Leave-No-Trace” techniques. Please observe the regulations below.

  • Group size is limited to 25, including pack and saddle animals, with no more than 15 people in any one party.
  • Camping is not permitted within 300 feet of lakes and 100 feet of streams or trails unless otherwise posted.
  • Do not cut switchbacks in trails.
  • Campfires are allowed unless drought conditions exist; however, a lightweight backpacking stove is highly recommended. Please build campfires in a manner that minimizes impact.
  • Collect only dead and down wood that is less than three inches in diameter.
  • Do not build a fire on exposed rock surfaces to prevent scarring.
  • Always use extreme caution, and avoid building fires in dry or windy conditions.
  • Pack out your garbage. It is never acceptable to bury trash. So always follow the rule “if you pack it in, then pack it out.”
  • Dig a Cat Hole. Human waste should be disposed of in the following manner:
    Select a suitable location at least 300 feet from any open water, trail or campsite. Dig a hole 6 to 8 inches deep. Bury your waste and refill the hole with the removed soil.
  • Wash yourself and your dishes at least 300 feet from any water and discard the dirty water in the bushes.
  • Do not graze or picket animals within 30 feet of lakes or 100 feet of streams. Keep stock in a single file on the trail and avoid cutting switchbacks. Tie a highline between two trees and tether your horses to it. Hobbling or loose grazing your horses will prevent the “ring” appearance caused when horses are tied to trees. If you bring feed for your livestock, only certified weed free hay or pelletized food is allowed. For more information on camping, hiking and trail riding, call the National Forest Service at (719) 783-2079

Safety Tips

  • Hikers, please let someone know where you are going and when you plan to return.
  • Technical climbers, please register your climb with the sheriff’s office.
  • Be prepared for ever changing Colorado weather with several layers of clothing. Even in the summer, temperatures may fall below freezing at night.
  • Please drink plenty of water. This will help your body adjust to the altitude and dry climate.
  • Use plenty of sunblock (SPF 30 or better). The sun is intensified at higher altitudes.

Lakes in Custer County

Lower Altitude Lakes…

Lake San Isabel: Hwy 165 in the town of San Isabel.  Eastern End of Custer County.  Lake Stocked.  Forest Service picnic and camp sites.  No wake Lake.

Lake DeWeese: DOW managed, 5 miles north of town.  Limited dry camping.  Public boat ramp and beach.  Fish from shore or boat.

Higher Altitude Lakes…

Venerable: 7 miles from Alvarado Campground.  2 lakes reached by horse or backpack.

South Colony Lakes: 2 lakes at 11,000 feet.  Beautiful hike!

Rainbow Lake & Balman Reservoir: West of Hillside, past Lake Creek Campground.

Hermit & Horseshoe Lakes: 4-wheel drive access up Hermit Road then ½ mile hike to Hermit Lake.  Horseshoe Lake is further up the road.

Goodwin Lake: Accessed from Alvarado Campground & located at 11,000 feet.

Comanche Lake: Most heavily used high mountain lake.  Accessed from Alvarado Campground.

Macy Lakes: 3 lakes & a creek, southwest of town and a good hike from the Horn Creek Trail Head.

Sand Creek Lake & Music Mountain Pass: Take 119 South to the Music Pass Trail Head, then hike to the lakes.



Hermit Pass – 30 miles round trip, 2.5 hours minimum. 4-wheel drive required. High mountain lakes and spectacular summit.

Ghost Towns – 40 miles round trip, 2 hours.  East on Hwy 96 7.4 miles pass CR 341, a cut off to Querida and the Bassick Mine. Only tailings remain.  9.8 miles reach the highest point on 96 – Hosa Flats.  12.5 miles, CR 347 is an alternate route to Rosita. Go 16.3 miles, turn right onto CR 358, follow it along N Hardscrabble Creek and Junkins Park Creek for about 10 miles. Turn left on CR 328 towards Rosita. The remnants of the 1870 town are visible. Visit the cemetery. Turn right on Hwy 69 back to town.

San Isabel – 69 miles round trip, 1.5 hours.  Go east on Hwy 96 to McKenzie Junction, 16.5 miles. Turn right on Hwy 165, you will go over the Bigelow Divide, 9,350 ft. Past Bishops Castle 5.5 miles further come to San Isabel and Lake Isabel- Return the same route.

Medano Pass – 86 miles – all day – 4-wheel drive required.  An historic trail to the Great Sand Dunes.  Go south on Hwy 69 29 miles to Medano Pass road on right. 15 miles to summit and a view of the vast Sand Dunes. Trail crosses Medano Creek several times. After entering the park, 4 miles to the visitor center. Return to Westcliffe via paved roads. Hwy 150 south to 160 east to Walsenburg. Hwy 69 N to Westcliffe. OR take Pass Creek Rd off 160 on the west side of LaVeta Pass. This is 13 miles of dirt, then back on Hwy 69 just N of Gardner.