“A stunning approach along an alpine lake followed by world class scrambling on two 14ers.”
— Tyler Prince
Fall Colors · Lake · River/Creek · Swimming · Views · Waterfall · Wildflowers · Wildlife
Due to its low elevation and proximity to town, the trailhead below Willow Lake Trail
is fairly easy to reach year-round. Dogs will be able to do all of this hike except the Kit Carson North Ridge
. If planning on incorporating this into your tour de Kit Carson, leave Fido at home/camp.
This stunning hike takes adventurers up to Willow Lake, the view from which is itself worth the trip. Looking past the lake back into the San Luis Valley, hikers may feel like they're on the edge of the earth. Once past the lake, Kit Carson North Ridge
provides an exposed but incredibly fun crux for the day, with over a thousand feet of awesome scrambling. Once on top of Kit Carson Peak, it's just some fun alpine scrambling over to Challenger Point, with another awesome scramble up Columbia Point
should time permit. An awesome (and full) day, or an incredible weekend trip!
Need to Know
While this hike is doable in one day, there's plenty of camping below Willow Lake should you choose to divvy it up. The North Ridge is perhaps one of the more serious scrambling routes up any 14er, so it should be left to those with at least some similar experience. Helmets are a must. Expect this (very) full day to take 10 hrs at breakneck speeds, but closer to 12-16. As always, be prepared.
In the San Luis Valley, take CO 17 to the town of Moffat. South of town, look for a sign for Crestone. Turn east on the RD T road. You'll soon see a USFS sign for the South Crestone Trailhead, 15 miles ahead. Drive 11.4 miles to a junction and turn left, following the main road into the town of Crestone. Once in town, turn right onto Galena Ave. It will go uphill for a short bit and then turn to dirt. From here, it's a hard 2WD/easy 4WD 2 miles to the Willow Creek trailhead.
Camp here for a day trip, and be sure to start early. Like 3-4 AM early. Start up Willow Lake Trail
and follow to the top of the lake. If splitting this hike up, there's excellent camping just below Willow Lake. From the top of the cliffs above Willow Lake, continue to Kit Carson North Ridge
, hiking along the willows until you find the start of the awesome scrambling.
Summit Kit Carson Peak and start down the connector to Challenger Point (Kit Carson Trail
). While on this trail you may choose to climb Columbia Point
, adding about 1 hr round trip, although this isn't included as part of this featured hike.
Summit Challenger Point and descend Challenger Point Trail
back to the top of Willow Lake. You really should be back at the Lake before storms hit - it's fairly safe below treeline on the way back down.
Flora & Fauna
The beauty of this area is due more to its lakes and mountains than flora and fauna. Expect deer and maybe bears down low, marmots up high, and alpine vegetation everywhere.
History & Background
Challenger Point was dubbed as such in 1987, in honor of the seven astronauts who perished in the infamous space shuttle accident.
Kit Carson's namesake is more controversial: Kit Carson was a US Civil War General and pioneer known for his extreme cruelty toward a number of American Indian tribes.