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dblack Kit Carson and Challenger

  4.7 ( 6 ) Favorite

Trail

14.1 mile 22.6 kilometer loop
Singletrack
Extremely Difficult

Elevation

Ascent: 5,550' 1,692 m
Descent: -5,550' -1,692 m
High: 14,050' 4,282 m
Low: 8,950' 2,728 m

Grade

Avg Grade: 15% (8°)
Max Grade: 127% (52°)

Dogs

Leashed
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Trail shared by Tyler Prince

A stunning approach along an alpine lake followed by world class scrambling on two 14ers.

Tyler Prince

Features 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.

Overview

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.

Description

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.

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Check-Ins

Jun 14, 2019
Jessica Kibodeaux
7.2mi — 4h 00m
Aug 26, 2018
Daylene York
Hiked North Slopes route up Challenger Point then continued over to Kit Carson Peak via the Avenue. 14.5mi
Jul 29, 2018
Jacob Winey
Aug 5, 2017
Brian Welsh
Oct 15, 2016
Brianne Leatherman
Sep 21, 2014
Joshua Lock
12.5mi

Trail Ratings

  4.7 from 6 votes

#1

in Crestone

#1356

Overall
  4.7 from 6 votes
5 Star
67%
4 Star
33%
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1 Star
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Rankings

#1

in Crestone

#222

in Colorado

#1,356

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4,871 Since May 1, 2015
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