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Rito Alto Four Pass Loop

 4.7 (23)

A secluded loop in the Sangre de Cristo mountains that crosses four mountain passes.

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13,004' 3,964 m


9,056' 2,760 m


5,843' 1,781 m


5,841' 1,780 m



Avg Grade (5°)


Max Grade (22°)

Dogs Leashed

Features Fall Colors · Lake · River/Creek · Views · Wildflowers · Wildlife


Besides the 6 miles on County Road 160, this loop is entirely singletrack, exploring 6 bowls on either side of the Sangre de Cristo mountain range, crossing four passes. Trips timed to coincide with the wildflowers in early summer or aspens turning in early autumn will be especially spectacular.

Need to Know

The route is strenuous and passes through some high alpine conditions. Be prepared with plenty of water, sun protection, and enough layers to withstand windy conditions. Highly recommend downloading the gpx file to your GPS watch or using the Hiking Project mobile app as the trail can be hard to find at times and it is easy to get off trail without the map already downloaded. Even into Autumn, there is water available to filter/pump between each of the passes.


Start by heading uphill on the access trail to the Rainbow Trail #1336: Alvarado Creek to Hermit Pass, and head north until the trail crosses County Road 160, a four wheel road that climbs up to 13,000 ft where it ends on the ridgeline. There are several options to get water at Middle Taylor creek or take a detour to one of the several lakes. At the pass, continue past the boulders halting vehicle traffic, down onto the Rito Alto Trail.

Follow the trail clockwise around the bowl, which becomes the North Fork Crestone Trail, ascending the 2nd pass much lower than the first. Again, there is a trail that could take you to the lake if you wanted. After crossing the pass, follow the North Fork Crestone Trail, avoiding turning down to the creek on the San Isabel Trail. The trail crosses several streams which run even during late summer, so there are amble opportunities to get water. Another climb crosses the 3rd pass and down into another valley that would be worth a whole day exploring.

At the next trail juncture, stay high onto the Venable Trail which climbs to Venable Pass, the 4th, final, and 2nd highest pass of the loop. After gaining the ridge, stay on the main trail, avoiding the side trails to the Venerable Lake Trail, and descend back to the initial Rainbow Trail intersection with the access trail spur back to the trailhead.

Flora & Fauna

All kinds of plants make their home along the slopes including pete moss, shrubs, aspen & Ponderosa trees &, various others.


Shared By:

Michael Arrigo with improvements by nathan kirkland and 1 other

Trail Ratings

  4.7 from 23 votes


in Westcliffe


  4.7 from 23 votes
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29 Views Last Month
19,541 Since Dec 12, 2015



Eureka Mountain at sunset, after the first October Snow
Oct 11, 2021 near Crestone, CO
Evening light from Hermit Pass, around 13,000ft, towards Rio Alto bowl
Oct 11, 2021 near Crestone, CO
Looking towards the Rito Alto Lake valley after crossing the 1st pass.
Dec 12, 2015 near Crestone, CO
Final pass of the Four Pass Loop and the most challenging
Oct 27, 2019 near Crestone, CO
Venable Lakes.
Dec 12, 2015 near Crestone, CO
Incredible vistas and view of high alpine lakes
Oct 27, 2019 near Crestone, CO


Current Trail Conditions

Add Your Check-In


Jul 17, 2021
Rachel Sherbondy
Beautiful and remote loop. Ran it CW with an early start to be below treeline when the summer storms hit. Path disappears at points-take GPS info! 23mi — 8h 00m
Jul 3, 2021
Randy Stewart
Jul 2, 2021
Meagan Chriswell
Sep 4, 2020
Melissa Taylor
Jul 21, 2020
Ilana Jesse
Beautiful and water access everywhere. Not a human in sight. Would love to band together to offer some trail work support to manage head high willows. 22.7mi — 6h 42m
Jul 19, 2020
Logan Shaver
Jul 4, 2020
Very nice loop once you get over the first pass and out of range of vehicles on the forest road 160. Trails are faint in places, GPS of some is good. 25mi — 36h 00m
Aug 10, 2018
Brandyn Bicknese
23mi — 35h 30m