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Rito Alto Four Pass Loop

Difficult
 4.9 (15) RECOMMENDED ROUTE

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


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Map Key

23.0

Miles

37.1

KM

Loop

13,004' 3,964 m

High

9,056' 2,760 m

Low

5,843' 1,781 m

Up

5,841' 1,780 m

Down

10%

Avg Grade (5°)

40%

Max Grade (22°)

Dogs Leashed

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

Overview

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.

Description

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 the 4th and final pass, the 2nd highest 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.

Contacts

Shared By:

Michael Arrigo with improvements by nathan kirkland

Trail Ratings

  4.9 from 15 votes

#1

in Westcliffe

#371

Overall
  4.9 from 15 votes
5 Star
87%
4 Star
13%
3 Star
0%
2 Star
0%
1 Star
0%
Recommended Route Rankings

#1

in Westcliffe

#74

in Colorado

#371

Overall
778 Views Last Month
13,310 Since Dec 12, 2015
Difficult

0%
0%
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7%
93%
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Photos

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
Along the way going up Venable trail
Jul 30, 2020 near Crestone, CO
Looking up to Venable Pass and the early slopes of Venable Peak.
Nov 3, 2016 near Crestone, CO

Weather


Current Trail Conditions

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All Clear 21 days ago See History
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Check-Ins

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
Zeffe
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
Jul 28, 2018
Nicki Bartak
May 31, 2018
Kristina Chappe
Beautiful! Hermit and Venable passes were rough, but a great hike with great views! Plenty of water along the trail.
Jun 18, 2017
Zachary Wells
Turned around prior to first pass but will attempt again. Great views, abundant wildlife, and a great workout for the legs, lungs, and back. 18mi