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Enjoy a middle-of-nowhere feeling just a few miles outside of Salida.


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Map Key

8.5

Miles

13.7

KM

Loop

8,986' 2,739 m

High

7,893' 2,406 m

Low

1,542' 470 m

Up

1,543' 470 m

Down

7%

Avg Grade (4°)

23%

Max Grade (13°)

Dogs Off-leash

Features River/Creek · Views

Overview

The Columbine trailhead is easily accessible via a well-maintained two-wheel-drive dirt road just a few miles outside of Salida. Despite this easy access, you'll almost immediately enjoy a middle-of-nowhere feeling in this beautiful mountain valley!

The Columbine trail winds its way uphill along the banks of a babbling brook before cutting away from the stream via a series of switchbacks climbing through the pines. The Bear Creek Trail runs through a beautiful forest and into wide-open meadows that provide panoramic views of the valley below. Despite being open to motos, hiking Bear Creek is a worthwhile addition to Columbine.

Need to Know

The Bear Creek section of the Rainbow Trail is open to motos, so don't be surprised if you meet a loud dirt bike flying down the trail. You might also encounter downhill mountain bike traffic on Columbine, but it's not an extremely popular descent.

Also, some online and paper maps may still show additional trails in this area connecting the Rainbow Trail to Bear Creek Road. These are old social routes that have been rehabilitated by the Forest Service. For your own sake, don't attempt to hike them—they're no good.

Description

Begin hiking straight up the Columbine trail, which departs directly from the Columbine trailhead. Columbine climbs consistently for 2.2 miles, gaining about 950 feet of vert before reaching the Rainbow Trail. For a great moto-free out-and-back, you could just opt to turn around at the top of Columbine.

That said, despite possible moto traffic on the Rainbow Trail, this section of the trail is an absolute gem, with beautiful views from the meadows and a deep, dark forest. The forest is now somewhat less beautiful after a wildfire burned most of it, but life will always persevere, and you can observe the local flora making its comeback. While the Rainbow Trail undulates up and down, it follows a mostly flat bench to the Bear Creek trailhead.

To complete the loop, hike the Rainbow Trail all the way east to the Bear Creek trailhead, then turn left to descend Bear Creek road back to the Columbine trailhead. Be sure to stay on the main Bear Creek road by staying left and downhill at the fork.

Alternatively, if you don't want to hike the road, you could always do a long out-and-back by turning around at the Bear Creek trailhead, retracing your steps to Columbine, and following Columbine downhill. However, that would create an ~11.5-mile out-and-back instead of the 8-mile loop shown here.

Flora & Fauna

Unfortunately, much of the Bear Creek drainage burned in a 2019 wildfire. Life will always persevere, and the local flora is already making a resurgence. However, be aware that most of this hike now travels through a burn zone. Flash floods and washouts can still occur in this area after heavy rains. Be sure to check the weather and expect possible blowdowns and washouts.

Contacts

Shared By:

Greg Heil

Trail Ratings

  5.0 from 1 vote

#2194

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Photos

Rainbow Trail
Apr 17, 2024 near Salida, CO
Rainbow Trail
Apr 17, 2024 near Salida, CO
Rainbow Trail
Apr 17, 2024 near Salida, CO
Rainbow Trail
Apr 17, 2024 near Salida, CO

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