San Isabel National Forest
Salida and San Carlos Ranger Districts
For 100 miles from the Continental Divide southwest of Salida to Music Pass, south of Westcliffe, the Rainbow Trail extends along the east side of the Sangre do Cristo mountain range. The trail offers an outstanding trip to hikers and riders with a wide variety of terrain and forest settings. The trail offers the users some excellent scenery and viewpoints along with numerous side trails to streams, lakes end mountain peaks. Horseback riders enjoy the opportunity for an extended trip with a variety of scenery and vistas seldom found elsewhere. From Music Pass to an area known as The Cate, the Rainbow Trail is open to motorized trail vehicles, providing one of the longest continuous trail routes for riders in the State.The Rainbow Trail, so called because it resembles a rainbow in shape, came into being with the settlement of the Wet Mountain Valley and the Upper Arkansas River. Originally access into the mountain range was needed for harvesting timber for building materials and fuelwood. Other trails provided access to mines and prospects. Still others were needed for cattle trails to the mountain meadows. Fishermen and hunters used and developed trails as they found their way to the streams, lakes and high valleys. The construction of the trail began in 1912 and over the years, sections of trails were joined together to provide greater convenience. In more recent years, recreation hiking and riding needs were recognized along with the importance of a good trail system for quick access for fighting forest fires. The latest sections to be added were those on the west end tying the Rainbow Trail from the Sangre do Cristo range to the Colorado Trail on the Continental Divide.
The Rainbow Trail passes near four developed campgrounds - Hayden Creek, Coaldale, Lake Creek and Alvarado. A $5.00 per night user fee is charged at Lake Creek and Alvarado. The campgrounds are excellent trailheads, offering drinking water, toilets and parking. Vehicles should not be left in the campgrounds unless you are camping overnight there.
There are numerous undeveloped camping sites along the trail. No permits are required for camping or campfires. Camps should be located away from the trails and streams as much as possible to avoid other users and impacting the streams. Follow all guidelines on camping ethics to leave your campsite as good or in better condition than you found it. Some sections of the trail pass through or near privately owned land. Please do not camp in those areas.
The streams and lakes along the Sangre de Cristo mountains offer excellent fishing opportunities in a wilderness like atmosphere, A network of side trails to the high lakes on both sides of the flange connect with the Rainbow Trail. There are over 20 lakes on the San Isabel National Forest offering the fisherman a challenge. Additional lakes are to be found on the Rio Grande National Forest. Fishing is regulated by the Colorado Division of Wildlife and a State fishing license is required.
National Forest lands along the trail are open to hunting in accordance with the Colorado Division of Wildlife regulations. Hunting on private lands requires the permission of the landowner. Game animals commonly bunted in the area includes deer, elk and bear, Do not shoot near campgrounds or trailheads, across lakes, trails. or streams or where people or livestock may be present.
Horseback Riding and Packing
Riders from the nearby residences, ranches, organization camps, and resorts and other areas come to ride the Rainbow Trail and trails to the many high lakes. Riders should always be prepared to meet motorized trail vehicles along the way. Recommended trailheads for horseback riders are at Hayden Creek, Brush Creek, Gibson Creek, Horn Creek, Grape Creek (Music Pass) and at Alvarado CG.
Forage is generally scarce at campsites along the way. If you are packing in, be sure to pack adequate feed for your stock. Prepared feed and grain should be used instead of hay. Please tie or picket your horses well away from the trail, lakes, streams and other campsites.
Motorized Trail Vehicles
Motorized trail vehicles are permitted on the trail from The Gate to Music Pass. The four-wheel drive roads and some of the side trails are also open to motorized use. Check the current Forest Travel map at the District Rangers office for trail closures and conditions. Trail vehicles must be 40 inches or less in width and must be properly equipped to include spark arrestors,
The trail receives heavy use from foot and horse travel as well as other riders. Please ride with caution at all times. When meeting horseback riders, pull off of the trail and turn off your engine until they have safely passed. Your courtesy and consideration of other users is appreciated.
Weather considerations along the trail may vary in a short period of time. Afternoon thunder storms with cold rain, hail or sleet, are a common occurrence during the summer. At high elevations, nighttime temperatures may dip below freezing even during the summer. Snows begin in October and continue into late spring. At elevations over 11,000 feet, snowdrifts may last well into the summer. During thunderstorms, avoid exposed ridges and lone trees. Use your raincoat or other shelter as the showers pass over quickly.
Historic features along the trail are most commonly associated with the travel routes into and over the mountain range. Music Pass, Venable Pass, Hermit Pass, Poncha Pass and the Toll Road Gulch Pass all were important travel routes for early. travelers, explorers and prospectors.
The many side trails off the Rainbow Trail lead to the high lakes, streams and the fourteen thousand foot peaks of Crestone Peak (14,294'); Crestone Needle (14,191'); Kit Carson Peak (14,165') and Humboldt Peak (14,064').
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication