Comanche Peak is the highest named summit in the Comanche Peak Wilderness (administrated by Canyon Lakes Ranger District of the US Forest Service) and sits on the boundary of the wilderness and Rocky Mountain National Park to the south. (This mountain should not be confused with its taller cousin by the same name in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.) Comanche Peak offers a variety of climbing options, which range from a class 1 walkup to a class 3 scramble. Some of Comanche Peak's greatest features are the incredible views it offers from its summit. The entire Mummy Range spreads out to the south and east and nearly all the summits are visible. Also, the entire Never Summer Range is visible to the west and south.
A note about the elevation/ranking: Comanche Peak sits on a southwest-to-northeast ridge. This ridge contains 3 seperate points, of which Comanche Peak (with summit cairn and register) is actually the lowest. With the naked eye one can't really determine which point is the highest, however Gerry Roach claims the highest, and most interesting to climb, is the southwest point. Roach also determined that Point 12,681 1/2 mile to the northwest (not on the little map at left) is higher than all the points adjacent to the named, 12,702 summit (Comanche Peak). Point 12,681 has a benchmark on top with the elevation 12,716, and is listed as Point 12,716. Info courtesy Ken Nolan.
There are three trailheads you could use to access Comanche Peak for a day hike. You would have to be one hell of a hiker to make it from any other trailhead to Comanche Peak and back in a day. Emmaline Lake Trailhead Beaver Creek Trailhead access Comanche Peak Wilderness from the northeast. Coral Creek Trailhead accesses Rocky Mountain National Park from the northwest. Driving directions are as follows:
Emmaline Lake Trailhead—There are two ways to get to the Emmaline Lake Trailhead. I've driven both and am still not sure which way is fastest. Here they are:
Poudre Canyon—From downtown Ft. Collins go north on U.S. 287 to mile marker 22. Turn west on Hwy. 14 going up Poudre Canyon. Stay on Hwy. 14 to mile marker 96 which is the turnoff for Pingree Park (CR-63E). Turn south across the bridge and drive on a gravel road for about 15 miles until you see the sign for Tom Bennett Campground on the right side of the road. Turn right onto this road and about a quarter mile past Tom Bennett Campground you'll see the Emmaline Lake Trailhead.
Pennock Pass—From Ft. Collins, take Harmony west. After you pass Taft Hill, Harmony becomes CR-38E. Take CR-38E past Horsetooth Mountain Park to Masonville. Continue through Masonville and go about 10 miles until you see the sign for Pennock Pass (this is CR-44H). Take CR-44H approximately 15 miles over the top of the pass and down the other side until you run into CR-63E. Turn left on CR-63E and continue up this road until you see the sign for Tom Bennett Campground on the right side of the road. Turn right onto this road and about a quarter mile past Tom Bennett Campground you'll see the Emmaline Lake Trailhead. Pennock Pass may be closed in the winter so contact Canyon Lakes Ranger District to make sure it's open if you want to use it during the winter.
If you’re driving a passenger car, you best park right there on the side of the road. If you have a high clearance vehicle you can drive another half mile down this road to a gate.
Beaver Creek Trailhead--Drive to Emmaline Lake Trailhead. Continue another mile or so down the road Sky Ranch Lutheran Church Camp. The official trailhead is right before you enter Sky Ranch on your right. However, if you drive through the camp you can cut another mile and a half off the hike by parking at the upper trailhead (any passenger car can do this). I specifically called Sky Ranch to ask if they minded if people drove through the ranch to the upper trailhead and they said it was no problem at all. If you’d like to verify this yourself you can call their Fort Collins office at (970) 493-5258.
Coral Creek Trailhead--From Fort Collins go north on Highway 287 to “Ted’s Place” and turn west onto Highway 14. Take Highway 14 west up Poudre Canyon to near the top of Cameron Pass (somewhere around 55 miles). Look for signs on the left indicating Long Draw Road. If you pass Joe Wright Reservoir you know you’ve gone too far. Go south on Long Draw Road until you come upon Coral Creek Trailhead on your left. If you pass Long Draw Campground or Long Draw Reservoir you know you’ve gone too far. Long Draw Road is probably closed during the winter. Contact Forest Service Canyon Lakes Ranger District to confirm that it’s open.
In my opinion, the most interesting route begins at the Emmaline Lake Trailhead. Hike up Emmaline Lake Trail to Emmaline Lake. From there scramble across a boulder field to the tundra slopes in the cirque below Comanche Peak. From the cirque you can either choose a class 2 route which will bring you out to the ridge top a hundred yards south of the summit or you can choose a class 3 route which will take you directly to the summit. There are several variations that will get you back to the car without having to retrace all of your steps. Click here for more route detail.
Starting from either of the other two trailheads results in a class 1 walkup. From the Beaver Creek Trailhead hike up Beaver Creek Trail until you get to Comanche Reservoir. Take a left and hike across the top of dam and take Hourglass Trail to the top. When the trail starts to go downhill veer off to your left and head for the high spot.
From Coral Creek Trailhead hike up Coral Creek Trail until you run into a T. Take right so you’re heading south on Poudre River Trail. Follow this until you come to the next trail junction. Take a left on Mummy Pass Trail so you’re heading east. Follow this until you come to the next trail junction. Take a left. Follow this trail until the next trail junction and then take a right on Hourglass Trail. Head up this trail until it starts to go downhill. Veer off to your right and head for the high spot.
Fishing in Comanche Peak Wilderness is spectacular. Beaver Creek is full of brook trout and so is Browns Lake. Comanche Lake is full of cutthroat trout, many over 20 inches.
Unfortunately, Fall Creek and the south fork of the Poudre River are off limits to fishing upstream of Pingree Park. This is because the Colorado Division of Wildlife is trying to reintroduce native greenback cutthroat trout into the waters. From what I’ve seen they have been hugely successful so I hope they open the streams up to catch-and-release fishing soon. After reading my Comanche Peak – Fall Mountain trip report, Fish Biologist Mark Coleman of the CDOW wrote me a note expanding on the effort to reintroduce greenbacks in Colorado. He said:
”In lakes, which are easier, [CDOW has] had some good successes. In streams, success has been mixed. Since greenbacks apparently cannot often coexist with brook trout, which outcompete them, they must be stocked upstream of barriers (waterfalls, dams, diversions) that are good enough to prevent brook trout from invading. This happens to limit the efforts of biologists to only fairly remote headwater streams like the South Fork Poudre above Pingree Park. One discouraging characteristic of many of these streams is that they are actually too cold and/or do not tend to have sufficient habitat of the types required by trout at different life stages. The Southe Fork Poudre is one of these marginal streams. The segment upstream from Pingree Park is unlikely to support a large enough population to ever be fishable, unless there is a lot more successful restoration downstream of the current barrier (through Pingree Park at the very least). The upstream limit of greenbacks is only about a mile into Rocky Mountain National Park, because the stream is a little on the cold side, overall.
”Another interesting note about this population - Greenbacks were thought extinct in the early 1900's, but later several remnant populations were discovered. One of those remnant populations was comprised of a handful of very striking fish found in the upper reaches of the South Fork Poudre. This group survives in water that is colder than greenbacks from some other populations can tolerate, which makes them a very valuable genetic resources. However, the populations really hangs on by virtue of being remote and protected. A few years ago, fisheries surveys were done, and the numbers appeared to have dropped dangerously over the previous winter. So, CDOW augmented the population with fish from another stream where large numbers of greenbacks thrive.
”Greenbacks used to live throughout the South Platte Basin (to include the entire Poudre Basin), and the upper Arkansas Basin. The first Settlers could catch greenbacks in Greeley!!! Now, you can't even catch a trout that far out on the plains!”
If you start from either Emmaline Lake Trailhead or Beaver Creek Trailhead you can’t help but notice the large swath of forest that were burned by the Hourglass Fire in 1994. Lightning started the blaze on July 1st. By the end of the day 170 people were evacuated from CSU’s Pingree Park campus, the fire destroyed 13 buildings, and consumed hundreds of acres of lodgepole pine forest. The fire was declared contained on Tuesday July 5th, having burned an estimated 1,275 total acres. It took 602 firefighters, nine air tankers, four helicopters, and fifteen fire engines to put out the fire at an estimated cost of $1.5 million. The fire caused and estimated $2.2 million in damages to CSU’s Pingree park campus, which included the total destruction of 13 buildings and partial damage to two others.
No permit is required to climb Comanche Peak. If you begin your hike from Coral Creek Trailhead you may have to pay the park entrance fee. Camping within Rocky Mountain National Park is only allowed in designated campsites and requires a permit.
Camping in Comanche Peak Wilderness is allowed anywhere outside of travel zones. Inside travel zones, camping is only allowed in designated camping spots and fires are not allowed. Permits are not required regardless of whether you camp in a travel zone or not.
When To Climb & Mountain Conditions
Comanche Peak is best climbed June through October to avoid large amounts of snow and access issues. Below is a weather forecast for Estes Park, the nearest major town. Contact Rocky Mountain National Park or Canyon Lakes Ranger District for specific conditions.
WARNING: It's worth noting that hunting season can draw many hunters into Roosevelt National Forest. If you plan to hike in the area during hunting season it might be a wise idea to wear bright clothing avoid breaking trail through dense vegetation where visibility is low. For details about hunting season contact the Colorado Division of Wildlife (http://wildlife.state.co.us/) or Roosevelt National Forest.
Contact Rocky Mountain National Park
The rangers at Rocky Mountain National Park are super-friendly and are happy to answer all your questions. Here is the contact information I pulled off of their website (www.nps.gov/romo).
*e-mail messages will be responded to in the order received and usually within 24 hours of receipt.
Rocky Mountain National Park
1000 Highway 36
Estes Park, CO 80517-8397
Visitor Information Recorded Message
Visitor Information (TDD)
Contact US Forest Service Canyon Lakes Ranger District
For information regarding Comanche Peak Wilderness, Roosevelt National Forest, Long Draw Road, and Pennock Pass contact the Canyon Lakes Ranger District. Here is the contact info I pulled off of their website (www.fs.fed.us/arnf/districts/clrd).
Address: 1311 South College, Fort Collins, Colorado 80524
From the Emmaline Lake Trailhead TO Emmaline Lake, it is about 5.5 miles but like Andy said, by driving to the gate, you can knock off 1.5 miles and bring this down to 4.0 miles.
FYI: If you take the Beaver Meadows TH, Comanche Resevoir is 2.0 miles. To gain access to Comanche Peak, you'll have to walk across the dam and from there, it's an additional ~5.0 miles to RMNP boundary. There are no decent topos at the trailhead signs here so bring your own.
On a side note, this particular TH and hike up to Comanche Lake, which is an additional 3.0 miles past Comanche Resevoir is without doubt, the most beautiful forest hike I've ever been on! Absolutely pristine!