Located along the eastern slopes of the Sangre De Cristo Mountains near the town of Westcliffe, Colorado are several trails that one can find peace, solitude and some of the most beautiful scenery that the State of Colorado has to offer. Most trails that start on the eastern side of the range climb for approximately 5 miles and end in a basin with several beautiful lakes of different shapes, sizes and colors. All of those basins are surrounded by several mountain peaks and ridges, offering climbers the ability to bag all sorts of peaks and explore even more of the rugged Sangres. Besides all the trails that end in basins, there are a few that continue on across the top of the range from the Wet Mountain Valley westerly into the San Luis Valley. Two of those trails are the Comanche and Venable.
Both the Comanche and Venable trails use the same trailhead, giving one the ability to do a loop hike without a shuttle. Starting at the north end of the parking area, you would head to the Venable trail and from the south of the parking lot, towards the Comanche trail. Both are clearly signed. Both trailhead registers are approximately one half mile from the parking lot.
The entire loop hike distance is approximately 13 miles with an elevation gain and loss of about 3600ft. My total time out including several photo stops, some deviations due to snowfields and short breaks was just under 7 hours. Makes for a great dayhike. Water is available along the trail at various spots. More so on the Venable side.
Along this particular hike, you have the ability to climb three peaks over 13,000ft by deviating a very short distance off the trail. The three peaks are, Comanche Peak, Spring Mountain and Venable Peak. Two of these peaks can probably be reached in less than 30 minutes from the trail at various points. To get to Venable Peak, you would probably need to double that time.
From either trailhead register, you will continue through a beautiful pine and aspen forest towards a lake filled basin. Distance to either, the Comanche or Venable lakes from the trailhead are approximately the same, around 5 miles. Continuing another mile or so past the two Comanche Lakes you will come to Commanche Pass, where you have the option of continuing down the other side of the mountain on another trail into the San Luis Valley below or turning north along the western slope of Spring Mountain to the Phantom Terrace. A small ledge that connects the Comanche trail to the Venable trail. This is the direction of the loop hike.
Once crossing the Phantom Terrace, you will begin to lose elevation while passing several small lakes. These are the Venable Lakes. A couple miles further, you are given a chance for a short detour to view the picturesque Venable Falls prior to returning to the parking area. There are also amazing and colorful patches of aspen as well as almost endless views of the Wet Mountain Valley below from both, the Venable and Comanche trails.
Locating The Trail.
The trailhead is located approximately 9 miles southwest of Westcliffe, Co. From the north, travel to the town of Westcliffe on highway 69. When you get to the flashing red light (the only electrical signal light in the entire county of Custer), you will turn left heading east for approximately a half mile. Hwy 69 will then veer to the right (south). Head 3.5 miles south to Schoolfield Rd . Turn west(right) on Schoolfield Rd and follow the signs to the Comanche-Venable trailhead located 5.5 miles from hwy 69. From the east, take hwy 96 west to hwy 69 south and follow the previous directions. From the south, head north on hwy 69 and turn left/west on Schoolfield Rd and follow the signs.
The last half mile of the road to the trailhead is no longer a county maintained road. At times, it can be rocky, but is normally passable by just about any vehicle. I drive up it in a Pontiac Grand Am. Roadwork has been done recently and some fairly deep channels have been dug across the road to help water runoff. If you have a low clearance vehicle, you may bottom out while crossing these, but should be able to get to the parking lot.
There is a bathroom located at the trailhead. Presently there are no fees or permits required to park here, but rumor has it that there may be a $5.00 fee to park at the trailhead in the near future.