Greenhorn Mountain resides in the Wet Mountain Range. It has the honors of being the ranges high point as well as the highest point for Pueblo county. The Wet Mountains are one of Colorado’s lower ranges (when compared to other major ranges in Colorado) with an elevation topping out at just over 12,000 feet. It spans for fifty miles in a north-south direction beginning at the Arkansas River near Canon City and ending at the Huerfano River just north of Walsenburg. If traveling on I-25 Greenhorn’s Mountain dominates the view to the west between Pueblo and Walsenburg.
Although the summit just nudges above the timberline at 12,347 and only ranks as the 1,107 highest peak in the state. There isn’t a higher mountain for over forty miles. So Greenhorn’s summit provides a wonderful 360 degree view, and actually ranks as Colorado’s 11th most prominent peak (thanks to Ryan Schilling here). The endless vista of the Great Plains makes up the views to the east. The spectacular and rugged looking Sangre de Cristo Mountains dominate the view to the west. Looking south the Spanish Peaks with their twin looking summits rule your vision, and Pikes Peak makes its appearance to the north.
Greenhorn Mtn was named after the great Comanche Chief Greenhorn or Cuerno Verde who resided in the area. In 1779 a battle between the Comanche Indians and the Spanish Governor de Anza was fought on the slopes of Greenhorn Mtn, near what today is Rye. De Anza was able to defeat Cuerno Verde and ended up killing him and four of his sub-chiefs. Thus after this point in time the area was as referred as "the Greenhorn" or "Greenhorn Valley".
The Wet Mountains are void of any spectacular looking peaks like their neighbors to the west and offer few opportunities for rock climbing. What Greenhorn lacks in ferocious looking summits it offers abundant wildlife, five ecosystems and solitude. Although it’s in close proximity to a major freeway and areas of substantial population. It is typically bypassed by many outdoor enthusiasts for the Sangre de Cristo’s or the Spanish Peaks. Only during the hunting season is the area busy, so an orange hat is recommended during this time of year.
In 1993 the 22,000 acre Greenhorn Mountain Wilderness was designated after a 20 year wait. No other wilderness area in Colorado offers such a vast display of the ecosystem. Starting at the prairies near 7,600 feet and traveling all the way to the alpine tundra at over 12,000 feet. It is also one of the most remote and lightly used wilderness areas in the state and doesn’t contain a single lake. The area is small, steep and relatively dry. There are only eleven miles of trail most of which reside in the northern and eastern sections. The entire southern section of the wilderness is trail less and offers a truly pristine experience for the person who likes total solitude. The threatened greenback cutthroat trout resides in the South Apache Creek, in addition, the area is prime habitat for Big Horn Sheep, Mule Deer and Elk.
One who spends the time to explore Greenhorn Mountain should stop at Bishops Castle. It’s located a few miles north of San Isabel in Colo Hwy 165. This castle is the undertaking of one man's own mussel and sweat who started it in 1969. For the past fifteen years, I stop by every time to see the progression of the large granite structure. Anyone can wonder throughout the castle for free, although donations are appreciated. On many occasions he will be working away and will kindly answer any questions you may have.
Due to the amount of driving involved to get to the upper trailhead. Owning the Colorado Atlas and Gazetter by DeLorme will help in the aiding.
Upper Greenhorn Trail Trailhead:
This is the standard and easiest way to the summit. It is a long drive and involves numerous miles on gravel roads.
From I-25, exit onto Colorado Hwy 165 (exit 74) go west through Colorado City, Rye, San Isabel, and Bishops Castle. At a hairpin turn left onto Forest Service road 400 or Ophir Creek Rd, pass the turn off to the Ophir Creek campground and veering left after 1.25 miles. Finally after 7.5 miles you will come upon a four-way junction. Turn left onto FR403 or Greenhorn Road, travel for an additional 15 miles to the end of the road where there is a parking area. This is the trailhead and there is sign marking the trail.
Lower GreenhornTrail Trailhead:
From I-25, exit onto Colorado Hwy 165 (exit 74) go west through Colorado City for 8 miles to Rye. Instead of veering to the right on Colo 165 go straight into the small town on Main Street which soon turns into Park Rd. From the turn off of Hwy 165 travel for 0.8 miles to a Y in the road veer right onto Cuerna Verde Rd. Heading west and then turning south. After 1.6 miles there will be a small parking lot with a bridge crossing over Greenhorn Creek. This is the trailhead.
Excellent camping spots are scattered all along the Greenhorn Mtn road. There are also quite a few National Forest campgrounds in the area. The closest one is Ophir Creek Campground, others in the area include Davenport and San Carlos.
Colorado City has a hotel just off the I-25 exit and is the closest to the trailheads. Westcliffe and Walsenburg are in the area as well and offer abundant lodging.
Greenhorn Mountain’s summit is in a Wilderness Area so the typical rules apply, but the majority of the mountain is in national forest. There are no permits required, and no use, or parking fees to climb Greenhorn Mtn.
The Wet Mountains get bombarded with people wondering around all over the place in there orange jackets during hunting season. Between Sept. and Mid-November is probably the busiest time of the year for this mountain range. I highly suggest taking something that is reflective, like a fluorescent orange hat during this time of year.
The forest service closes the Ophir Creek road in the winter a few miles past the turn off of Colo. Hwy 165. They try to have it open by Memorial day and close it after the hunting season. For more information or current mountain conditions contact the Pike & San Isabel National Forest contact:
2840 Kachina Drive
Pueblo, CO 81008