San Isabel National Forest Overview
If you're thinking about climbing all of Colorado's fourteeners, the San Isabel is a great place to knock some of 'em off19 of the 54 peaks are here, including the state's highest, Mount Elbert, at 14,433 feet. The Ute Indians say that man first emerged from the Earth in the mountains of San Isabel. The Utes, along with the Apache and Comanche, worshiped the Spanish Peaks and named the mountains Wahatoya, meaning "Breast of the Earth." Indeed, there is a primeval feel to the forest as thousands of years of erosion reveal volcanic stocks and jagged outcrops formed by molten magma forced through vertical dikes.
Hike to the Summit of Mount Elbert
Leave your crampons at home, you don't need any special climbing skills or equipment to summit Elbert—you do need awesome conditioning to get you to the top of Colorado's highest peak. The full-day climb begins at an elevation of 10,100 feet at the Half Mooncreek Trailhead and follows the Colorado Trail (aka Main Range Trail) for a mile until it junctions with the North Mount Elbert Trail (No. 1484). From there, the trail snakes its way up the mountain like a sidewinder—a series of switchbacks will put you on top of the second highest mountain in the lower 48.
Explore the Sangre de Cristo Wilderness
The narrow spine of the Sangre de Cristo Mountain range resembles a serrated knife sharpened by glaciers. In the 1850s, a skeleton in Spanish armor was discovered in a cave in the wilderness—a lost and forgotten conquistador who ultimately sacrificed his life exploring the "Blood of Christ" Mountains. Cold mountain rain, cascading waterfalls, and alpine lakes quench the thirst of aspen groves and stands of spruce, pine, and fir. You can explore this mountain paradise along 180 miles of trails that traverse this magical wilderness. Not enough? Explore the forest's five other wilderness areas including Holy Cross, Mount Massive, Buffalo Peaks, Greenhorn Mountains, and Collegiate Peaks.
Camp near Mount Princeton Hot Springs
Bootleg Campgrounds is a few miles east of Mount Princeton Hot Springs—after a long day of hiking, immerse yourself in the soaking pool at temperatures of 100-105 degrees Fahrenheit. The springs are located beneath Mount Princeton Chalk Cliffs and were used by Native Americans for centuries before Europeans built a way station, hotel, and freight depot in 1860.
More on Colorado hot-spring campsites
Catch and Release Cutthroats
If you catch cutthroat, let 'em go. The greenback cutthroat—along with the Paiute and Lahonton—are presently listed under the Endangered Species Act. There was a time when 14 subspecies of cutthroat thrived in the West; today, two of them are officially extinct. In December of 1999, environmental groups filed a petition with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to list the Colorado River cutthroat trout as endangered. The introduction of non-native trout, livestock grazing, mining, logging, and water diversion have effectively eliminated the Colorado River cutthroat from 95 percent of its historic habitat.
Snowboard in the Army
Will the U.S. Army ever create a mountain division of snowboard soldiers? Dare to dream. Until that happens, you can snowboard down the same slopes used to train ski soldiers during World War II—Ski Cooper offers 26 trails and a summit elevation of 11,700 feet. The Monarch Ski & Snowboard Area, opened in 1939, boasts 54 trails accessible by four double chair lifts and a high-speed quad.
Mountain Bike on Old Mining Roads
Roughriders can lay some fat-tire tread on a web of old mining roads that weave their way through Halfmoon Drainage, Clear Creek, Turquoise Lake, and Twin Lakes. South Halfmoon Road (Forest Road 110.3A) takes you through a forest of lodgepole pine along a 5.7-mile route guaranteed to wet your fat tire—several streams must be forded along the way to the Iron Mike Mine.
Cruise the Highway of the Fourteeners
This 19-mile stretch of US Highway 24 will blow you away with its 360-degree wrap-around panorama of 14,000-foot peaks—ten of them, to be precise. You'll pass the Ivy League crests of Mount Harvard, Mount Yale, Mount Princeton, and Mount Columbia as you earn an honorary degree in mountain ogling. Scenic overlooks allow you to pull over and test out that new zoom camera lens you paid the big bucks for.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication