Sangre De Cristo Wilderness

If the beauty of the Colorado Sangres doesn't leave you breathless, the altitude will.

The Sangre De Cristo Mountains are exceptional, even by Colorado standards. Only 5 miles wide in places, the mountain range soars 7,000 feet skyward from the valley floor. With eight summits topping 14,000 feet, backpackers who want to go high will have to engage in some serious scrambling. But the scenic payoffs are worth the heavy breathing. Dozens of alpine lakes and countless cascading waterfalls lie nestled in lush valleys accessed by a 180-mile network of trails.

RECOMMENDED HIKE: The moderate-yet-challenging Comanche-Venable Trail loop climbs past Venable Falls to Venable Lakes, crosses Phantom Terrace and descends the Comanche Lake drainage. Plan for two days of hiking and 3,600 feet of climbing to do this 16-mile circuit.

WHERE: The trailhead is 170 miles (31/2 hours) southwest of Denver. Drive south from Westcliffe on CO 69 to Schoolfield Road, then west to Alvarado Campground and the Comanche-Venable trailhead.

MAPS: Your best bet is USGS's Horn Peak topo map. The Complete Guide to Colorado's Wilderness Areas ($24.95, Westcliffe Publishers, 800-523-3692) contains trail descriptions and more information.

CONTACT: San Isabel National Forest, 1920 Valley Dr., Pueblo, CO 81008; (719) 545-8737.