Venable and Comanche Trails
excerpts from the book
Incredible Backcountry Trails 
by David Day

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Incredible Backcountry Trails
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    Distance: 12.2 miles (loop)

    Walking time:  9 hours

    : 3,900 ft. gain/loss
       Comanche/Venable Trailhead (start): 9,000 ft.
       Venable Lakes: 12,000 ft.
       Venable Pass: 12,800 ft.
       Comanche Lake: 11,660 ft.

    Trail: Well marked, easy to follow

    Season: Midsummer through mid-fall. The higher parts of the trail are generally covered with snow from mid-November through early July.

    Vicinity: Near Westcliffe

    Venable and Comanche TrailsVenable and Comanche Trails


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    The Venable and Comanche trails together form a popular loop hike into the Sangre de Cristo Wilderness Area. The route follows Venable Creek up to the crest of the Sangre de Cristo Range, then traverses the west side of Spring Mountain. From there it crosses Comanche Pass and follows the Comanche Trail back to the trailhead. You might also want to consider bagging two thirteeners along the way. Venable Peak (13,334 ft.) is just 554 feet above the highest point on this trail, and Comanche Peak (13,277 ft.) is 577 feet above Comanche Pass. Both peaks are relatively easy uphill walks from the trail.

    With an early start the basic loop trail can be walked in one day. But if you want a more relaxed outing I suggest you spend one night either at Comanche Lake or in the basin below the Venable Lakes. There are no nice campsites near the Venable Lakes themselves.

    The path leaves the trailhead in a northerly direction through a forest of Ponderosa pine, then slowly begins bending around to the west. After just a few minutes you will come to a trail junction where the Rainbow Trail branches off to the left, then 0.3 mile later you will arrive at a second junction where the Goodwin Trail branches off to the right. Five minutes after leaving the Goodwin Trail junction you will begin to hear running water on the south side of the trail. This is Venable Creek, which you will be following all the way to its source.

    After the trail meets Venable Creek it begins a long, unbroken climb up the valley toward the Venable Lakes. The grade is not particularly steep, but it is unrelenting. After 1.8 miles you will come to a spur trail that drops down a short distance to the shore of the creek. The spur is marked with a sign that says "Venable Falls", but even without the sign the noise makes it obvious that there is a waterfall nearby. There are several great viewpoints along the creek and it is worth stopping to take a look.

    1.3 miles beyond the falls the Venable Trail enters one of the most beautiful parts of this hike. Here the trail levels out at the mouth of Venable Basin, a wide glacier-sculpted alpine meadow backed by the 13,000-foot summit ridge that connects Venable and Comanche Peaks. Complimenting this gorgeous scene is a photogenic old minerís cabin that seems to have been built here just so its owner could enjoy the gorgeous view.

    Disappointingly, the trail does not stay long in the bottom of the basin, but immediately begins to climb up the north side of the valley toward Venable Pass. Soon after leaving the old cabin the trail crosses timberline, and after 0.6 miles it arrives at the largest of the Venable Lakes. You canít see the smaller lake from the trail, but it is not really worth the effort of leaving the trail to visit it. The lakes are situated on a high, rocky bench, quite removed from the picturesque valley below, and they are not particularly scenic.

    0.4 mile after leaving Venable Lakes the trail comes to another junction. If you turn right here you will be heading toward Venable Pass, but in order to complete the loop you must bear left toward Comanche Pass. The next 0.6 mile of trail is an exciting segment. The path gains another 340 feet before reaching 12,780 feet, the highest point on this hike, and crossing to the west side of the ridge. The last few hundred yards are along a very narrow constructed trail with significant exposure on the left side. I wouldnít want to attempt this trail in icy conditions. In warm, dry weather the danger is minimal, but it is definitely exciting.

    As the trail crosses the ridge Venable Peak seems almost close enough to hit with a rock. If you have the time and inclination to bag a thirteener it is an easy 20-minute scramble to the top. The summit is 0.3 mile from and 554 feet above the trail.

    After crossing the ridge the trail heads south with very little change in elevation toward Comanche Pass. It reaches the pass after 1.0 mile, crosses to the east side of the ridge, and starts down into Comanche Lake basin. Again, it is tempting to bag another named thirteener before starting down. Comanche Peak is just 0.3 mile further up the summit ridge-an easy 20-minute walk away. The peak is 577 feet above Comanche Pass, but the terrain is not particularly difficult.

    From Comanche Pass the trail heads down the north side of the basin, loosing 1,040 feet of elevation and passing Comanche Lake after 1.5 miles. Comanche Lake is much prettier than the Venable Lakes and there are a few nice camping areas nearby, but the basin itself is not a pretty as Venable Basin. From the lake it is another 4.2 miles of uneventful downhill walking to the trailhead.


    The book includes more text, more photographs, and trail maps.

    If you are interested in a supplemental map of the Venable and Comanche Trails
    we recommend:
    Sangre de Cristo Mountains  (Trails Illustrated, map #138)

    Click here for DISCOUNTED MAP ORDERS

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