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HAPPY TRAILS: West Spanish Peak
HAPPY TRAILS: Spanish Peak
6 miles round trip
1,875 feet of elevation gain
If you live in Colorado Springs, you’ve seen the twin Spanish Peaks, rising above the prairie far to the southwest, often just a hint of mountain contours on the horizon.
They are historic mountains, known to the American Indians as “Wahatoya,” or “Breasts of the World,” from which all water in the world flowed. The Spanish knew them as “Dos Hermanos” — “The Two Brothers.” They were important guideposts along the Santa Fe Trail and remain some of the most prominent peaks in Colorado.
And you can climb them without the crowds you might find on a fourteener. West Spanish Peak, at 13,626, is the more popular climb, and actually a much shorter hike than its neighbor East Spanish Peak, thanks to a high mountain road.
To get there
Head south on Interstate 25 and then west on U.S. Highway 160. Turn south onto Colorado Highway 12 and pass through the sleepy hamlet of La Veta and tiny Cuchara, even sleepier since the local ski area closed down. When you’re nearly at the top of Cucharas Pass turn left onto the Cordova Pass Road (County Road 46).
Passenger vehicles can make it all the way to the trailhead, which is 6 miles in. It gets rougher if you continue to the east.
Climbing gently through the forest for 2 miles, you occasionally glimpse the challenge ahead. You’ll emerge above timberline and that's when the real fun begins - 1,600 feet of elevation gain in three-quarters of a mile. That’s nearly as steep as the Manitou Incline, and you’ll have to pick your way among loose talus.
Keep your eyes out for cairns, small rock piles that point the way.
Take in the breathtaking views from the summit. East Spanish Peak rises like a little brother to the east, the green Wet Mountains to the north, and to the west, the Sangre de Cristos form an imposing barrier to the San Luis Valley beyond.
Study the rock dikes that extend like spokes on a wheel out from the mountains. These distinctive walls are reminders of the lava flows that formed these majestic peaks. Return the way you came.
There is a $5 parking fee at the trailhead. Most of the hike is in the Spanish Peaks Wilderness, so no bicycles are allowed and dogs must be leashed. There’s a small first-come, first-served campground at the trailhead.
These mountains tend to melt out sooner than many others in Colorado and can usually be hiked without snow gear in early summer. Check conditions with the San Carlos Ranger District of San Isabel National Forest, (719) 269-8500.
A scale of one to four boots. One is easiest, with little elevation gain, and it is at a reasonable altitude. Four is most difficult, with severe elevation gain, difficult terrain or extreme length or altitude.
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