Besides the 6 miles on County Road 160, this loop is entirely singletrack, exploring 6 bowls on either side of the Sangre de Cristo mountain range, crossing four passes. Trips timed to coincide with the wildflowers in early summer or aspens turning in early autumn will be especially spectacular.
This route is strenuous and passes through some high alpine conditions. Be prepared with plenty of water, sun protection, and enough layers to withstand windy conditions.
Start by heading uphill on the access trail to the Rainbow Trail #1336: Alvarado Creek to Hermit Pass, and head north until the trail crosses County Road 160, a four wheel road that climbs up to 13,000 ft where it ends on the ridgeline. There are several options to get water at Middle Taylor creek or take a detour to one of the several lakes. At the pass, continue past the boulders halting vehicle traffic, down onto the Rito Alto Trail.
Follow the trail clockwise around the bowl, which becomes the North Fork Crestone Trail
, ascending the 2nd pass much lower than the first. Again, there is a trail that could take you to the lake if you wanted. After crossing the pass, follow the North Fork Crestone Trail
, avoiding turning down to the creek on the San Isabel Trail. The trail crosses several streams which run even during late summer, so there are amble opportunities to get water. Another climb crosses the 3rd pass and down into another valley that would be worth a whole day exploring.
At the next trail juncture, stay high onto the Venable Trail
which climbs to the 4th and final pass, the 2nd highest of the loop. After gaining the ridge, stay on the main trail, avoiding the side trails to the Venerable Lake Trail
, and descend back to the initial Rainbow Trail intersection with the access trail spur back to the trailhead.
All kinds of plants make their home along the slopes including pete moss, shrubs, aspen & Ponderosa trees &, various others.