The Low Down
If you’re looking for a great starter solo adventure with stunning views, look no further. Horn Peak is it!
This trail is great if you’re trying to get into 14er shape (or stay in 14er shape) or hiking shape in general.
This trail is also great if you’re looking to see minimal people. I saw one couple and their two dogs on my way down and that was it!
Horn Peak is just shy of 9 miles and about 4500 ft of elevation gain and of course elevation loss.
It’s a fairly even pitch so get ready for a leg burner! I highly recommend trekking poles for this one.
Horn Peak is located just outside Westcliffe, about a 3 hour drive from Denver so you can do this as a day trip with an early morning or you can try camping solo too!
The Horn Creek trailhead is easily accessible in a passenger vehicle.
There were plenty of parking spots at the trailhead so if you want to sleep in your car, you should be able to park somewhere with a bit of privacy. There was also ample space to pitch a tent if that’s your preference.
There is a vault toilet at the trailhead so no worries about needing to dig a hole
Horn Peak Trail
When you’re ready to get to some hiking, start up the trailhead from the parking lot. At the first junction, take a right and follow that until it intersects the 4WD road. From there, it’s about 0.25 miles until you reach Rainbow Trail.
Enjoy the gentle warmth of the sun starting to stream through the trees.
Go right at the Rainbow Trail junction.
Breathe in deep and enjoy the scent of fresh pine tress as you munch on your breakfast Bobo’s bar.
At the junction for Dry Lakes (err “DRY LKS.”, did they really need to abbreviate lakes there?), continue straight.
My brain was not awake yet at this point and I decided to go left. Don't do that. I added an unnecessary mile and 500ft of elevation gain. You'd think I would have clued in to my error as I was signing the register and exactly zero people had specified Horn Peak as their destination. 🤦🏼♀️
Soon you’ll cross over the very wet Dry Creek.
A little ways up there’s a fork in the road. You’ll see an area closed sign on a tree along the right of the trail. Keep to the left.
At the next junction, go left for the Horn Peak Trail, wee!
Junction for Horn Peak Trail, go left. 3 miles to the summit!
It turns into a bit of a burner here so get ready to shed that outer layer.
After the push uphill, enjoy the break for your legs and lungs and it levels out a bit.
The trail continues in this pattern for a ways.
When you come to a little stream crossing, head straight up the steep hill on the other side. Look up and to your left and you’ll see the Sangre de Cristo Wilderness sign and know you’re going the right direction!
Cross the stream, then go uphill to the left. Look for the Sangre de Cristo Wilderness sign.
A little ways up, climb over a fairly high log. If you’re short like me, you might have to do the old sit and twist.
After the log, the trail takes a sharp right. Don’t miss it! It looks like there’s another trail that keeps going straight but it will lead you astray. Take the sharp right and start up the switchbacks to the ridge.
Take a sharp right and start up the switchbacks to the ridge.
The next section of trail is pretty skinny. When the trail makes a sharp left, congrats! You are officially on the ridge!
Once you bust out of the trees, stop, turn around, and take a look at that view! What a beaut. Throw those sunglasses on, put on some sunscreen and tell yourself you got this! You can see Horn Peak now up ahead.
The trail is very grass covered and hard to follow from here. It pretty quickly cuts left up the hill. Watch for the wooden posts and aim for those if you lose the trail. You should be able to see a couple of them if you look uphill.
One of the wooden posts
The last wooden post
When you get to the last post, continue past it a little ways and you’ll find a rocky trail. Follow this all the way up to the false summit.
Stop for a break at the false summit if you need it because you’ve earned it! Admire those views of Humboldt and the Crestones.
Pick your way up the next rocky section. The sight of Crestone Needle is absolutely captivating so try not to fall if you can’t stop staring at it.
Just a little push to the summit from there. Enjoy the jaw dropping views from the top, you worked hard for them!
Dani’s Drive Tip: before you go sitting on any rocks, scope them out for marmot poop. It was plentiful up there. I sat on some fresh stuff on Harvard and the juices soaked right into my leggings. Gross.
One of the poop culprits
Beautiful view over the Sangres. That's five 14ers right there! Humboldt, Crestone Needle, Crestone Peak, Kit Carson, and Challenger.
Now it’s time for the hike back down! You’re going to want those trekking poles because oofta (yes I’m from MN) it’s a knee killer going down.
Hopefully you find your rhythm and get a groove going. Be wary of loose rock. I had one slip, but not a fall! I’ve been told it only counts as a fall if your butt hits the ground. Well, I caught myself in a low a$$ to grass squat (thanks to olympic lifting I can drop it real low, real fast) so it was not a fall folks!
The trail is still hard to follow on the way back down so try to watch for the wooden posts again and make sure you don’t drop too far low on the right or left.
Once you’re back in the trees it’s smooth sailing from there!