Trailhead Elevation: ~9,070 feet
Summit Elevation: 13,277 feet
Hiking Distance: Approximately 13.3 miles round-trip
Time: Full-day hike
Drive Time From Denver: 3 hours
Closest Town with Services: Westcliffe
Where To Park: Alvarado trailhead
The Hike: The Venable-Comanche Loop is a lung-burning stunner of a circuit near the town of Westcliffe that gives trail runners with a peak-bagging habit the best of both worlds. For a less steep approach, start on Venable Trail #347. At 2.4 miles, look for a short spur trail for the shaded Venable Falls cascade, which is a great place for a quick breather. From here, the single-track trail climbs steadily, winding through aspen groves and offering a lovely view of Venable Creek flowing below you as you get above treeline. Venable Lakes, two alpine jewels situated above 12,000 feet, serve as a scenic backdrop for a snack break around mile 4.6. You’ll remain on #347 until taking a left at a noticeable junction (at mile 5.2) onto the Phantom Terrace #359 Trail, where the formidable Phantom Terrace awaits. So named because it’s difficult to spot this camouflaged ledge until you’re right upon it, this narrow, rocky section is exposed, steep, and has a 1,000-plus foot drop off to your left.
Your reward for bravery is a dazzlingly view of the surrounding peaks when you reach the saddle, situated just past the terrace, around mile 6. From here, the gently flowing single-track glides across the backside of Spring Mountain, through the heart of the Sangre de Cristos. At Comanche Pass (around mile 6.8), a half-mile, 500-foot-vertical-gain trek remains to reach the top of Comanche Peak. There isn’t a dedicated trail to the apex; stick close to the ridge line, traversing rocky tundra, to make the pinnacle. Retrace your steps back to Comanche Pass, taking Comanche Trail #746 down towards Comanche Lake. Don’t forget your telescoping fishing rod for the lake—also an ideal spot for a quick dip—around mile 8.2. Enjoy the downhill jaunt (finally) on the final 4.1 miles back to the trailhead.
Fair Warning: A healthy dose of vert (more than 4,000 feet throughout the entire loop) with steady (and, at times, fairly steep) climbing make for a long day on the trail. Bring plenty of water, a water filter, and snacks. The Phantom Terrace is exposed and can be scary, especially for those who are afraid of heights or who experience vertigo.
Getting There: From Denver, take I-25 south through Colorado Springs. Turn right on CO-115 towards Florence. Just before hitting downtown Florence, turn left on CO-67 south towards Wetmore, then turn right on CO-96. Take CO-96 through downtown Westcliffe, and turn left to