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Hiking & Walking: Colorado > Rio Grande National Forest > Conejos Peak Ranger District

Quick Facts

Blanca Peak

Beginning Elevation: 7,800 Feet (2431.4 Meters) Roadside parking
Difficulty: Difficult
Elevation Gain: 6,545 Feet (2040.2 Meters)
Ending Elevation: 14,345 Feet (4471.6 Meters) Summit of Mt. Blanca
Length, One-way: 8 Miles (13.33 Kilometers)
Usage: Moderate to Heavy
USGS Map: Blanca Peak, Twin Peaks

Satellite and Topo Map

General Description

Blanca Peak is the 4th highest peak in Colorado. Spectacular views along the way are the rule rather than the exception. The trail requires a full day, and many places are difficult. The vistas provided at the end are well worth the effort. Get an early start unless you like the challenge of coming down in the dark. It is also not recommended that you try this peak alone.

Travel north on Highway 150 (the road leading to the Great Sand Dunes National Monument) approximately 3.2 miles and turn right on a dirt road that travels northeast toward the mountains. After about 1.5 miles there is a spot where the road begins to climb and it becomes rocky. This is where most vehicles stop. Most people attempting an ascent of one of the fourteeners camp at Lake Como.

The road is officially closed to motorized traffic just above Lake Como. However, very few choose to drive the whole road. The tread resembles a rocky, dry stream bed more than a road. It is rough to drive and rough on vehicles. The last mile is the worst and only the possessed complete the road. The road is so rocky that it can even be wearing on foot travelers.

The hike from the parking area to Lake Como is a rather monotonous grind. However, the alpine landscape and views above lake Como are outstanding. The crosses easy alpine tundra to Blue Lakes. It then climbs a steep slope to the Crater Lake Basin. The route above Crater Lake climbs through barren rock toward the saddle between Ellingwood Point and Blanca Peak. It is fairly well marked with rock cairns. From the saddle, follow the ridge to the right and take it to the summit.

The foot trail is almost entirely above timberline. The first half of the trail is fairly easy. The last half becomes quite steep and rocky. The upper trail is difficult and can be dangerous if care is not given. Although it is quite a hike to the top, the vistas from way up there are spectacular and well worth the effort.

The weather in this area is subject to sudden changes, and violent storms can be expected at any time. Visitors should be prepared for and be on constant look out for these weather changes.

Water is available to the 13,600' level, but should be treated before use. Campsites are very limited once the visitor is above Como Lake.

To avoid having to rush through the best part, it is suggested that three days be planned for the trip: The first day for traveling to timberline just above Lake Como; the second day for the ascent to the peak and descent back to timberline; and the third day for the return trip.

Directions from U.S. Highway 160: From U.S. Highway 160, turn in the Great Sand Dunes National Monument entrance. This is Highway 150. Travel north approximately 3.2 miles and turn right on a dirt road that travels northeast toward the mountains. Follow the road approximately 1.5 miles to the point where the road begins to climb and becomes rocky. If you do not have 4WD, this is the place to park. With a 4WD you can continue to Lake Como, but it's an awful 4WD road.

Current Conditions & Trip Reports

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Filed By: AGoodpaster
Number of People Encountered: 0-10 ppl
Recommend to a Friend: Neutral
Report: The toughest part of the climb to Blanca is by far the approach to Como Lake. This 4x4 road from about 8,800 on up is treacherous on foot and nearly impossible to vehicles other than ATV's and the very best 4x4's(and I don't mean newest, but rather right tires, ground clearance, etc.). Camping at Como is absolutely beautiful, and I recommend it. Take a fishing pole and plenty of mosquito spray. Be sure to take plenty of water and/or the ability to treat it - that's a key for surviving and enjoying the hike. There's a beautiful stream just off of Como that provides easy access to fill up bladders, bottles, etc. The trail from Como, past the Blue Lakes and Crater Lake are easy to follow. Once above Crater, watch for the cairns. There are plenty of them, and following them can make the difficult ascent a bit easier. There were a few patches of snow still around, but no rain and very little wind. However, we dodged a huge bullet by getting up and down early in the day. By about 2:30 a storm quickly dropped in with some serious rain and wind.
Conditions: Great weather, not too hot, for the 2nd week of July. Let me reiterate that the terrain from trailhead to Como is extremely treacherous on ankles. Good shoes/boots are important. Hiking poles will help, and I don't recommend this trip for a first-timer. It is quite a climb. Also, try not to limit yourself on time. I took the Amtrak from Kansas City overnight Friday, arrived in LaJunta Saturday morning to pick up a rental 4x4, drove to the trailhead (2 hours) and started up by noon on a Saturday - plenty of time to get into camp and set up before sundown. However, Sunday I had to be back in the truck by 5pm to catch the train in LaJunta back to KC. It was a rush and didn't give me ample time to enjoy the climb. Two full days is best, or 3 partials (like late start Friday, camp, Summit on Saturday, camp, out on Sunday) would be the ideal way to enjoy this hike. Firewood takes some work, but it's available. Have a small shovel and/or saw that you can break wood down with. Sun screen and lip balm with SPF are a must. Sunglasses, hat, and gloves are recommended for additional comforts.
Water Availability: Water was an issue for me, as I mistakenly bought the wrong propane canister for my coleman oven, and had to use the fire to boil water - you could taste the smoke. I recommend picking up the compact Coleman, or one similar, for boiling water - or just treat it chemically. I consumed about two and half gallons in a 24-hour period, which included my food preparation (a couple of freeze-dried meals from Backwoods). The streams are clear and flowing, with easy access near Como and above to Crater Lake.
Recommended Clothing: Montrail Mt. Mist shoes were light, but provided the much needed padding for the rocky terrain. The Gore-Tex also protected from the water crossings and wetland area between Como and Crater. Go-lite shorts up to Camp, with a lite Dri-fit shirt and a ball cap. On the summit climb I added a patagonia long-sleeve shirt and lite-weight northface pants, a stocking cap and light cotton gloves to help with the bouldering and scrambling. Be prepared for a long climb into the camping areas - it takes endurance and lots of patience, as the trail up to Como seems to keep going and going. (5 hours from 8200' for me).
Suggested Accessories: My partner used hiking poles and they seemed to help him, especially on the descent of Como Lake road, which again, I will say is very steep and rocky in lots of places. The right shoes are critical - he had Merrels and I had Montrails (www.montrail.com) A coleman headlamp around camp is great help after dark. Waterproof matches is also a great idea- even if you take the coleman propane piece. Did I mention to take a camera? This is a beautiful place to get away from the rest of the world and provides a wide variety of magnificent photos. Enjoy your climb! Everyone I met along the way was friendly and helpful - thanks!

Time of Day: 11:00 am
Length of Time: weekend trip
Difficulty: Hard
Number of People Encountered: 11-25 ppl
Recommend to a Friend: Highly
Report: The description of the road to Como Lake is an understatement. It is by far the WORST 4x4 road I've ever encountered. It was easier to hike the road than to trash my toyota 4x4 trying to get to Como Lake, although hiking the steep road wasn't all that much fun until after Como Lake. The trail did get more difficult the closer I got to Blanca Peak. It would have been worth it if it wasn't for the scrambling over rocks and snow fields. The Forest Service has apparently allowed 4x4s free reign all the way up to Blue Lake as there's a jeep trail all ther way up there (and further if the terrain wasn't steeper past the Blue Lake). If you want a wilderness experience, don't do this hike on a holiday weekend.
Conditions: The highest lake (Crater Lake?) was frozen. There were two large steep snow fields before getting to the pass that were dangerous. The mosquitoes around Como Lake were particularly aggressive. The mosquitoes disappeared once at the lakes above Como. The description on this web site about Como Lake being on private land is erroneous. After calling the Forest Service, the private land had been acquired some 10 years ago and it is now public land. The Forest Service has no permits or restrictions. Over the 4th of July weekend, Como Lake was extremely crowded, in my opinion, with as many as eight jeeps and at least a dozen packpacking parties. The Forest Service should address the sanitation issue at Como Lake because there were a lot of people and no latrines of any kind and it was an at-large restroom situation. The scenery is spectacular!
Water Availability: There was plenty of water if one filtered or boiled it. Above the highest lake, below the pass, water was not available except for melting snow.
Recommended Clothing: Since the weather was pretty warm, I didn't use the polypro I brought along and didn't need a down jacket. Layers are the way to go. I'm sure it could be quite cold when the region wasn't experiencing a heat wave.
Suggested Accessories: Fly fishing with a fly rod is definitely good at Como Lake. Bait fishing was lousy. An out of state fishing license is available for $5 per day at local vendors. An ice axe, crampons, ski poles would have made the ascent to the pass easier.

Filed By: Kerry Lee (Austin, Tx)
Time of Day: 12:00 Noon
Length of Time: 5 hours
Difficulty: Moderate
Number of People Encountered: 0-10 ppl
Recommend to a Friend: Highly
Report: I was 5 years older since the last time i attempted the climb, so age was a little bit of a factor, there was more snow up on the mountain this year, more than i have ever encountered before even for July. There were 3 of us, when we arrived at Lily Lake our stay was short due to the weather the temperature dropped into the low 30s and the rain started, I could only imagine what the winters are like up here, it got very cold and wet, we could hear avalanches of snow through the valley. Being the senior on the climb I made the decision to return to the trail head for safety reasons. My suggestions for the next guy leave it as you find it for it is on loan to us from God. i will return this next year, and will hopefully be able to climb again.

Difficulty: Moderate
Number of People Encountered: 0-10 ppl
Recommend to a Friend: Highly
Report: The last time i was at Blanca Peak was 5 years ago will be back in the area on the 20th of June 2001 am looking forward to climbing the summit again, I highly recommend the trek, the scenary and the views from the top of the mountain is excellent. KLEE953689@aol.com

Difficulty: Moderate
Number of People Encountered: 11-25 ppl
Recommend to a Friend: Neutral
Report: Well I just got back from the mighty Blanca! What a trip it was. It started just like I thought it would a slow steady uphill GRIND!!! I didn't really care for that road at all when it was over. If have a choice next time I will try to get further up the road before parking. There is not much to see on the way up it anyways.(besides all the four wheel drive trucks chocking up the air). But when you get to Lake Como it is well worth the trip!! If you would like to stay away from the crowds then hike on up to Blue Lake. It is only 1/2 mile up the trail from Lake Como and well worth the time it took to get there. We were planning on climbing both Blanca and Ellingwood. But that is where the day started to go bad. While trying to get to the top of Blanca a storm set in on us and we had to make some changes to our plans kinda quickier than I wanted to. Normally The mountains storms will not hit til afternoon but that day they decided to hit at 9:30 in the morning. within an hour it went from 40's and sunshine to 30's and hail the size of quaters! there was about 10 climbers trying to make it to the top. Only 2 did and they were alot more exp. than I was. They still said we did the right thing by coming down when we did. We were going to wait out the storm but it never let up enough to get another chance. The description of the trail from this site was right on the money!! If you want a climb that easy but still challageing then this is the climb for you. if you want to add to the day then try the ridge from Blanca to Ellingwood. I did not make it this time. But that only means I have to come back and try again! YES!!! Thanks, Matt Horton email:cowdog@iglobal.net

Recreation Opportunities
Activity Remarks On Site
ICON Four-Wheel Driving Expert only 4 WD from parking lot to Lake Como
ICON Hiking & Walking Lake Como, Blue Lakes and Blanca Peak are all great hiking destinations.
ICON Mountain Climbing Little Bear Peak (14,037) and Ellingwood Point (14,021) can be climbed from here as well.

Related Activities
Lake Como Four-Wheel Drive Road - This as an absolutely atrocious four wheel drive road that few actually drive on. It is used as the access point to Mt. Blanca.

More Information
Frequently Asked Questions
Email the Local Ranger

Visitor Information:

Conejos Peak Ranger Station, 15571 County Road T-5, P.O. Box 420 , La Jara, CO, 81140, Phone: 719-274-8971, TTY: 719-274-3139


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