Colorado Highway 165 starts in the town of Colorado City and winds its way through the Wet Mountains and the San Isabel National Forest, before ending at Colorado Highway 96, about 20 miles from the town of Westcliffe. A Colorado Scenic Byway, the road lives up to its designation, with stands of towering aspens and evergreens, wildflowers and ranch land along its route in the shadow of Greenhorn Mountain. The iconic Bishop Castle, a uniquely Colorado oddity and popular tourist destination, lies along the highway, as does the U.S. Forest Service's Lake Isabel Recreation Area.
There are plenty of hiking, backpacking and camping opportunities along this stretch of road, and on my recent short visit there, I had time for just a couple of hikes. One was rather short, and the other, to the summit of St. Charles Peak, was both challenging and beautiful. It is that hike that will be the subject of this guide.
To Get There: The trailhead is on Colorado Highway 165, approximately 22 miles from the Colorado City exit on I-25, or about 4.5 miles north of the Lake Isabel Recreation Area. The trailhead and parking lot are marked. Going north, the parking lot is on the right side of the road, and the trailhead on the left. If you're going north and encounter Bishop Castle, you've gone too far.
Things You Need to Know: This is a difficult hike, with 3700 feet of ascent in the 4.5 miles from the trailhead to the summit. There are no water or restroom facilities at the trailhead, and the parking area can only accommodate a handful or vehicles. The trail is rocky in most places, with innumerable switchbacks. This hike can be done as either a 9-mile out-and-back hike, or as a slightly longer through-hike, ending at the East Cisneros trailhead, west of Lake Isabel. Entry fees do apply at Lake Isabel Recreation Area.
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Bob Falcone is a retired firefighter, photographer, hiker, business owner and author of Hiking Bob's Tips, Tricks and Trails, available via his website. He has lived in Colorado Springs for almost 28 years. Follow him on Twitter (@hikingbob), Facebook (@hikingguide), Instagram (@HikingBob_CO) or visit his website (Hikingbob.com). E-mail questions, comments, suggestions, etc. to Bob: firstname.lastname@example.org.