PHOTO BY CHRIS KASSAR,
Squeeze in one last autumn adventure before you trade your hiking boots for skis and head to the majestic Sangre de Cristo Wilderness for a high-country ramble. Music Pass offers up a lot of bang for your buck: The hike from the upper trailhead is a roughly 2.5-mile roundtrip with only about 800 feet of elevation gain. That makes this trip the perfect way to say farewell to the foliage.
Route code: ELEV0040
Music Pass Trailhead
From Westcliffe, head south for 4.5 miles on Highway 69 and turn right on to County Road 119 (Colfax Lane) at the sign for Music Pass/South Colony Lakes Trailhead. Follow CR 119 for 5.6 miles to a “T” intersection where you turn left to stay on CR 119. Continue for 5.2 miles to the Lower Music Pass Trailhead (aka Grape Creek Trailhead/Rainbow Trail). Park here and walk 3.5 miles to the pass unless you’re in a 4WD, high clearance vehicle and want to push through the next 2.5 miles of rough, rocky, steepness to reach the end of the road. At the actual trailhead, you’ll see a sign pointing right to Music Pass Trail No. 1337 and Great Sand Dunes National Preserve. (Note the dirt berm put on the trail to keep vehicles from driving any further. Years ago, you were actually allowed to drive all the way to Music Pass, but it is now only a trail.) Follow the well-defined route, which takes you up a steep and rocky slope through a dense conifer forest teeming with birds and critters.
Over the next half-mile, this well-defined trail gradually gains elevation and wanders through an ever-morphing forest, with a babbling creek in the background. As you climb higher, the forest thins out. Here you will find beautiful and mangled bristlecone pines—some of the oldest trees on the planet. Take a break and breathe in the views of the Wet Mountain Valley creeping up behind you.
Leave the Trees
About .8 miles from the start, you’ll completely leave the trees behind. Nearby, a sign announces your entrance into the Great Sand Dunes National Preserve. Even though no dunes are in sight, you’ve technically entered this protected and diverse Colorado gem.
Just a mile in, you reach Music Pass, the 11,449-foot saddle which is the gateway to the Sangre de Cristo Wilderness and Great Sand Dunes National Preserve. Why is this named “Music Pass” you ask? Check out the sign that explains how hikers inspired by the wind melodically whistling through the trees here, gave this pass its name. Take a moment and listen for yourself.
Decision Point Follow the flat trail around the next corner. From here, you’ll get the best views yet. Take in the Sand Creek Basin to the west and Tijeras Peak (13,604 feet), Music Mountain (13,356 feet) and Milwaukee Mountain (13,522 feet) towering overhead. Grab a snack, enjoy the stunning alpine scenery and figure out your next move. You can return the way you came or drop about 400 feet down into the basin below to explore Lower Sand Creek Lake (three miles from the pass) and/or Upper Sand Creek Lake (3.5 miles) or start early and climb one of the thirteeners soaring above.
Alpine Carbon Poles
Lightweight and durable, these three-section trekking poles inlcude interchangeable tips, making good for trekking, hiking—and snow. Bonus features include comfortable cork grip with extra extension for uneven terrain and extremely easy adjustability thanks to the patented Flick Lock system. $160; blackdiamondequipment.com
Millet Prolighter 22
Grab this comfy, versatile, do-it-all pack for your next day-long adventure. With a simple design, super light, but durable fabric and advanced technical features, including an ice axe holder, rope holder, haul loops and compression straps, this little hauler proved invaluable on hikes like Music Pass. $130; millet-mountain.com