Off-Trail Hike of Limestone Ridge

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Hidden gem for winter or early spring hike away from crowds. One of the best views of the 14ers in the Sawatch Range. Great dark skies 90 minutes from Colorado Springs. Perfect first step for higher altitude hiking and climbing. Distance: 9 miles (2 miles if Forest RT 305 is open). Elevation: 600'-1000' hike up to 10,200'Duration: 1 day/1 night.

Finding a winter or early spring adventure that won't take you deep into dangerous mountain territory, while still providing epic vistas, is a challenge in Colorado. There are a few 10,000' tall ranges that sometimes escape deep snow, which are inviting for a first step into the alpine wonderland that is the Rocky Mountains. Limestone Ridge in the San Isabel National Forest near Buena Vista, Colorado is one of those places.

Heading East about 8 miles from Buena Vista is McGee Gulch and the entrance to County Highway 305. In the winter, the road is often times impassable except for 4x4 vehicles because of snow. You can hike the road to the Lenhardy Cutoff Road without snowshoes from the tracks left by residents who live up the dirt and gravel road. If you check conditions from January to April, you can sometimes luck out, and an average clearance vehicle can make it up 305 to the Lenhardy Cutoff Road.

Outside of Winter months, take County Road 305 north from Hwy 24 to the Lenhardy Cutoff Road. The entrance to Lenhardy has some open areas, perfect to park a car when conditions allow the drive up, to begin the hike to Limestone Ridge. Through the gate heading east, you begin a gentle uphill hike through the saddle pass. To the south of the trail, are some small creeks with fresh water in the wetter months. You can use this area for exploring a few different terrains, and for tracking wildlife near the water.

About a mile up the road, it begins to level out near a clearing in the pines. Use a signal tree that looks like a "4" at the road to set your bearings with a compass and head directly north toward the summit. There is a no trail up to the ridge, it's a cross-country walk straight up to the rock outcroppings. It gradually steepens near the top, while taking you about a half mile north, northeast of the pass. There are plenty of gaps in the limestone rocks to slip through to get to the top of the ridge. Following the wooded ridge, will take you to the first summit, offering views of more summits along the ridge and sweeping vistas of the Sawatch Range.

In winter and spring, you can see dozens of snow-capped stratospheric mountains to the west, and all the way to Pike's peak in the East. Camping up here is a perfect place to view the stars on a moonless night, and catch a sunrise over Pike's Peak in the morning. The outcroppings are also good for practicing a variety of bouldering and alpine climbing techniques. You can hike to the top and setup a top rope if you really wanted to start with the basics, while being safe. There are also black bears, mountain lions, eagles, falcons, mountain goats, big horned sheep, antelope, elk, deer, skunk, racoons, coyotes, and marmots, along with alpine wildflowers to be seen.

As long as you prepare for bears in storing food, you can camp on top of any of the ride mountains. Find a good sheltered spot in the rocks to avoid the strong winds that often blow up from the valley. When you're good and seasoned with hiking at 10,000', you can get ready to tackle most of the 14's that can be seen from Limestone Ridge. Hiking back along the ridge, you will eventually come across Lenhardy Cutoff Road. Follow the road back to the southwest to the gate and your car. It's that easy without a trail, but always carry a map and compass just incase of a storm.

Back in Buena Vista, you can try out Eddyline Restaurant and Brewery if you didn't bring a 6 pack to the ridge. It's standard American cuisine, with a great IPA brewed with cold, mountain water.

Summer Months Trailhead Coordinates:
38.869182, -106.044363

Pack List

  • Compass and Map
  • Snowshoes (if still blanketed in Winter
  • Gregory Baltoro 65 Backpack(for overnight in cooler months)
  • Nemo Backpacking Tent
  • Snowpeak GigaPeak Stove and Fuel
  • Good hiking boots
  • Standard trail equipment
  • Camera
  • Eddyline Brewery Crank Yanker IPA
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Activities:

Chillin, Camping, Photography, Backpacking, Hiking, Rock Climbing

Skill Level:

Beginner

Season:

Year Round

Trail Type:

Out-and-Back

Distance:

9 Miles

Elev. Gain:

1000 Feet

Features:

Adult Beverages
Forest
Groups
Scenic
Wildflowers
Wildlife

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Added by Michael Wigle

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