In the Sangre de Cristos, north of the sand dunes and the popular 14ers, there is a snake-like ridge of 13,000 foot peaks with countless side valleys and alpine lakes. Over the past ten years we’ve made it a goal to explore as much of this area as possible. We’ve found great campsites, seen tons of wildlife, and managed to stand atop nearly every ranked 13er in the range. And when people ask for advice as to a good intro to the area— a route with camping, trails, and easily-accessed peaks— we recommend our favorite linkup, the Comanche/Venable loop and the Phantom Terrace.
Use the map above to see the route, the Venable Creek trail is in red, Comanche Creek trail in blue, and the Phantom Terrace is indicated in green.
Comanche Creek and Venable Creek are adjacent valleys with good trails. They both have pretty lakes up near tree line, with some nearby camp sites that are great backpacking destinations. And they can be connected by an interesting high route along a hidden ledge that can be hard to see from afar, hence the name Phantom Terrance.
The two valleys share a common trailhead just outside of the town of Westcliffe. It is conveniently located right next to the Alvarado Campground, which serves as a good camping spot if you’re getting a late start and need to camp for the night beforehand.
You can complete this loop in either direction. We opted to go counter-clockwise, starting up Venable Creek, where we set up camp at the lakes, and descending the Comanche Creek trail the following day.
The route to Venable Lakes is about 4-5 miles on a good trail. Once we made it to the pair of lakes setup camp, we hiked up to the ridge and summited Venable Peak, 13,173 ft., for a little sunset happy hour. It’s pretty nice to be up on a summit late in the day.
Eventually it was time to head down. Once off the summit we followed the Phantom Terrace trail back to camp.
The next day we packed up camp and hiked back up along the Phantom Terrace to Comanche Pass. We dropped our packs near the pass and went up to the summit of Spring Mountain, 13,255 ft., and Comanche Peak, 13,245 ft., which are both easy 13ers to tag if you’re nearby.
Once back down at the pass we began the 5 mile hike out Comanche Creek.
It was a great loop on good trails with lots of options for camping and summits. And with such a cool name, the Phantom Terrace should be on every Colorado backpackers bucket list. Check it out!