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Kit Carson Mountain Via Willow Lake Trail

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Rio Grande National Forest

Kit Carson Mountain Via Willow Lake Trail is a 12.3 mile moderately trafficked out and back trail located near Westcliffe, Colorado that features a lake and is only recommended for very experienced adventurers. The trail is primarily used for hiking, walking, nature trips, and birding and is best used from July until September. Dogs are also able to use this trail.

Length 12.3 mi Elevation gain 6,289 ft Route type Out & Back
Dog friendly Hiking Nature trips Bird watching Lake Views
Waypoints (0)
Weather
UV Index
Daylight
Reviews (55)
Photos (294)
Recordings (51)
Completed (162)
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John Taft
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Hiking

Have to park at the Zen Monastery and they’re very nice to hikers. Trail had several down trees across it, but easy enough to go over/ under/around. Pretty well marked with cairns.

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Samuel Oury
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Hiking

Campsites below willow lake are a great place to spend the night before summiting. Would 100% recommend if you bring your dog and want to hit both summits that your dog have experience rock hopping/bouldering in class 3 stuff. Not for soft paw dogs and not for dogs without harder 14er experience. We turned around on challenger point to make the trip to pack up camp and back to the car so we could make it home before nightfall but the kit carson traverse is much easier than getting up challenger so if you can spend another night at camp and you+Fido want to grab both it’s definitely doable (as long as the dog is properly conditioned).

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Jeff Van Dellen
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HikingGreat!No shadeScramble

Beautiful but very challenging hike. Ended up being over 15 miles and 10 hours, 22 minutes. The hike from trailhead to far side of Willow Lake was long but gorgeous and pretty straight forward. Very nice trail, easy to follow and moderately difficult. The hike from above Willow Lake to the top of Challenger was extremely difficult, straight up, loose and hard to follow. There are cairns but randomly spaced and the trail is all loose, scramble scree and rock. Very easy to kick rocks down onto others below and get off of what would otherwise be the right ways up. At the saddle en route to Challenger you still need to follow the trail around the back and then scramble over rock to the summit. From there the views are fantastic. Its then 45 minutes to descend to the Kit Carson climb. That route is easier than the hike to Challenger's summit, stunning and nice around the back side via the Avenue. More great views from the top of Kit Carson and then another 45 mins back to Challenger before heading down the steep, loose, rocky trail to the lake. The hike from the lake back to the trailhead was much longer than we remembered on the way up but the stream at the very bottom was a nice spot to rinse off, soak feet and relax with a cold beer. There are other trails I would recommend before this one but this mountain range is one of the most stunning in the state. If you have what it takes to spend all day on the trail then its very rewarding upon completion. Early dinner at the Crestone Brewery was well deserved.

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Jeff Beekman
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Hiking
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Jacob Green
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HikingRockyScramble

Completed via willow lake to challenger. Getting over challenger is the toughest part due to the loose nature of its terrain. After Challenger you loose some elevation, and eventually come to an easy class 3 scramble up Kit. While it is rated higher, I believe this is easier than gaining the ridge of challenger. So if you make it to challenger don’t stop.

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Cecilia Potter
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HikingMuddyOff trailRockyScrambleSnow

Wow, what a beautiful trail! I would strongly suggest that you set up camp at Willow Lake before tackling Challenger Point + Kit Carson. This trail is rocky and incredibly steep. The beginning of the trail is well marked by cairns and easy to follow. Once you reach the couloir, the cairns get harder to spot. The couloir is an easy class 3 scramble, but it is icy in the morning and muddy later in the day. You may need to get creative as you maneuver through this section (aka a little off trail action). The current conditions set my friend and I back by about an hour, so make sure to start early and give yourself some time. The snow fields are 95% avoidable, but there are at least two that you need to cross in the couloir. Once you’ve made it out of the couloir, the ridge will take you straight to Challenger’s summit. The views to the right of the ridge will make you weak in the knees, so know that you can hike a bit below it. Kit Carson is an epic peak that should not be missed. The current conditions are slightly snowy/icy but not enough to use spikes. The first chunk of Kit Carson Avenue looks snowy from Challenger Point, but is 100% avoidable. As you descend Challenger Point, stick slightly right of the snow fields and avoid the gully. You will see a sign that says “DANGER! loose rock many climbers have died” or something along those lines. Avoid that gully! Stay right of the sign and continue up to KC Avenue. As I mentioned above, the first chunk of KC Avenue looks very snowy. It’s wider than it seems, so stick to the right of the snow field. You will see the Prow to your right. Continue left to curve down and around Kit Carson. The wide notch that you have to pass through is icy currently. If you have microspikes, you can safely climb up and over it. You can go around the ice if you hug the right side without microspikes. Continue down KC Ave. You will see a rock rib in front of you (that is near the saddle of KC and Columbia Point). Avoid said rock rib otherwise you may get lost in steep terrain. Turn left into the wide shallow gully and follow the cairns. 14ers.com recommends that you go straight up the middle of the gully. This is one of the ways to ascend Kit Carson, but it is mostly scree. There is a new trail to your left marked by cairns. Follow the left trail and you’ll be at the summit in about 15-20 minutes. The rocky terrain is stable and well marked. The mileage on All trails, 14ers.com, and Trail Run Project say that it takes 2.6ish mi from Willow Lake to summit both mountains. We clocked our RT mileage at 6.2. I would say that the muddy conditions and the rock scrambling could easily add miles to your trip. Take your time and start early. Your feet and knees will be talking to you afterwards, but it is an incredible hike!

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Ashley Bennett
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HikingIcyRockyScrambleSnow
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Mario Delgado
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Hiking

pretty tough hike but very worth it! As usual, watch for storms around noon so leave early!

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Alex Shah
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Hiking

Basically a scramble the last 2 miles

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Finna Hansen
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Hiking

A guy named Tyler was hiking in this area Sunday and hasn’t been seen since. Fawne stiegerwald on Facebook has a photo and more information. Thanks!

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James Oliver
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I did this in one day. It was pretty hard on the feet, especially on the seemingly endless descent. But it was an incredible experience overall! Lots of beauty up there! I knocked one star off for the somewhat nasty, slippery trail up Challenger. Be careful! Trekking poles help! Rocky Mountain Field Institute was up there building another trail in 2017, in what looked like a much more solid region, so it might be much better now. Be careful when descending Kit Carson that you come down the same way you went up, as it is very easy to end up too far east and to miss the avenue and go too far down, into hazardous territory. Avoid the temptation of following the cairns that you might see up there, as they apparently belong to a trail that goes over to Columbia Point. Use GPS to make sure you hit the avenue's entrance. Mark it on the ascent.

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Chris Long
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First to Review

Cool peak in a beautiful area. I approached from the east and camped near south colony lakes. Makes for a long hike, but it was well worth it. Looks like you could play football on the bears playground.

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Jacob Black
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Hiking
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William Saake
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Hiking
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David Marcus
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Hiking
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PJ Williams
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Hiking
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Ryan Foley
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Hiking
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Randall McPherson
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Backpacking
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Tanner Owen
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Hiking
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Karen Avery
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Hiking
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