Distance: 11 miles roundtrip
Water: Water available for first ~4 miles
Season: Summer and Fall
Trail Conditions: Excellent to Good
The Columbine Creek Trail – Trail #71 offers a pleasant day-hike in the Columbine-Hondo Wilderness in the Carson National Forest. The trail begins at the Columbine Campground and ends a junction with the Lobo Peak Trail – Trail #57. The first few miles of the trail are easy and very popular during the summer time, but the last ~2 miles are very steep as the trail climbs up to the Lobo Peak Trail.
From the Columbine Campground along the Red River, pick-up the trail going south into the canyon. The first few hundred yards of the trail are a wide, two-track, but it narrows quickly as it parallels the creek to the east.
The trail crosses the creek frequently and for the first four crosses, there are well-build footbridges that make the crossings easy. When I did this hike in June 2018, the water was low enough in the creek that all the crossings were easy, but at higher water some of the upper crossings could become trickier.
As the trail climbs slowly along the creek in the first few miles, it pass through a couple of open meadows that make a nice break opportunity.
At 1.5 miles and 1.9 miles, the trail passes signed junctions for the Deer Creek Trail – Trail #69 and Placer Fork Trail – Trail #72. Stay straight along the creek and continue to follow it upstream.
About a mile after the junction with Placer Fork, the trail begins climb at a much steeper clip and won’t relent much until the top. The trail climbs 3,200 feet over the roughly 5.5 miles and a disproportionate amount of this elevation is gained in the second half of the hike.
At around 4 miles, the trail leaves Columbine Creek and traverses back north (right) for a ways before beginning a series of switchbacks that climb through thick forest.
NOTE: According to the NatGeo Trail Illustrated maps, there should be a junction for the Cow Lake Trail – Trail #96 about 4 miles from the trailhead. I did not see this junction or any sign of such a trail.
Slightly more than .5 miles from the Lobo Peak Trail, the trail briefly enters a scree field with views of Lobo Peak and Flag Mountain to the west. These are some of the few views until the top.
The trail hits the Lobo Peak Trail and the Gavilan Trail – Trail #60 in a small saddle. There are no views from the saddle, but just a couple steps uphill will earn you a fantastic panorama of Taos Valley Ski Area, Katchina Peak, and Wheeler Peak.
There are a number of possibilities from this point. If you are prepared to backpack, a trip up to Lobo Peak or Gold Hill could be quite enjoyable. Also, if you have multiple cars and are up for the shuttle, you could can continue down the Gavilan Trail towards Taos Ski Valley.
If not, once you’ve caught your breath and given your legs a chance to rest, continue back down the trail to Columbine Campground.