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World Class Climbing!

Years ago, Penitente Canyon served as a place of worship for a small sect of the Catholic Church known as Los Hermanos Penitente.

The Brothers Penitente, mostly Spanish men of deep faith and commitment, lived secluded from outside influences in the foothills and canyons of the Sangre de Cristo and San Juan Mountains.  Living simply, they practiced their religion with a fervor few other sects could match.

Penitente Canyon named for its seclusion, has emerged as one of the states premier sport climbing areas.  The area, which includes Penitente Canyon and the adjacent Rock Garden, Sidewinder and Witches Canyons have yielded as fine a concentration of high quality routes as any area in the region.  Visitors to the area include local climbers and climbers as far away as France, Germany, Spain, Canada, and Japan.  The area has been featured in Climbing Magazine, and two books written about the area describe the climbs.

This area is part of BLM's 7,529 acre Penitente Canyon Special Recreation Management Area.  Development in the canyon has been made possible through the partnerships formed between the American Mountain Foundation, the BLM, and local rock climbers.  Volunteers helped install wood and rock vehicle barriers to designate parking areas, campsites, trails and the construction of a permanent restroom facility.

Every kind of mountaineering challenge from easy walk-up to long technical climbs can be found on the Rio Grande National Forest. Technological advances in mountaineering and equipment innovations draw more visitors to the high country each year to discover the satisfaction in meeting the personal challenge of alpine hiking, snow and ice climbing, and rock climbing. Know the mountain and know the limits of your experience and physical condition before attempting routes. Experienced climbers appreciate that weather can change considerably during the length of a climb and watch the weather carefully. There are numerous 13,000 foot peaks on the Rio Grande National Forest. Mountain Peaks over 14,000 on the National Forest are Blanca, Little Bear, Ellingwood, Crestone Needle, Crestone Peak, Kit Carson Peak and Challenger.

Rock Climbing Minutes Away

The Rio Grande National Forest has several areas that provide opportunities for canoeing, kayaking, floating and the operation of small-motorized boats. Lakes and reservoirs are the best areas for motorboats and canoes. The Rio Grande River is a popular rafting area. Because of being shallow and having many boulders, the river is better suited for rafting than canoeing and kayaking, although it is used by all three types of boaters.

The Conejos River has become a popular watercourse for small non-motorized watercrafts including canoes, kayaks, rafts, and inner tubes. Although the river is smooth and slow, there are several small rapids, which can present an exciting challenge, especially during spring runoff when the river is flowing, high and swift.

The famous Arkansas river at Salida is only 90 minutes away with unlimited rafting and boating opportunities from above Buena Vista to Canon City and the Royal Gorge. The Arkansas then forms Pueblo Reservoir near Pueblo, CO for a warm water fishery and boating/water skiing meca for the front range.

Numerous small lakes around the San Luis Valley offer small craft rafting and kayaking, as well as cold and warm water fisheries.

Boating and Rafting

SKIING AND SNOWSHOEING

Cross-country skiing is becoming an increasingly popular sport on the Rio Grande National Forest. Past glacial activity in this area has produced wide valleys and gently rolling hills and plateaus, a terrain ideally suited to cross country skiing and snowshoeing. Many areas are accessible during the winter and offer excellent opportunities for both day and overnight trips.

Many of the unplowed roads that intersect the plowed roads make good ski and snowshoeing trails. In addition to unplowed roads, there are several ski routes specifically marked for cross-country skiers. The trailheads are marked with the cross-country skier symbol and the routes are designated by blue diamond markers. Snowshoeing opportunities are limited only by steep slopes and by road access to areas with deep snow. Cross-country skiing trails are suitable for snowshoeing. Areas recommended for skiing and snowshoeing include Wolf Creek Pass Area west of South Fork, Cumbres and La Manga Pass Area west of Antonito, Bonanza area west of Villa Grove,

Spring Creek Pass near Creede, Pinos Creek area south of Del Norte and Rock Creek area south of Monte Vista. Wolf Creek Ski area is a resort on the east side of Wolf Creek Pass on Highway 160 between South Fork and Pagosa Springs. This area receives an annual snowfall of 465 inches.

Skiing and Snowshoeing

Hiking, Biking, Climbing and Camping

Varied Terrain, magnificent scenery, and vast reaches of wild country await the hiker on the Rio Grande National Forest. The Rio Grande National Forest has 523.2 miles of trails in wilderness areas and 829.1 miles of trails in non-wilderness areas for a total of 1,352.3 miles of trails. The trails of the forest provide ideal routes for short day hikes or extended backpacking trips.

The La Garita Wilderness has a total of 129,626 acres with 50,180 on the Rio Grande National Forest and 79,446 on the Gunnison National Forest. The La Garita Wilderness derives its name from the Spanish term for "The Overlook." Elevation ranges from 9,000 feet to over 14,000 feet. Snow can be expected in the upper reaches of the wilderness year-round. High temperatures may reach the low 70's and below freezing temperatures are not uncommon at night. The weather pattern is generally dry in June with rains moving into the area by early July when afternoon showers are likely. Lightning and hail are associated with afternoon thunderstorms and occasional snow showers are possible. Camps must not be closer than 300 feet from lakes. Horses may not graze or be picketed within this distance.

The Sangre de Cristo Wilderness was designated by Congress in 1993 and contains 218,922 acres with 98,842 acres on the Pike/San Isabel National Forest and 120,,080 acres on the Rio Grande National Forest. Sangre de Cristo is Spanish for "Blood of Christ" named by early Spanish explorers to this area. Several mountain peaks in this wilderness soar to over 14,000 feet including Blanca peak, Crestone Needle, Crestone Peak, Kit Carson Peak and Challenger Peak. Over 225 miles of system trails are in the Sangre de Cristo Wilderness and the Great Sand Dunes National Monument lies adjacent to this wilderness. Nine peaks in the Rio Grande Forest boast over 14,000 feet.

The South San Juan Wilderness has 164,563 acres of which 88,,923 acres are on the Rio Grande National Forest and 75,640 acres are on the San Juan National Forest. This wilderness was established with enactment of the Colorado Wilderness Act in 1980 and enlarged in 1993. The Wilderness straddles the Continental Divide from Elwood Pass south to Trail Lake. There are 120 miles of trails through the wilderness area. Elevation ranges from 9,000 feet to over 13,000 feet. Weather can vary greatly, but generally, you can expect a cool mountain climate with scattered rain showers throughout the summer months. Normally, the wilderness area is snow free from mid-July to September. Lower elevations, 9,000 to 10,000 feet, my become snow free by early June, but some creek and river water levels will still be high. Points of interest include Summit Peak at 13,300 feet, Conejos Peak at 13,172 feet and many lakes.

The Weminuche Wilderness is one of the nation's largest wilderness areas. It was signed into law on January 4, 1975. It consists of 499,771 acres of which 164,995 acres are on the Rio Grande and 334,776 are on the San Juan. Nearly 470 miles of trails traverse this wilderness. There are private lands in the wilderness that are not open to public use without owner permission.

Hiking—The Rio Grande National Forest and the Local Wilderness Areas