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Lake Como Road Colorado

Lake Como Road Ultimate Hiking Guide

The Sangre de Cristo mountains are known for their isolation and inaccessibility, with only three roads leading into the backcountry. The Lake Como Road is one of these historic access points, originally built to access mines deep in the Blanca Massif, and today a popular off-roading desination for 4WD enthusiasts. It leads to Lake Como, a stunning alpine lake just below the tree line that is ideal for day trips, backpacking, 14er climbs, and more. Three 14,000-foot peaks are accessed via Lake Como: Blanca Peak, Ellingwood Point, and Little Bear Peak.

New to mountain hiking? Check out our comprehensive mountain safety guide.

Lake Como Road: Hiking Fast Facts

TAKE CARE & STAY SAFE!

You are responsible for your own safety in the backcountry.

These peaks can be unpredictable and dangerous. Help is often hours or days away: your safety is primarily your responsibility. Prepare for your trek, understand your limits, be aware of the risks, and equip yourself with the necessary skills and gear. 

Lake Como Road Images

Lake Como Road: Hiking Guide

If you are new to hiking in Colorado, here’s some quick advice to prepare for your trip along the Lake Como Road.

  1. Start by reviewing the route description, images, and map below so you know where to go.
  2. Check the weather forecast and current conditions to pack the right gear.
  3. If you are traveling, get directions to the trailhead find a campsite or motel below.
  4. Remember to review our mountain safety and leave no trace tips, along with permit and regulation information.

The Lake Como Road has no official trailhead: start driving up the road and park whenever you feel out of your comfort zone. 2WD vehicles usually park well-below the first switchback, where most 4WD vehicles turn around. Only those with custom modified off-road vehicles can make it all the way to the Lake. Wherever you park, ensure you do not block the road so search and rescue teams can still reach the lake (especially in case they’re coming to rescue you).

Once parked, start hiking up the road. Enjoy the views of the San Luis Valley as you follow switchbacks and a ridge to gain elevation rapidly.

San Luis Valley Below the Lake Como Road After 2.2 miles or so, you will finally reach a crest and drop into the Blanca Basin itself. There are fantastic campsites if you are backpacking at this point with good views of the valley below. If you time your hike perfectly, you will be treated to stunning colors as the sun rises during this portion of the hike. You will also pass by the first major rocky section along the road which will prevent most 4WD vehicles from going any further.

Continue to lose a bit of elevation until you reach a creek crossing that isn’t particularly challenging unless water levels are high during spring of if the snowpack is unusually heavy. This is one of several good spots to refill your water, both on your ascent and descent.

Just before the creek crossing in this area, you will also pass a group well-preserved log cabins that date from the silver mining era of the late 19th century. Known as Commodore Camp, this mining settlement is more than 120 years old. 

Camp Commodore Ghost Town on Lake Como Road Built when the Lake Como Road was used by miners to haul in supplies and carry out valuable ore, these cabins are all that remain of a once-booming mining camp, with the largest cabin believed to be the remains of a Depot/boarding-house serving travelers. It still serves a similar purpose, with many hikers choosing to camp within the cabin ruins to block the wind and elements.

Please respect these historic structures and leave them as you found them so future generations can discover and enjoy them too.

Trail to Lake Como Once across the creek, follow the road as it runs parallel to the valley, gaining elevation as you go. Hiking along the road isn’t very easy due to the cobble-stone sized rocks that make foot placement difficult and twisting an ankle easy. Pass around or over several series of rocks that block the road, known as the ‘Jaws.’ If a vehicle is attempting to get over these, give them space/time and ask before passing them. Trucks have flipped many times on these rocks and could pose a significant threat, especially if they aren’t aware you are hiking by. You will start to get your first glimpses of a 14er at this point, as Little Bear Peak’s summit comes into view ahead.

Lake Como and Little Bear Peak Finally, after 4-5 miles of hiking, you will reach the calm, blue waters of Lake Como. The road here ends, but the trail continues along the left side of the lake, heading to the Blue Lakes and Crater Lake, Blanca Peak, Ellingwood Point, and the difficult and dangerous Little Bear Peak. Most people climbing these 14ers backpack up to Lake Como where they spend the night, followed by a summit attempt the next day. There are a number of dispersed campsites in the forests just below the Lake. Please do not camp directly on the meadow or alpine tundra – use pre-existing campsites whenever possible to reduce your impact.

Regardless of your plans and whether Lake Como is your final destination or just a stop along the way, I hope my route guide makes reaching it successfully a little bit easier. Safe travels on the trails!

Lake Como Road

Carry this map of the Lake Como Road with you during your hike. I recommend downloading a digital copy on your phone or GPS unit and printing out a backup paper copy in case something happens. Remember: phone batteries die and screens shatter – would you be able to navigate without your phone? If not – bring a paper topographic map. Not sure how to use one? Check out my blog and webinar on the topic to learn how (it might save your life one day!)

Directions:

From Highway 160, proceed 3 miles north on State Road 150. Turn right onto dirt road. It is approximately 3 miles from 150 to the start of the trail.  The first 4.5 miles of the trail is a very rough jeep road, requiring a specialized high clearance four-wheel drive vehicle. Most visitors hike up the road.

Parking:

You may park off the road within the first 2.5 miles then walk up to Como Lake. There are few places to park past the first switchbacks.

Amenities:

Dispersed camping is generally available along Lake Como Road, with dozens of free sites available on a first-come, first-serve basis. There are no bathrooms, water, or other facilities at this trailhead. There is a large parking area directly next to the highway to park RVs or to stage and park trailers if you bring an ATV or other vehicle. Most people generally park at or below 8,800 feet elevation before the road gets significantly worse.

USFS Trailhead Info

The best info for planning is firsthand experiences and observations from the field. There are several great resources online to help you share and look up condition reports for trails, peaks, and parks in Colorado (and beyond). Here are a few different sources specifically for Lake Como. Remember, we do not vet individual condition reports on these sites, so take them each with a grain of salt. In the groups/forums included, I recommend searching the group content for “Lake Como” and sorting them by most recent. If there are no posts, you can post a question to see if anyone has visited recently.

The weather conditions in the Sangre de Cristo mountains are variable and change quickly. While no forecast is 100% accurate, they can help you prepare and give you an idea of the range of possibilities. Use the sources below to research the Lake Como weather forecast so you can be prepared. Consider the expected high and low temperatures, chance of precipitation, whether storms are expected, wind speeds, and when snow is on the ground, the avalanche conditions.

National Weather Service Forecast

Mountain Forecast – Lake Como

Remember that freezing conditions are possible at Lake Como all year-round. Always prepare and bring extra layers and a 4-season sleeping bag.

Looking for hiking gear to help you tackle Lake Como Road? We have you covered; here are some of our favorite hiking boots, backpacks, navigation devices, and other gear for those visiting Colorado.

Hiking Boots: Salomon X Ultra 4 Mid GORE-TEX Boots

Power through ascents and stay comfortable on your way back down in any weather with Salomon X Ultra 4 Mid GORE-TEX men’s hiking boots. They give you the stability and grip you need, plus a higher cut for extra ankle support.

Buy at REI 

Backpack: Osprey Talon 22

Osprey is known for the quality of its bags and backpacks and the Talon 22 is no exception. The Talon 22 is my standard choice for day hikes, with enough space for the ten essentials and some extra food and water, along with helpful accessories like a place to stash your trek poles and climbing helmet for class 3 and 4 routes. I highly recommend it for day hikes and 14ers too. 

Buy at REI →

Trek Poles: REI Co-op Traverse Trekking Poles

Trek poles provide stability while hiking and help you use your upper body strength while moving to give your legs a break. These award-winning poles from REI are lightweight, strong, and adjustable for rugged terrain.

Buy at REI →

Always Pack the Ten Essentials

The ten essentials are the most important pieces of gear you need to survive in an emergency in the backcountry. They empower you to actively respond to a crisis instead of passively waiting for search and rescue to respond. You should tweak the specific equipment you bring on each hike according to conditions, but you should always have something for each of these ten categories.

1. Navigation Gear
I recommend bringing a map and compass. If you want to use GPS, get a dedicated unit. Phone batteries die quickly in the cold on a 14er.

2. Headlamp and Batteries
Even if you don’t plan to be out until dark, you can’t plan for everything. If you’re running behind, having the ability to see – and be seen – is everything. 

3. Emergency Shelter
When bad weather strikes without warning or someone falls and is injured, a shelter to get out of the elements can save your life. 

4. Extra Water
Bring 2 liters of water per person on your hike – if not more. You also want to bring a purification system to get more if you get stuck outside. That could be purification pills or life straw.

5. Extra Food
I recommend packing 1,000-2,000 extra calories while hiking. If you do get stuck out there longer than expected, some extra power gel or energy bars will make a big difference.

6. Knife or Multi-tool
The benefits of having this around in an emergency are self-evident: You can prepare firewood, create a shelter, fix gear, and solve other problems. I recommend a leatherman multitool, which is so much more helpful than just a knife.

7. Sunglasses and Sunscreen
The solar radiation is powerful when you are above the tree line. Bringing strong sunscren (60+ SPF) is recommended to avoid sunburn. Bring a pair of polarized sunglasses to protect your eyes too.

8. Fire-Starting Kit
If you get stuck outdoors in the mountains, the cold is one of the biggest immediate threats to your life. Being able to start a fire can keep you alive through a cold night. Bring a small kit with matches and a tinder for starting a fire.

9. First Aid Kit
For day hikes you don’t need to go overboard. Some bandages, moleskin, and pain relief medication is more than enough to deal with falls and scrapes, blisters, and altitude sickness. 

10. Extra Layers
Bring one layer beyond what you expect to wear. In summer, that usually means bringing an extra coat or jacket you keep packed away in your bag. If you end up stuck outside overnight with a broken ankle, you will be very happy you brought it with you. Nanopuff jackets from Patagonia are lightweight but provide a ton of warmth.

Satellite Messenger/SOS Device: Garmin InReach Mini

When something goes wrong out on the trail, it is immensely helpful to be able to contact search and rescue teams quickly. Many areas in the mountains do not have dependable cell service. A satellite messenger or personal locator beacon allows you to call for help in an emergency in almost any location. They are expensive and require a subscription, but they have saved many lives.

I recommend the Garmin InReach Mini 2, which also offers premium GPS mapping in addition to text and SOS features.

Buy at REI →

There are few better places to camp than Lake Como – most people who visit choose to spend a night near the lake. However, there are also a number of great campgrounds and dispersed camping options in the vicinity of the trailhead. Consider the options below:

 

If you aren’t a fan of camping or you are driving in for the hike and need a place to stay, check out the options in Alamosa and Crestone, Colorado. Both are home to hotels, motels, Airbnb’s, and other lodging options that are perfect for someone hiking to Lake Como. These are some top places to stay:

 

Note: As a Booking.com Affiliate, The Next Summit receives a small commission for all bookings made through our website at no additional cost to you. Thank you for supporting our work!

The secret is getting out and more and more people are visiting Lake Como which each passing season. Help us protect access to this spectacular slice of Colorado by following the 7 Principles of Leave No Trace Outdoor Ethics. These are:

  1. Plan Ahead and Prepare. Check local fire restrictions and land management guidelines. Plan for the weather, stay within your abilities, and do what you can to avoid the intense impact associated with rescue missions.
  2. Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces. Only stay in pre-established campsites. Stay on official trails when possible. Do not camp or drive on sensitive alpine meadows. Camp 200+ feet from lakes, streams, and natural water sources.
  3. Dispose of Waste Properly. Dig catholes for human waste below the tree line and pack out human waste in alpine areas. Carry out all trash and litter. Pick up trash you see. Broadcast dirty water from dishes or showers over a large area.
  4. Leave What You Find. Do not pick wildflowers or gather natural objects. Leave historical artifacts where they are (anything older than 50 years). Take photographs instead of souvenirs so others can enjoy them too.
  5. Minimize Campfire Impacts. When possible, skip a campfire and use a stove instead. If you have a fire, keep them small, always observe them, only use dead, downed wood picked from well-below the tree line. Put fires out cold to the touch.
  6. Respect Wildlife. Always give wildlife 100+ feet if possible. Keep dogs leashed and prevent them from chasing wildlife. Store food securely to avoid animal conflict. Never feed animals or try to touch them – even goats and deer can kill if cornered.
  7. Be Courteous to Others in the Outdoors. Leave your speaker at home and use headphones. Keep your group size small and noise to a minimum. Pick a campsite away from others and be helpful when you can. Yield to uphill hikers and practice trail etiquette.

 

With your help, we can all leave no trace and protect free public access to this area for generations to come. Learn more about Leave No Trace in an alpine environment with our Complete 14er LNT Guide.

Safety is your responsibility in the mountains. In many cases, rescue may be hours or even days away. Always follow our Mountain Safety best practices to identify threats, manage your risk, and be ready to respond actively if something goes wrong. Here are the 12 practices you should remember:

  1. Stary early; end early. Thunderstorms are common during the afternoon, so try to be back to the tree line by 1pm at the latest.
  2. Carry the 10 Essentials. These allow you to respond actively to emergencies – keep them with you at all times.
  3. Bring enough Water. Start with 2-3 liters of water per person, plus a filter or other method to obtain more.
  4. Go with a Partner. An extra set of eyes helps with navigation and route-finding – an extra set of hands and legs help with emergencies.
  5. Tell Someone Your Plans. Pick someone dependable, give them a detailed itinerary, and tell them when they should call 911 if you don’t get in touch.
  6. Take Time to Acclimate. Spend 1-2 nights around 7,000-10,000 feet before you hike and climb to reduce your risk of altitude sickness.
  7. Respect Your Limits. Know your abilities and when something does not feel right, descend to try again another day.
  8. Know the Weather Forecast. Check it the day before and the day of your trip and bring what you need to be prepared.
  9. Carry an SOS-device. These allow you to call for help with the press of a button without a cell signal.
  10. Stay together on the Trail. Splitting up your group to try to take a short-cut is one of the most common causes of accidents.

 

Colorado has more search and rescue missions than any other state – more than 10 per day across the state. Following these mountain safety best practices is an easy yet effective way to prevent accidents and emergencies, prevent search and rescue missions, and help support first responders and land managers. Learn more in our comprehensive mountain safety guide.

The area has been well known to Native Americans for hundreds of years before colonization. Blanca Peak, the tallest point above the Lake, is one of the four sacred peaks of the Navajo Nation that traditionally marked the northeast extent of their territories. Early explorers, including the Spanish, knew of and reported the peaks existence, but did little to explore the region until the silver and gold mining boom of the 1880s-1890s.

It was only then that prospectors discovered promising ore on the slopes of Blanca Peak and Little Bear Peak and began to flock to the area in large numbers. The boom was short-lived, with low-value ore and no refining mill nearby to make the project profitable. After spending a massive amount of resources, time, and effort to build the Lake Como Road, the camps it led to faded from the map after less than a decade of occupation. Today, you can still find the remains of at least eight log cabins ranging from piles of broken wood to structures with all four walls – and even ceiling support – still standing. One of the cabins has even become a campsite, with only the notched logs that surrounded it showing evidence of its initial purpose. Help preserve these historic treasures by refraining from touching or damaging them. Leave things where you find them and take only photographs.

The road to Lake Como was constructed to supply the miners and carry out silver ore. It is one of the most notorious off-roading routes in the United States due to the large rocks that block easy passage along the way. Known as Jaws I, II, and II – they require specially modified vehicles capable of extreme 4WD terrain. Numerous people have died here trying to make the drive, including one in 2002. Memorialized by a plaque affixed to the rocks at Jaws I, he rolled his truck while trying to get over it and rolled off the cliff into the canyon below. Anyone attempting to drive this road should consider themselves an expert off-roader with an emergency plan in place in case someone in injured or killed (cell phone signals are hard to come by along the road).

In 2022, due to the rising number of rescues in the area, the Alamosa Volunteer Search and Rescue (AVSAR) team built a new Heli Pad near the base of Lake Como to speed up their emergency response time. It is a glaring demonstration of the threats posed by the Lake Como Road and the three challenging 14ers that surround it. The best campsites at Lake Como are found just past the lake on the right side of the trail. There are bear bag ropes available to use, but I recommend a bear vault or canister instead given how busy the area is. Please only use pre-existing campsites – do not camp on undisturbed meadowland, as it may cause immediate impacts that are made worse by others who do the same thing.

There are no permits or reservations required to visit Lake Como or climb the three nearby 14ers (Blanca Peak, Ellingwood Point, and Little Bear Peak). However, as the number of visitors keeps rising, the risk of a permit or reservation system rises. Please help prevent this by following all US Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management use guidelines. The road starts on BLM land and ends on USFS land – so both agency rules apply, depending on where you are specifically.

Audio Devices

  • Operate audio devices to not disturb others.
  • Permits required for public address systems in certain areas.

Business Activities

  • Commercial activities require permits.

Campfires

  • Adhere to fire restrictions.
  • Use provided fire rings/stoves/grills/fireplaces in developed sites.
  • Enclose fires with a ring of rocks in undeveloped sites.
  • Do not leave fires unattended.
  • Extinguish fires completely before leaving.

Camping

  • Camping allowed in both developed and undeveloped sites with a 14-day stay limit.
  • Vehicles must be parked in established sites.
  • Day use areas open between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m.
  • Camp only in marked areas in campgrounds.
  • Unattended camping equipment needs Ranger’s permission.
  • Remove all personal property and trash when leaving.

Fee Areas

  • Pay fees for certain developed sites and facilities before use.

Fireworks and Firearms

  • Fireworks or pyrotechnic devices are prohibited.
  • Firing guns restricted in certain areas.
  • Hunting allowed following state regulations.

General Regulations

  • Permits required for various activities, including transplanting plants, cutting/removing wood, and posting signs.

Geocaching

  • Not allowed in designated Wilderness Areas or nationally designated areas.
  • Allowed in general forest areas without causing damage.
  • No disturbance or removal of historical artifacts.
  • Comply with travel regulations and group size.

Operation of Vehicles

  • Obey traffic signs and protect the environment.
  • Vehicles restricted in campgrounds and recreational sites.
  • Do not block roads or trails.

Pets and Animals

  • Pets must be leashed in developed recreation sites.
  • Pets are not allowed in swimming areas.
  • Pack animals only allowed where posted.

Property

  • Do not damage live trees.
  • Respect historical or archeological sites and private properties.

Public Behavior

  • Quiet hours from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m.
  • Maintain a reasonable noise level.

Sanitation

  • Dispose of garbage and litter responsibly.
  • Keep water sources clean.

Wilderness

  • Motor vehicles and motorized equipment not allowed.
  • “Leave only footprints, take only pictures.”


View all USFS guidelines for Lake Como

These websites and resources have additional info you can use to plan your hike to Lake Como in Colorado. If you have any suggestions for links or websites to add, please leave a comment below and we’ll consider your request!

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

A: Lake Como road, also known as Blanca Peak road, is approximately 5.5 miles long. It’s well-known for being one of the most challenging 4WD roads in Colorado.

A: Lake Como has an average depth of about 50 feet, but remember that depth can vary across different parts of the lake. Always be cautious when participating in water activities.

A: Lake Como is nestled in the Sangre de Cristo Range and is surrounded by some of Colorado’s tallest peaks, including Blanca Peak and Ellingwood Point. Its stunning natural beauty and challenging access make it an appealing destination for hikers, campers, and 4WD enthusiasts. Plus, it’s a departure point for several high-elevation hiking trails.

A: Yes, swimming is allowed in Lake Como, but keep in mind that the water can be quite cold due to the high altitude and snow runoff, even in the summer months. As always, swim at your own risk and observe all safety precautions.

A: The elevation of Lake Como is approximately 11,750 feet above sea level. The high altitude can make the hike more challenging due to less oxygen in the air. It’s crucial to take time to acclimate, especially if you’re not used to high altitudes.

A: The time it takes to hike to Lake Como can vary based on fitness level, weather conditions, and how many breaks you take. However, most hikers can expect to reach Lake Como in approximately 4 to 6 hours from the trailhead. Always plan ahead and start early to ensure you have enough daylight for your hike.

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Notice: The material presented in this route guide may not be comprehensive or precise and should not be solely relied upon when planning your climb. Inadequate experience, physical fitness, supplies, or equipment may result in injury or fatality.

The Next Summit and the author(s) of this hiking guide offer no guarantees, neither explicit nor implied, regarding the accuracy or dependability of the information provided.

By utilizing the information herein, you agree to indemnify and absolve The Next Summit and the hiking guide author(s) from any claims and demands against them, including any legal fees and expenses. 

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Alex Derr, Founder of The Next Summit

Alex Derr is an Eagle Scout, climber, and environmental policy expert located in Denver, Colorado. He created The Next Summit to help others stay safe exploring the mountains and advocate to preserve the peaks for the future. Follow him on Linkedin or Twitter or click here to contact him.

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In 2018, I watched in disbelief as dozens of people hiked into a storm on Longs Peak, unaware of the extreme danger. Soon after, I started The Next Summit to educate and empower the public to safely and responsibly explore America's mountains.

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