A 46 mile excursion into the backcountry from the Penitente Canyon Trail system to the 12,000 foot summit of Boot Mountain on county and forest service roads, rugged two-track, and even bit of singletrack along La Garita Creek. Lots of bold views of the high country, historic stock paths, and geological evidence of the massive La Garita super volcano eruptions 28 million years ago which is among the largest known eruption in Earth's history.
The upper reaches of this trail are above tree line and are very exposed to weather. Watch for afternoon thunderstorms and plan your trip accordingly.
Leaving from the Penitente Canyon Trails parking area on County Road 41G, turn left and head west through ranch country along Carnero Creek. After about 5 miles, you'll pass through Hellgate, a dramatic narrowing of the canyon formed by columnar basalt lava. Soon after, you'll turn left onto the jeep road J36 (County Road J36
) and begin climbing out of the canyon.
The climbing from here will be steady as you gain the ridge line. Once there, the views really open up and you're treated broad reaches of the San Juans as you skirt the head of a wide valley. J36 ends at the head of this valley, and Coolbroth Trail #672 continues straight. You'll turn left towards Poso Creek Trail #671, but instead of turning to follow Poso Creek, you'll turn left again to continue skirting the valley head on an unnamed two-track that connects to the La Garita Stock Driveway Trail #787
for about a mile. Turn right onto La Garita Stock Driveway.
Following the La Garita Stock Driveway, historically a route for bringing cattle and sheep to high country grazing for the summer, you'll find a wide range of riding, from smooth two-track to super steep cobble fields that must be pushed as the trail traces the long ridge. You'll again see evidence of volcanic activity with porous volcanic rock strewn about. In about 6 miles, you'll descend into the saddle at the foot of Boot Mountain and intersect Cave Creek Road #673
. If you want to summit Boot Mountain at 12,000 feet, continue a little farther on the Stock Driveway, then head cross country on foot to the peak. It's an easy hike. If you want to continue riding, turn left onto Cave Creek Road #673
(which is really just a rough two-track here) and begin descending into the La Garita Creek valley.
After about 1.2 miles, La Garita Creek Trail descends to your left as Cave Creek Road #673
ends about a mile ahead. Turn left onto La Garita Creek Trail #793
, and descend steeply towards the valley floor, then meander through meadows and open woods as it follows La Garita Creek downstream. About 4 miles down La Garita Creek Trail #793
, the trail turns left and climbs up the valley side a bit to avoid private land. If you miss the turn, you'll be blocked by a posted and gated trail a few miles farther downstream and have to turn back. After circumventing the in-holding, La Garita Creek Trail #793
intersects La Garita Creek Cut-off Trail #793.2
and descends to the creek again. Here you'll turn left to follow La Garita Creek Trail #793
as it turns to singletrack.
This segment of the trail is narrow, moderately rugged singletrack with some short, steep climbs and descents as La Garita Creek forms more of a gorge. You can set much evidence of the volcanic activity here, including thick layers of volcanic ash capped by deep lava flows. The La Garita Creek Trail #793
ends in a parking area at the end of County Road E39. From here, you continue on the county road downstream until it leaves the valley and intersects County Road 38A.
Turn left onto County Road 38A as it skirts the base of the mountains, passing several entrances into the Penitente Canyon Trails. If you want to finish on singletrack, head into the trail system and work you way north to the parking lot on County Road 41G. If you're ready to get back to your car, continue on 38A until it heads east to La Garita and County Road 40G heads west as Penitente Canyon Road
. The fastest way back is to continue straight onto Baseline Road
which leads directly to your starting point.