South of Salida, the 180 mile Rainbow Trail runs from Marshall Pass to the San Juan Valley sand dunes paralleling the eastern flank of the mighty Sangre de Cristo Range.
The best trailhead is about 11 miles south of Salida on SR285. To reach the hiking trailhead this from Poncha Springs at US50, head south on US285 for 5 miles. There is limited trailhead parking alongside US285.
Alternately, for trucks with trailers, use the Silver Creek Trailhead which has more parking. To reach the Silver Creek Trailhead from Poncha Springs travel south on Hwy 285 for approximately 4.5 miles. Turn right onto County Road 200 and travel south for 2 miles to FDR 201. Continue on FDR 201 for about 5 miles and look for the parking area. It is not recommend to drive a truck and trailer past the parking area, as the road becomes very rough.
From these trailheads, there is a nice stretch running to the south. South of US285, the route starts with a steep climb with lots of switchbacks. There is not much water for the first 3 days of riding; the first water is at NFS Hayden Creek Campground. About 25 miles past Hayden, look for the trails up to the Sangre De Christo mountains, known for the alpine lakes.
Two other trailheads that are suitable for truck and trailer parking, although they have slightly smaller parking areas, are Bear Creek and Hayden Creek. To reach Bear Creek, travel approximately 2 miles east from Salida on Hwy 50. Watch carefully for the left turn onto CR 101. Take CR 101, south for 4.5 miles to the trailhead. A high clearance vehicle is required for the last 2 miles of the road. To reach Hayden Creek from Salida, travel 15 miles on Highway 50 east toward Canon City. Just outside of Coaldale, watch for signs indicating access to "Cuttys Resort" and Hayden Creek. Turn right at the signs and get on Fremont County Road 6. Stay on this road for 2 1/2 miles, passing Cuttys Resort and the Coaldale campground. The road will end at Hayden Creek Campground.
In the southern section of the trail, the largest trailhead parking area is at Horn Creek. To access the Horn Creek Trailhead, take Highway 69 south from Westcliffe to County Road 140 (Schoolfield Lane). Turn right on CR 140 and travel to CR 129 (Macey Lane). Turn left on CR 129 and travel to CR 130 (Horn Road). Turn right on CR130 and follow CR 130 till it ends at the Horn Creek Trailhead. Another popular starting point is the Music Pass/Grape Creek Trailhead. To reach this starting point, take Highway 69 south out of Westcliffe for 4.5 miles to County Road 119(Colfax Lane). Turn right onto CR 119 and follow it to the Grape Creek Trailhead. This road can be rough in spots, make sure not continue past where the Rainbow Trail intersects CR119, as the road becomes 4-wheel drive only. The Comanche / Venable trailhead is also suitable for horse trailers. Take Highway 69 south from Westcliffe to County Road 140 (Schoolfield Lane). Turn right on CR 140 and follow it to the Comanche / Venable Trailhead.
Note: The Alvarado Campground, known as one of the best on the trail, is currently closed for construction, but should re-open in May 2007. This campground will have 3 large horse sites, reservations are required. To reach the Alvarado Campsite, travel 3 miles south on State Hwy 69 from Westcliffe. Turn west onto County Rd. 140 and travel 7 miles to the campground.
If youre in the area, make sure to eat at the Alpine Lodge – its a great meal.
Overall, Rainbow Trail is the 31st most popular hiking trail of all 72 hikes in Colorado.