The 226,420-acre Sangre de Cristo Wilderness Area is located in Rio Grande and San Isabel National Forests near the towns of Salida, Poncha Springs, Wellsville, Howard, Coaldale, Alamosa, and Westcliffe in southern Colorado.
From its southern-most point in the San Luis Valley, the Sangre de Cristo Wilderness Area extends literally to the end of the horizon in the north, spanning 70 miles along a generally north-south axis. The Sand Dunes National Monument lies on the area’s southern rim while the northern terminus is near the town of Salida.
On a winter evening, when the sun sets and the mountains turn a deep red, it is easy to see why the range is called Sangre de Cristo (Spanish for "Blood of Christ").
This mountain range is somewhat of a geologic anomaly in Colorado. It was uplifted suddenly into the massive blocks and spires that give its signature forms. Elevations within the area range from 8,000 to 14, 294 feet. Four 14,000 foot peaks sit smack in the middle of the wilderness. These include the Crestone Needle (14,197 feet), one of the most challenging peaks to climb in Colorado.
This is a land of melting snow that feeds a multitude of creeks and small lakes, and gives life to a range of forest systems including oak, aspen, and spruce. Black bears, mountain lions live here, along with elk, deer, and bighorn sheep.
The wilderness area encompasses hunting areas 82 and 86, and it is full of trails—400 miles worth in fact. It’s a rough place to hike but well worth it. Most of the 180 trails end at pristine alpine lakes (more than 60 of them are in the area) backed by virtually unscalable walls.