Penitente Canyon

Salida

Hike between the towering rock walls of Penitente Canyon.

Hiking Severe

Distance
3.7 km
Ascent
100 m
Descent
100 m
Duration
0-1 hrs
Low Point
2.4 km
High Point
2.5 km
Gradient
Penitente Canyon Map

Penitente Canyon is best-known as a sport climbing hotspot. With routes ranging from easy to difficult, the rock climbing access here is easy and the canyon is simply stunning.

Description

However, Penitente is quickly becoming known for a totally different aspect: it’s trail system. The ever-expanding trail network spreads through and around the canyon system, running through smaller canyons and making excellent use of the unique geology of the area.

The environment here is unequivocally high desert, meaning it offers superb weather and plenty of sunshine in the spring and fall. During the winter, the San Luis Valley actually gets bitter-cold due to inversion from the towering mountains, so during mid-winter Penitente isn’t a great choice. Similarly, the fall is blazing-hot, with temperatures often breaking 100 degrees.

You can craft hiking routes of varying difficulty and length in this area. The route mapped here runs through the bottom of the canyon, where the hiking is very easy. But then, the trail climbs abruptly out of the canyon, requiring some light scrambling.

As the trail wraps around the canyon rim, the trail tread is rocky, but the hiking is easy and the views entertaining.

Finally, the route mapped here drops back steeply into the canyon, requiring full engagement of your limbs for technical down-climb scrambling. There are other easier (but longer) routes that drop into the canyon, and even more difficult routes than this. If you do choose to scramble—especially down some of the rocks—be sure to proceed with caution. Many of the rocks here end in sheer cliffs—hence the technical rock climbing the area is known for.

Thanks to a well-developed campground right at the trailhead and entrance to the canyon, Penitente is quickly becoming a mini adventure destination in its own right. Over the coming years, it will only continue to get better: many more trails are already being flagged and planned!

Difficulty

Severe

Hiking challenging trails where simple scrambling, with the occasional use of the hands, is a distinct possibility. The trails are often filled with all manner of obstacles both small and large, and the hills are very steep. Obstacles and challenges are often unexpected and can be unpredictable.

Medium Exposure

2 out of 4

The trail contains some obstacles such as outcroppings and rock which could cause injury.

Remoteness

2 out of 4

Away from help but easily accessed.

Best time to visit

March, April, May, June, September, October, November, December

Features

  • Picturesque
  • Dog friendly