3 - 4
FATMAP difficulty grade
Looping the Columbine trail provides a delectable taste of alpine forest hiking, all without having to travel far from downtown Salida _or_ repeating the trail as an out-and-back route.
This route begins from the Columbine Trailhead, climbs steeply up the dirt road, enjoys some of the sweetest portions of the Bear Creek section of the Rainbow Trail, and then drops quickly down Columbine back to the trailhead.
While this loop isn't too long and the trails are relatively non-technical, the climb up to the top is quite steep in spots, despite being on a dirt road. Despite being moto-legal, the Bear Creek section of the Rainbow Trail is ultra-flowy, with gorgeous bench cut singletrack contouring along the side of the mountain, swinging in and out of each small valley.
While the trail begins in a deep forest, in a few miles it breaks out into an alpine meadow, providing beautiful views of Salida far, far below.
You'll realize just how high up you are! All too soon, it's time to descend Columbine.
If you decide that you do have more legs and more time, a good option is to hike out to FS Road 108, turn around and hike back, and then descend Columbine. Columbine drops quickly through the pines and into the scrub oaks.
The trail switchbacks across the mountainside, never descending too steeply, making this trail a bit easier on the knees than others in the region.
Lower down, it crosses a creek a few times, providing great spots for water refill (make sure to treat it) or refreshment for dogs.
One alternative to looping Bear Creek Road -> Rainbow Trail -> Columbine Trail is to turn it into an out-and-back hike, hiking up Columbine, adding in a portion of Bear Creek, and then turning around and heading back.
The exact route option is up to you! While these trails can’t compete with the true high altitude hiking found in the nearby mountains, this route has the benefit of wilting out earlier in the springtime and staying open later in the fall.
Add in the easy access from downtown Salida, and this hike is well-worth putting on your to-do list.