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On Walkabout Drive To: Westcliffe, Colorado

Basic Information

  • Start Point: Colorado Springs
  • End Point: Westcliffe, Colorado
  • Distance: 240 miles round trip
  • Time: Full Day
  • More Info: Custer County website

Google Map of the Drive:

Narrative

On a recent weekend my wife and I decided to take a drive from Colorado Springs down to the small town of Westcliffe, Colorado located at the foot of the beautiful Sangre De Cristo Mountains.  Since moving to Colorado Springs we have been trying to find a small town we like as much Ruidoso and Cloudcroft back in New Mexico.  I had not visited Westcliffe in about 10 years so I was eager to see if its fledgling tourism economy had grown at all during that time.  So we left early in the morning and drove to Canon City via Highway 115 and then Highway 50.  From Canon City we drove through the canyon where the city gets its name from.  The Arkansas River flows through this canyon where a portion of it is well known as the Royal Gorge.  The section that Highway 50 passes through is also well known for whitewater rafting during the summer as well as for fishing throughout the year:

The train tracks that can be seen running through the canyon are used by the Royal Gorge Railroad that is a tourism train that runs through the Royal Gorge and this canyon:

My wife and I plan to ride the train some time this summer once the weather warms up.  Here are a couple of photos of the walls of the canyon where mountain goats can often be seen though we could not spot any during this drive through the canyon:

We eventually exited on to State Highway 69 that past through the southern canyon walls to Westcliffe.  As we exited from the canyon we were welcomed by these incredibly beautiful views of the southern portion of the Sangre De Cristo Mountain Range that begins just north of Westcliffe near Salida, Colorado and runs all the way to Santa Fe, New Mexico:

The name Sangre De Cristo is Spanish for “Blood of Christ” which legend has it was given to the mountains by early Catholic monks due to the red color of the mountains at sunset.  The name also shows the rich Hispanic heritage of the region since southern Colorado was once part of the Spanish Empire in the New World.  The Sangre De Cristos on the west and the Wet Mountains on the east frame the beautiful Wet Mountain Valley that for two centuries its grassy meadows have been used for ranching:

In the middle of the Wet Valley is Westcliffe which is a small town with a population of 417 people.  It also sits at an altitude of 7,867 feet and is the center of the iconic ranching industry in the Wet Mountain Valley.  The downtown area is very small and easy to walk around:

It has a handful of shops and eating establishments.  After checking out the various shops with our particular favorite being the organic soap shop we then then went to get lunch.  We had lunch at the Stage Stop restaurant in the middle of downtown.  This small restaurant serves a number of great sandwiches for lunch that my wife and I enjoyed:

We washed down the sandwiches with the fresh smoothies they make.  The restaurant also had the small town friendliness you would expect from a town like Westcliffe.  When we got back to Colorado Springs I decided to check on the restaurant reviewing site Yelp to see if this place has been discovered yet.  It had two reviews postedwith both of them being positive.  I agree with the reviewers and we will definitely check out this place again the next time we are in town.

One other thing we tried to do during our visit to Westcliffe was visit the small museum in town.  The museum is located in the old school house that was built back in 1891:

Unfortunately the museum was closed and is only open during the summer.  So we will definitely be back to check out when we visit again this summer.

On the outskirts of downtown there is a large grass field that we stopped at to allow our toddler daughter to expend some energy running around in before heading back to Colorado Springs.  As she played in the grass field I took a few more pictures of the beautiful mountains.  Here is the view looking towards the northwest:

Here is the view of the mountains as I look to the west:

Finally here is the view looking towards the southwest where some of the highest peak in the Sangres is located:

Crestone Peak is the highest peak that can seen from Westcliffe at 14,300 ft (4,400 m), next is Crestone Needle at 14,197 ft (4,327 m), then there is Kit Carson Peak at 14,165 ft (4,317 m), and finally Humboldt Peak at 14,064 ft (4,287 m). However, Horn Peak at 13,450 feet I thought was the most scenic mountain seen from Westcliffe:

From Westcliffe we took State Highway 96 and then 67 to get back to Highway 115 to go back to Colorado Springs.  This route passes through the Wet Mountains.  Our drive through the Wet Mountains was quite scenic with rocky slopes backdropped by heavily forested hills:

Here was the most impressive rock formation we saw during our drive through the Wet Mountains:

Though we had not seen any mountain goats earlier in the day during our drive up to Westcliffe, we did see some on our way back to Colorado Springs in the Wet Mountains:

Here is a closer look at the two mountains goats we saw grazing on a hill side:

Eventually we exited the Wet Mountains and we could see the 14,115 ft (4,302 m), Pikes Peak ahead of which meant in under an hour we would be back in Colorado Springs:

Conclusion

The drive to Westcliffe through the Arkansas River canyon and then through the beautiful Wet Valley to Westcliffe is extremely beautiful.   The little village of Westcliffe is not as touristy as Ruidoso or Cloudcroft but it is a nice place to grab lunch and check out its few shops downtown.  So for anyone looking for a nice weekend day trip from Colorado Springs when the weather is nice definitely give this route a try.

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