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Rocky River in the San Isabel National Forest

Trip Report: 2022-07 San Isabel, CO

San Isabel is a little unincorporated community built around Lake Isabel, a old reservoir built in the Wet Mountains during the 1930’s to supply the CF&I Steel Plant in Pueblo, CO. Today the lake is managed by the National Forest service as a recreation area.

Trip LengthExtended Weekend Trip
ActivitiesHiking, Swimming, Sightseeing, Cabin..ing?
TransportWithin 2.5 hours by Car from Denver
ConditionsMild, Partly Cloudy, with Afternoon Storms
Elevation8,800′-9,800′
DoggoOn-Leash, Mostly
GearBasic Hiking Kit
Repeatability9/10
Overall9/10

Introduction

Somewhere in the San Isabel National Forest

I had the opportunity to base myself out of a rustic cabin above 8,800′ in elevation near Lake Isabel for four nights before I would have to chase a strong Wi-Fi signal to keep the lights on at work. Being the internet creature I am, I sat in the car in the last town before I drove up into the mountains checking out the cell tower map deducing my best chance for a cell signal from the cabin. Sure enough, I was correct that if I stood on the porch and held my phone up in front of the backdrop of the metal roof, I could pick up the faintest of signal sufficient to send and receive text messages from time to time. The cabin, its furnishings, and decorations were all setup as a remembrance or tribute probably to a beloved grandmother that had passed. As a guest I spent the first night tidying up as best I could. When I say rustic, the only real convenience was electricity, although there was an active stream flowing on the border of the property that you could dip a bucket into. Over the next four days, the mud doggo and I would explore the area, walking a number of trails, discovering a fun summer hydrogeological feature, exploring one man’s multi-decade construction fever dream, and get ejected off a mountain face by some very close-in lightning strikes.

The Trip

I stopped into a place called “The Lodge” near the lake and a young lady named Tamsen turned me on to a couple of the local attractions. The mud doggo and I spent the first day just hiking the trails around the lake, exploring the picnic sites and campsites along the Saint Charles river that acts as both the source and outlet of Lake Isabel. As the day wore into the afternoon, with bathing suit equipped, we wandered downstream through a series of unofficial game trails, over and under fallen trees, waded through the river, and scrambled over some rocks to find a water slide carved into the rock face by the river. It was a real summertime treat and a pleasure to have slipped and fell into the chute. (Learn how to fall properly before you go standing on wet rocks!)

The next day we went to check out a local attraction, Bishop’s Castle, then we attempted the hike to the defunct Cisneros mine. Bishop’s castle is one man’s construction fever dream to build a castle of sorts high in the Wet Mountains. It’s kind of awesome and features a lot of custom iron work. There are some people camping on the property and about an hour into our tour of the castle, one of the campers three loose, uncontrolled dogs ran down the hillside to challenge the Mud Doggo. Maggie kept one of them at bay while I stared down the other two. After a few tense minutes, the other dogs’ owner came looking for their dogs and made them return to their campsite. A little reminder that even in the relative quiet of the mountains, there are people and animals everywhere.

The Cisneros mine hike from the Cisneros trailhead up a portion of the St. Charles trail is a quad crusher, rising 1,000′ over less than a couple miles. We made pretty good time but just as we reached the point of interest, the tremendous crack of thunder shook the ground we were standing on as lightning struck the peak of the mountain we were on twice. Needless to say, I had heard all I needed to hear and we noped out back down the mountain, mine unseen. I was a little annoyed as we were less than a couple hundred yards from our goal, but nobody likes getting struck by lightning. We met a couple potential hikers at the bottom and I explained why we came back down as quickly as we did. They were still game to at least try the trail to see what they could see until another thunderous crack slapped our eardrums even at the trailhead a couple miles from the peak.

We drove down the mountain and into town to find dinner, then spent the evening doing cabin work – resetting the pest deterrents, cleaning up, packing down, and getting ready to lock up the cabin for the next visitor. The next morning we packed up to leave the area – on to the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve the next day.

Closing Thoughts

Summer afternoon weather is unpredictable and scary! Also, I’m told by the locals that the weather here was very unusual for the last four or five years where they had fairly severe drought. It rained for at least a couple hours every day I was in the area. Great for the forest, not so great for my afternoon outings. I kept bear spray on my hip the entire time I was in Colorado. I wouldn’t have wanted to resort to it, but encounters with people and animals reinforced my decision to buy and carry the deterrent. (there’s a story I’m not bothering to tell here about a stupid and hostile driver that took the option to leave quietly – because honestly you can run into this anywhere you go) Overall this was a very pleasant trip and a great way to get ready for the 11,000’+ alpine hiking I was hoping to do toward the end of my time in Colorado.

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