Some trail beta from a backcountry veteran
Story and photos by Kim Fenske
SUMMIT COUNTY — San Luis Peak is among the lowest of Colorado’s fourteeners, with a summit elevation of 14,014 feet. The mountain is also one of the easiest peaks to climb. But the Stewart Creek trailhead is set deep in the Gunnison National Forest which makes for a challenging drive along twenty miles of Forest Service road and through two stream crossings. The official recommendation from the Forest Service is for a high-clearance vehicle, although it’s only a mildly daring adventure for low-clearance. San Luis Peak is located south of Gunnison, nearly 200 miles from Summit County.
The trail enters the La Garita Wilderness Area, passing numerous beaver dams and huts. The forest is a thick mix of spruce and fir, with ancient bristlecone pines immediately below the tundra. Wildflowers are abundant in the wetlands surrounding Stewart Creek. At treeline, the trail crosses Stewart Creek, climbing south to a false summit. The ascent to the ridge is about a four-hour hike west from the trailhead. On the final 1,000 vertical feet, the trail turns south on a scree field leading to the summit.
From the top of San Luis, the Fourteeners of the Lake City area are along the western horizon: Handies, Sunshine, Redcloud, Wetterhorn, and Uncompaghre. The tundra carpet below the talus field spreads like a pale green magic carpet floating over the surrounding ridges. The entire twelve-mile hike can be accomplished in eight hours.
Kim Fenske is a former wilderness ranger, firefighter who has hiked thousands of miles in the Colorado mountains. He has served on the board of directors of Friends of the Eagles Nest Wilderness Area.
Fenske has authored several hiking books filled with hundreds of photographs of Colorado wildlife, wildflowers, and scenery. His books are enjoyed by thousands of outdoor enthusiasts. His current electronic book titles are published on Amazon for Kindle, as well as Barnes and Noble for Nook. Search for these titles: “Greatest Hikes in Central Colorado,” “Holy Cross Wilderness Area,” and “Eagles Nest Wilderness Area.”