San Luis Peak, the 14,022-foot high point of the La Garita Mountains, is one of the least climbed and least known of Colorado’s fourteeners. It offers lots of solitude not only because it’s in the 129,826-acre La Garita Wilderness Area, but also because it requires 30 miles of driving dirt roads to the trailhead. The standard Northeast Ridge route is 13.5 miles round trip and gains 3,600 feet. The mountain’s sprawling grass and talus slopes are easy to climb, and the hike threads through high meadows, aspen groves, and alpine tundra. Look for herds of elk in the lower valley and bighorn sheep at timberline. San Luis Peak is a great summer weekend hike, with few hikers compared to the busy Front Range peaks.
- San Luis Peak is the 50th highest peak in Colorado and the 58th highest peak in North America. The mountain, first climbed by Hayden Survey explorers Franklin Rhoda and A.D. Wilson in 1874, has two hiking routes to its summit—the Northeast Ridge and the South Ridge. Both are easy hikes with gradual ascents on gentle terrain. Much of the South Ridge route follows the 486-mile-long Colorado Trail up Cochetopa Creek to a saddle before hiking up the ridge. Allow eight hours to climb the peak.
- The driving approach from U.S. 50 east of Gunnison is usually considered the crux of climbing San Luis Peak. After leaving CO 114 on Cochetopa Pass, the approach follows several dirt roads for almost 37 miles to the trailhead. Allow a couple hours to drive this section.
- Stewart Peak is San Luis Peak’s 13,983-foot neighbor to the north. Stewart Peak, the 55th highest ranked mountain in Colorado, was once considered a fourteener and was climbed by many hikers until new surveys dropped it below the 14,000-foot elevation in the early 1970s. Now Stewart is the second highest 13,000-foot peak in the state. It’s an easy climb from the summit of San Luis Peak; just follow the main ridge north for 2.5 miles to Stewart’s summit.
- The best way to reach the trailhead for San Luis Peak is from U.S. 50 east of Gunnison. It’s almost 60 miles from here. Go south from route 50 on CO 114 for 20 miles and turn on NN14 Road. Drive 6.8 miles south to Dome Lakes area and turn right on 15GG Road (changes to FR 194 at the National Forest boundary). Drive four miles to a junction and go right on 14DD Road for 12 miles to a junction. Continue straight on FR 794 for 4.4 miles to Stewart Creek trailhead for the Northeast Ridge route.
Recommended season(s): May through October.
—Stewart M. Green