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Length: 11 miles roundtrip and 3,700 vertical feet
Difficulty: Most difficult
Why we love it: It’s a straightforward and rewarding hike in a less-visited part of the state.
When to go: June through September, once most of the snow has melted away
Pre-hike Buzz: Forgo your morning joe and get an early start to avoid thunderstorms and leave plenty of time to get back to your car.
Restrooms: None available
Dogs: No restrictions
With 260,000 people now ascending at least one fourteener each year, it can be downright difficult to find a parking spot near the trailhead of many mountains, never mind enjoy a peaceful hike to the top. Fortunately, this is not the case on the 14,014-foot San Luis Peak, one of the state’s most isolated fourteeners. With a good trail all the way to the summit and great views of the San Juan Mountains, San Luis is a hike for people who truly wish to escape.
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Although the mountain’s Northeast Ridge (from Stuart Creek) is considered the standard route, if you have access to a 4WD vehicle, the South Ridge, which departs from West Willow Creek, offers a shorter access road, a shorter route to the top (11 vs. 13.5 miles), and is based in the town of Creede (home of the world’s largest fork).
From the trailhead at 11,600 feet, the route follows an old 4WD road for a mile to a saddle at 12,300 feet. Cross this saddle to join the Colorado Trail, which drops down several hundred feet into a patch of forest nestled in a small basin. After contouring around this valley for a mile, the trail climbs up to another saddle at about 12,400 feet, where you catch your first glimpse of the summit. Weather permitting, follow the trail as it drops slightly and then contours for another mile around a second valley before climbing up to a third saddle at 12,600 feet.
Near this saddle the route separates from the Colorado Trail for the final mile-long trek up the South Ridge, where the path crosses a few false summits before reaching the true top. Here you’re treated to great views of the La Garita Mountains to the east and the main cluster of the San Juan Mountains to the west, including two other fourteeners, Wetterhorn and Uncompahgre peaks. The view seems even more stunning with few—if any—other people around. Once you’ve rested and enjoyed the magnificent isolation, carefully retrace your steps back to your car.
Getting there: Depending upon the road’s condition, you’ll likely need an AWD or 4WD vehicle to reach the South Ridge trailhead. From the town of Creede, head north on Main Street for 1.1 miles to a fork in the road. Follow the left fork (Bachelor Loop Road) up a steep hill and past several old mines. At the junction with the East Willow Creek 4WD Road about 2.2 miles from the fork, stay left to remain on the Bachelor Loop Road and follow it for another 1.9 miles to the junction with the West Willow Creek Road. Turn onto this road and follow it north past the Equity Mine. About a mile past the mine the road crosses a creek and then dead-ends soon afterward at the trailhead. Our Subaru was able to reach the Equity Mine.
Logistics: Dispersed, low-impact camping is allowed near the trailhead. For safety considerations, detailed route descriptions, and recent access and trail conditions visit 14ers.com.