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A Guide To Hiking San Luis Peak (Via Stewart Creek Trail)

Updated: Feb 3, 2023


*All of the gorgeous photos in this post were taken by Marissa Forbis with Forbis Fotography.

Check out her website: https://www.forbisfotography.com/


San Luis Peak was my very first 14er.


You're probably wondering ... why San Luis? It's not a popular 14er. In all honesty, my friends and I chose to do it because we could only go on a trip like this in 2022 at the beginning of October and were looking for a southern Colorado mountain, so there would be less snow than if we went up a more popular 14er, which are more north.


If I could go back in time, would we change our decision? Maybe, but probably not. Overall, it was an interesting experience, and the trail to get to San Luis was pretty. We saw a lot of wildlife, and although it was a long day, we made it to the top and back down in one piece.


But, I do have plenty to say about the experience and plenty to warn you about before you attempt the same one. Hopefully those of you who are trying to hike all of the 14ers will especially find this information helpful, even though it's from the perspective of a non-Coloradan and a first-time 14er hiker (lol).


What You'll Find In This Post:


 

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About San Luis Peak

San Luis Peak is a southern Colorado mountain and is located in the San Juan range. It's not a very beloved 14er. In fact, 14ers.com (definitely check out this site if you haven't already), ranks it at 47 out of 53.


What is San Luis Peak's elevation? 14,023 ft


What class is San Luis? It's a Class 1, which means it's just hiking with no scrambling. This doesn't mean it's not a challenging hike, though, especially if you're a beginner or not in your best shape. It's still a 14er, and the trail is pretty long, which will tire you out.


When is the best time to go? June through September is the best time to hike this 14er. Hiking San Luis in the early spring and late fall will mean snow.



About Stewart Creek Trail

Although there are two main ways to get up to San Luis Peak, this post will only focus on Stewart Creek Trail, as this is what I've hiked. I also think there are some fun things to enjoy on this trail.


How long is the hike? AllTrails says Stewart Creek Trail is 12.6 miles roundtrip. However, when I hiked it, my phone and my friend's watch both said it was about 15 miles roundtrip. I've also seen a few other comments on AllTrails saying that it's a bit longer than the site claims. So prepare for a longer hike than what's recorded.


What is the elevation gain? AllTrails says the elevation gain is about 3,454 ft., which is pretty accurate.


How much time will it take to hike it? AllTrails says it takes nearly 8 hours to complete this hike, which I would say is accurate if you don't really stop much. However, if you plan to, say, take a lot of photos or videos or make a meal, it will take you longer than that. To be safe, I suggest you plan for an all-day event (12 hours or so) and leave before the sun comes up so that you're sure to make it down before dark.


How much traffic is on this trail? This is not a popular hike or a popular 14er, so you'll likely only see a few other people or none at all, particularly during the colder months. This is why I suggest doing this hike with at least one other person.


What is the trail like? To learn more about the trail and what you'll see as you hike, head to the next section.



What You'll See Along The Trail

It's best to explain Stewart Creek Trail to San Luis Peak by separating it into three parts. And getting to know each of them will help you understand where you are in relation to summiting the mountain and in relation to getting back to your car at the end.


Part 1: The Long Stretch

The first four miles of trail follows Stewart Creek. The trail is easy to see, and you'll have a pretty clear view of the creek, especially during the first few miles. This is the best time to look for beavers, which will be swimming around in their pools or busy putting together their dams.


The landscape begins prairie-like with brush on the left separating the creek from you and the creek separating you from the mountain peaks on the other side. Look for moose on the other side of the creek as you hike ... at least that's where we saw some during the day. The creek brush closest to you is where the moose like to hang out in the evening and at night, so this is the big reason why you'll want to get back to your car before then. It's fun to see moose, but not that close up!


Then the trail moves into wooded territory for the next mile or so. You'll start to run into some short bursts of increased elevation as well. The final portion of the four miles becomes prairie-like again as you move to the base of a peak.


Part 2: The False Summit

The next mile(ish) consists of a steady incline up a mountain. But take note: This is not San Luis Peak. It's a false peak, which means it's a summit you have to reach before getting up to the right one. This is also likely where the snow will begin if you're there during early spring or late fall.


I went in early October, and the snow on this part of the trail was feet deep at times due to snowdrifts. We also were only able to see the trail because a local had gone up the mountain right before us and his tracks were still there. So, it might be that you're unable to see the trail and have to pave your own way. Just keep in mind that the trail doesn't go straight up. Instead, it winds back and forth up the mountain, so it isn't too dangerous for hikers.


Part 3: The Top of The Mountain

After you reach the false peak, it's time to look up and see San Luis ahead of you. It's your final mile(ish), but it's likely also the time you'll start feeling a little discouraged and tired because you've already gone up a mountain. But take heart, regroup and continue on. You're almost there, and now you can actually see the peak where you're trying to end up.


This portion of the trail will, again, all be an incline, and it might even be your steepest incline on the hike. In addition to using your trekking poles in the snow, they will also come in handy here. You'll have mounds of rocks on your left side keeping you from falling but it's always better to be safe and create a little more traction if possible.


The trail will veer to the left as you get closer to the peak, and you'll know you've reached the peak when you, of course, have nowhere else to go and you see the survey marker.


*The way down is the same trail you came up, so you can use this guide for both.



Tips For Hiking San Luis

Don't go by yourself. I would assume that, as a general rule when hiking 14ers, it's best to go with at least one other person since you never know how the altitude will affect you and an emergency is always a possibility. Especially if you're not used to hiking 14ers or you don't live in a more elevated area like Colorado, I suggest going with a few people up San Luis. This is not a trail you'll see many people hiking, if any at all, so you won't have that safety net.


Camp at the trailhead the night before. The closest town to the Stewart Creek trailhead is 2 miles away. And with the length of this hike is, it's best and safer, in my opinion, to camp near the trailhead the night before you start your climb. You'll find a place to park, camp and go to the bathroom just beyond the trailhead at Eddiesville Trailhead.


And if you don't want to camp again after you've finished your hike, you can consider driving out of the area and staying at one of the really small towns nearby or driving further to a more trafficked place like Salida, Gunnison, etc.


Bring plenty of food and water for a full day. It's a long hike, so prepare accordingly. Bring enough water and food to get you through the day and a little more in case.


Keep close tabs on your time. As mentioned several times in this post, this is a long hike, and you definitely want to get back before dark or you'll be seeing eyes in the dark. (And those eyes will most likely be attached to moose, as they bed down for the night and eat the vegetation along the creek.)


Bring animal protection if you're able. Again, there are a lot of moose in this area, and these moose aren't giant stuffed animals. They're wild and unpredictable. Some might also have babies they're protecting. If you see one, it's recommended that you try to put a tree between you and it. And if you're legally able to carry protection on your hike, this is one trail in which I'd recommend you do so.


Celebrate when you reach the summit. If you have a typical celebratory trend when you get to the top of a mountain, be sure to do it! My friends and I heated up some hot chocolate, which was a great way to celebrate and rest before going back down. And don't forget to take pictures, not only of the view around you but also of yourself on the summit. You'll want to remember that you finished this journey.



Your San Luis Packing List

If you're a seasoned hiker, this section might be redundant for you, but for everyone else, this part of your adventure is key. Hiking a 14er, especially one with a long trail, isn't your typical hike. There's a lot of incline, it's a long day and you never know what could happen while you're out there.


Some of you consistent 14er hikers might laugh at this, but I always think it's better to be safe than sorry when you're out in a more untamed backcountry. San Luis, especially, isn't a popular 14er, and you'll be lucky to see other hikers while you're there.


With that in mind, it's a good idea to bring some survival things in case — God forbid — something crazy happens. And if you go with a group, consider splitting everything up so the weight isn't too much for one person.


Here's your general San Luis checklist:

  • Hiking Backpack: A daypack should be fine if you can fit everything in it.

  • Hiking Boots

  • Trekking Poles: No, they're not just for older hikers. Trekking poles are extremely helpful for hikes like this and are especially helpful if you're going when there's snow on the mountain or if you have bad knees.

  • Downloaded or Printed Copy of Trail Map

  • Hydration Pack + Extra Water

  • Food (Meals and Snacks): You can even bring a propane burner and freeze-dried meals.

  • Rain Jacket

  • Sunscreen: Don't make the excuse that it's not very sunny. You're at a high elevation and will get sunburned, especially if there's snow.

  • Sunglasses

  • Toilet Paper

  • Portable Phone Charger

  • Lighter

  • Headlamp

  • Knife

  • Basic Medical Emergency Supplies: First Aid Kit, tourniquet, ankle/knee braces, splits, etc.

  • Animal Protection: bear spray, a gun (if legal to own/bring one), etc.

  • Binoculars: This will help you see animals in or across the creek


Here's an extra checklist for early spring or late fall/winter:

  • Layers: A warm vest and a warm outer layer are great ideas.

  • Beanie

  • Gloves/Hand Warmers

  • Extra Socks: If your first pair gets wet, it might be nice to switch them out on your way back down the mountain.



Helpful Resources Before Your Hike


My Rating For San Luis Peak

Although I don't have a very knowledgeable opinion about San Luis Peak via Stewart Creek Trail since it was my first 14er, I'll still give you my rating, though I might come back and change it later. (FYI, my 14er ratings are all out of 5 stars.)

I'm giving it three stars because it is a pretty hike and there are a lot of animals to see. However, I'm not sure I can give it much higher than that, as I've been on other mountaintops with prettier views. Plus, I don't love how long the hike is. That four miles that begin and end your hike are pretty but make it a full-day experience and are mostly just tedious at the end since you're tired from already at least eight miles of hiking.


But overall, it was pretty, fun and an average hike!


 

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