General Mountain Information: Culebra Peak
Video Hike Review: Culebra Peak
Culebra Peak: ★★★ (⅗ Stars)
Distance: 14 Miles from Ranch HQ, 7 miles from Four Way, 5 miles from Upper TH
Elevation Start: 9,500 ft from Ranch HQ, 10,800 from Four Way, 11,240 ft from Upper TH
Highest Point: 14,049 ft
Total Elevation Gain: 5,450 ft from Ranch HQ, 3,150 ft from Four Way, 2,700 ft from Upper TH
Estimated Time to Complete: 8-10 hours RT, 4-5 hours RT from Four Way, 3-4 hours RT from Upper TH
Difficulty: Moderate to Hard (depending on starting point) What does this mean?
Class: Class 2
Season: January – July (Only months hiking is allowed as of 2018)
Trailhead: Culebra Peak
Getting Here: (Directions from property manager)
Navigate to the small town of San Luis, Colorado. From here, you will turn east at the Conoco gas station. This is Rd P.6, travel on this for about 4 miles to the even smaller town of Chama, Colorado. At the intersection in Chama, turn left onto County Road L.7. Drive about 3.6 miles to County Road 25.5 which is right after a small bridge. Turn right and travel to the end of this small section of road (about .5 miles). From here, the gate is about a mile and has room for about 4-5 cars to park.
Parking: There are several spots to park in the Cielo Vista ranch: at the check-in area/Ranch HQ, at the Four Way intersection and at the upper trailhead. Where you park will most likely be dictated by the owners of the ranch. If you are allowed to drive to the upper areas, I highly recommend a higher horsepower car with at least AWD. Road conditions to Culebra Peak can change, but as of 2018 the road up to the upper trailhead was not technically challenging, just steep in sections. Of course, the fee to enter the ranch is subject to change, but as of 2018 it was $150 per hiker. There are no bathrooms at any of the parking areas.
Camping: Camping is allowed at Culebra Peak directly inside the ranch entrance gate. Fires are also allowed per the ranch manager as long as you keep them under control (fire pit, small fire etc.) From what I gathered, you are allowed to camp both before or after your hike so long as your car is on the outside of the gate.
Other Events In Area: Things to do and places to do things in Colorado: Concerts, Festivals, Events – eventsincolorado.com. The most complete calendar of things to do throughout the state of Colorado including concerts, fairs, festivals and family friendly activities
Make it a Loop: Culebra Peak has no official trail, so you could easily make this hike a lollipop loop by hiking other neighboring mountains (Red Mountain as an example) or taking a different way up vs way down. The common area to hike Culebra Peak would be the 4×4 road start, but technically speaking you don’t even have to start there. Once inside the ranch, regulations were very minimal as long as you respected the land.
Trail Summary: Culebra Peak is a privately owned 14er located in southern Colorado. Due to the hike being on the Cielo Vista ranch which charges a fee, it is not an extremely popular hike. Most of the hiking is on a well established 4×4 road, but the last 2.5 miles to the summit involve some minor route finding to gain the summit. Hiking is all low class 2 with no technical sections involved.
Trail Route: Starting from check-in area near ranch entrance.
Trail X Factors: Ranch Itself
With a typical hike, you decide where you start, what time of day, what time of year etc. However, Culebra Peak is dictated by the owners or property manager of the Cielo Vista ranch. Your hiking hours for example are 6AM – 6PM or you risk donating an extra $100 to the ranch. Granted, I don’t think they are super strict about this, but still something to consider. In order to hike, you have to make a reservation and pay during the hiking season (January – July). Don’t want to hike during those months or cant’ hike during those months? Cry them a river, they don’t care. Honestly, my experience with the ranch was very reasonable, but you never know how this will change in the future.
- Mickey’s Mountain Kit
- Map/GPS/Pictures of Route – I know this is already in my mountain kit above, but since this hike is basically on your own, know your terrain.
- Optional: Microspikes – helpful in winter, the trail can get icy
- Optional: Hiking Poles – long hike – if you usually use them, bring them
- Optional: Snowshoes – Can be helpful during winter months
- Optional: Camera
- Know your terrain – even though your trip to Culebra Peak will most likely be with other hikers, it’s still important to know where you are are going, especially in the winter. There will be times where this is no trail, so knowing your bearings is important.
- Pack for everything – Similar to my point above, this is not a public hike. If you need help, you are basically on your own. Don’t expect the multi million dollar ranch owners to come to your aid when you get a boo-boo.
- Hike Sooner vs Later – If you are looking to knock down all the 14ers, 13ers or centennials, I would head to Culebra Peak sooner vs later. Since this is a private ranch, hiking access could be revoked at any time. I would hate to have 57 peaks down and not be able to hike that last one.
- Don’t want to pay? Google Operation Dark Snake – beware its a hell of a hike. I do not endorse this option.
Photography Tip: If you are shelling out $150 to hike Culebra Peak, you might was well document the experience. Bring your camera even though there really are not a lot of great photo spots along the way. My favorites: in the field right before the Four Way (offers great views of the Blanca/Little Bear group), ridgeline views and summit views south into New Mexico. Since Culebra Peak is somewhat less trafficked, your chances at seeing a variety of wildlife are slightly higher as well.
Mick’s Trip: Culebra Peak
Ahh, 2018. New Year, New Goals, right? For me, not really. The goal is the same, get on top of another mountain. The Cielo VIsta Ranch (home of Culebra Peak) was sold in 2017 so hiking Culebra Peak and the other mountains on the ranch were a huge question mark for much of the Colorado hiking community. Shortly after the New Year, I received an email from the new property manager informing me of open hike dates. One hour later, I was signed up and paid for my hike of Culebra Peak.
Was I happy about paying $150 (ONE HUNDRED AND FIFTY DOLLARS) to hike? For sure not. However, it was January and southern Colorado was as dry as the Sahara, so I thought I would take advantage of the low snow season to hike. I left my home in Evergreen around 1AM and arrived to the ranch at about 5:20AM. Neat, only 40 minutes to wait anxiously in my car (hikers are not allowed into the ranch until 6AM by the property manager – Carlos). I was the first car there, but 4-5 joined my shortly after. When 6AM rolled around, it was this kind of weird unspoken conversation that was had with Carlos who opened the gate and the rest of us waiting. Follow-me was the gist of it.
When we arrived to the ranch check-in, Carlos gave us a 2 minute talk about hiking conditions and the ranch, but honestly he did not mention one rule besides the fact that we had to start from the ranch HQ building instead of driving further up. For me, it was kind of surprising, I was expecting the speech of how to behave in after school detention, not the one that I assume you get before entering Westworld: “Do whatever you want.”
I am not a big group hiking guy. I like to be solo in nature, listening to nothing but my music or to the sounds of wilderness. Luckily, there were only 9 hikers this day and I started before all but one of them had hit the trail. Winter hours man, I tell you. It was 6:30AM and still pitch black. I worked my way up the 4×4 road which had a couple of inches of snow, but nothing crazy. Luckily, there was a group of hikers who had visited Culebra Peak earlier in the week, so there was a solid trail packed into the snow.
When the sun finally did rise, I was about 3 miles into the boring hike and had gained a lot of elevation. Right around this time, I got my first great views of the day in a high field that opened up to the west and south. I could make out the Sangre de Cristo range which went all the way down into New Mexico to my south and Blanca, Little Bear and Ellingwood Point to my west. The morning sky was full of red color, foreshadowing the storm that was expected later that afternoon.
I continued hiking through the Four Way intersection and up to the upper trailhead of Culebra Peak. Don’t let that phrase fool you, there was absolutely no way to see any kind of trailhead or parking area with all of the snow that blanketed the ground. This was the first time of the hike that finally involved some route finding. I scoped out the slopes of Culebra Peak and decided to go left. While this would add some distance, it looked as though it avoided much of the snow which I was all about since I had no traction. I slowly worked my way up the snowy, steep hill until I finally reached the southern ridge of Culebra Peak a little while later. From here, I could see the massive cairn that marked the direction towards the top. I could also see the route I would take on the ridge up to the false summit of Culebra.
Speaking of false summits, boy does Culebra have a lot of them. Think you are near the top? Think again, it’s probably a false summit. Luckily the ridge was very dry with melted and wind blown snow on only a small portion of the rocky ridge. It was also class 2 hiking, so the false summits were more of a mental pain in the ass than a physical one. Towards the top, I eyed Red Peak (a 13er located under a mile away from the summit of Culebra Peak) which I had wanted to tackle as part of the hike. Unfortunately, since I had to start my hike all the way from the ranch HQ, I ran out of time before the light and weather where against me. I was disappointed, but knew that the mountains were not going anywhere. Paying another $150 on the other hand would really suck though!
I continued up through the strong wind gusts and reached the summit of Culebra Peak a few minutes later. I had the summit to myself for a bit, so I shot some video and just soaked in the views. Shortly after a fellow hiker joined me and I was grateful he was able to snap some summit pictures of me. This was my first time all day interacting with other hikers even though we all started around the same time. I enjoyed the fact that everyone on this day seemed to what to do their own thing. It made the hike feel more like those I had done a hundred times instead of what it really was.
On the way down, I popped on my microspikes for the first time all day to help with some of the icy and snowy sections. It was January and I was able to hike over 10 miles without any kind of traction or floatation, pretty unreal. I caught up with another hiker who had only 3 14ers left, we compared stories and wished each other the best of luck with our remaining hikes before parting ways. The last 3-4 miles of hiking were solo and I was #done with the day. I hate hiking 4×4 roads, they are quite literally the worst.
I arrived back at the ranch by 3:30PM, 2.5 hours under my “deadline time” of 6PM to leave the ranch. I had a 4 hour drive back home and my legs were jello but when I took a bite into my granny smith apple and discovered it was sour (the perfect type), I was revitalized and ready to hike another 14 miles!
Overall, my trip to Culebra Peak was pretty typical for a 14er: parts I hated, parts that were okay, and good views. I wouldn’t recommend this hike for your average recreational hiker, but if you are plan on crossing out peaks, this is certainly not the worst use of your money.