“A remote 14er and a truly unique experience.
— Tyler Prince
Culebra Peak is one of two privately owned 14ers, the other being Mt. Bross of the DeCaliBron linkup. While the owners of Bross do not permit hiking, Culebra can be summited with a reservation and $150 fee.
This fairly typical Colorado 14er is the southernmost in the state, and requires quite the journey just to get to the trailhead. While it's just like any other class 2 trail and may remind experienced 14er hikers of the Sawatch Range, it provides a different experience and otherworldly views of Colorado and New Mexico mountains.
Fall Colors — River/Creek — Views — Wildflowers — Wildlife
Culebra Peak is unique in that it is on privately owned land, and can only be climbed with a reservation and a good amount of cash. The good people of Cielo Vista Ranch can be contacted via their website, which lists their rules and provides a great deal of information.
To get to Cielo Vista Ranch, drive south from the quirky town of Fort Garland toward the town of San Luis on CO 159. In 15.5 miles, turn left at a Conoco onto the P.6 road (4th St). Drive 4 miles to Chama, then turn left onto L.7. After 3.5 miles, cross a bridge and immediately turn right onto dirt road 25.5. Drive 0.5 miles and turn left onto M.5. Drive 0.9 miles to reach the north gate of the ranch.
Camp here overnight, or at least get to this spot before 0600. The ranch staff will open the gates in the morning, and you'll follow in your car up to ranch HQ. Here you'll park, check in, and be set loose.
Continue up an easy 4WD road (most 2WD cars would probably do fine, although the ranch may not allow these). After 0.1 miles stay right, continuing up a steep road. After passing through some meadows, you'll finally come to a dirt parking lot at 4.4 miles (11,600 ft). This is the high trailhead. Although you'll pass some parking at 3.6 miles as well, it is worth continuing all the way to avoid a dull walk along the road.
Fortunately, the actual hike is much more straightforward than the drive. If you can drive to the upper TH, the hike is only 6 miles round trip and 2,800 vertical ft. From the upper TH continue along a drainage on a moderate grassy slope. There is no clear trail, but if you stay right along the drainage you'll eventually be funneled up toward a ridge after about 1,700 ft vertical gain.
Once along the ridge, you'll see a distinctive spire-like cairn (see photo). Continue along the windy, rocky ridge, descending 200 ft on a rocky trail into a saddle. Once you crest the ridge again, you'll alternate between ridge proper and a rocky trail just to the right beneath the ridge. Once you reach a false summit at 13,900 ft, the true summit is under 0.5 miles away. Simply hike down about 50 ft before angling upward on sturdy rocks to attain the summit.
While there are plenty of wildflowers down low, you're close to a desert - this mountain is more New Mexico than it is Colorado. Expect lots of pika and marmots, and be prepared for a bear sighting - we saw one on the ridge, but it ran away as soon as it smelled us!
Culebra Peak's ownership is perhaps one of the most controversial topics among 14er hikers, with hijinks ranging from lawsuits to arson and shootings.
While one of the lower 14er summits, Culebra is actually Colorado's fourth most topographically prominent peak, due to the relatively low La Veta Pass.