Redcloud Peak (14,034ft.) and Sunshine Peak (14,001ft.) are two of the most prominent peaks in the San Juan Mountains of southwestern Colorado, located in Hinsdale County near the town of Lake City. The peaks are part of the stunning San Juan Skyway, a scenic byway that connects Durango, Silverton, and Ouray in a 236-mile loop through the San Juan Mountains. Indeed, Redcloud Peak and Sunshine Peak are near some of the most stellar peaks in Colorado, including three additional 14ers: Handies Peak, Wetterhorn Peak, and Uncompahgre Peak.
Redcloud Peak and Sunshine Peak are popular among hikers and mountaineers due to their accessibility and stunning views. The most common hiking route is Sunshine Peak via Redcloud Peak’s Northeast Ridge, which is a strenuous 12.0 mile trail that begins at the Silver Creek/Grizzly Gulch Trailhead. The trail is rated as a Class 2 difficult hike due to its steep ascent and rocky terrain. However, the spectacular views from the summit and the surrounding San Juan Mountains make the hike well worth the effort.
Hike Review Series: redcloud peak & sunshine peak
The history of Redcloud Peak and Sunshine Peak is intertwined with that of the surrounding San Juan Mountains, which were formed over 30 million years ago by volcanic activity and uplift. For centuries, the mountains were home to various indigenous groups, including the Ute, who lived in the area for thousands of years before being forcibly removed in the 19th century.
In the late 1800s and early 1900s, the San Juans experienced a mining boom, with prospectors flocking to the region in search of gold, silver, and other minerals. The nearby towns of Silverton, Lake City, and Ouray were founded during this time, and the mountains themselves were mined extensively. Today, the legacy of this mining can be seen in the form of abandoned mines and ghost towns scattered throughout the range.
While there are variations to the origins of their names, Redcloud Peak is most likely named due its distinctive red hue, which comes from the red sandstone that is prevalent in the area. Redcloud’s neighbor, Sunshine Peak is named for its prominent location on the ridge line, which allows it to receive sunlight for most of the day and for its sunny, south-facing slopes that make up its lower flanks.
Redcloud Peak and Sunshine Peak
- Mile 0-.5: The well-maintained trail starts near County Road 30 and gradually ascends through a forested area.
- Mile .5-1: As the trail continues to climb, hikers will come across several crossings of Silver Creek. The trail follows along the creek, offering glimpses of its clear waters and rocky bed.
- Mile 1-2: As the trail approaches treeline, vegetation becomes sparser and views begin to open up. Hikers will start to see surrounding peaks and valleys as the trail steepens, with switchbacks leading up to a ridge.
- Mile 2-3: After cresting the ridge, the trail climbs towards Redcloud Peak. This section of the trail is quite steep, with several switchbacks and a few sections of loose rock.
- Mile 3-4: The final push to the summit of Redcloud Peak is relatively easy, with a gentle incline. Once at the summit, hikers are rewarded with panoramic San Juan Mountain views.
- Mile 4-5: The trail from Redcloud Peak to Sunshine Peak begins with a steep descent to a saddle between the peaks. From this saddle, hikers can see the final push to Sunshine Peak’s summit.
- Mile 5-6: The final mile of the ascent is quite steep with loose rock and switchbacks leading to Sunshine Peak’s summit.
- Mile 6-7: After enjoying Sunshine Peak’s summit, retrace steps back down the steep switchbacks to the saddle between the peaks.
- Mile 7-8: From the saddle, climb back up the steep trail to the summit of Redcloud Peak. This section of trail can be challenging, as hikers will again ascend loose rock and scree.
- Mile 8-9: After reaching Redcloud Peak’s summit for the second time, enjoy the views and descend back to the trailhead. The trail down from Redcloud Peak is steep and rocky, with several sections of extremely loose rock.
- Mile 9-10: The trail steeply descends to treeline, with switchbacks leading through the forested area.
- Mile 10-12: The final portion of the hike is relatively easy, with a gentle descent. Hikers can take in the views of the surrounding mountains and valleys one last time before reaching the trailhead.
Recommended Hiking Apparel and Gear
There are several great books that provide information about Redcloud Peak, Sunshine Peak, and the San Juan Mountains region in general. Here are a few recommendations:
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