Hunts Peak is the northernmost of the Sangre de Cristo 13ers. From the east side of the range, this summit is difficult to reach as a day hike with two possible trailheads, one well to the north, the other well south. On the west side of the range, a 4WD with good clearance can be used to make this peak accessible as a day hike. Without the 4WD, it may still be possible, but it would be a much longer day. Climbing the peak itself is a Class 2 walk-up that takes you through a fairly recent forest fire burn area.
A day-climb route of Hunts Peak is difficult to find due to private property issues on the east side of the range out of the Arkansas Valley. The nearest trailhead on that side (Bear Creek) would require a 20 plus mile day. The Kerr Gulch would require even more. On the west side of the range, the trailhead we describe here is the best one-day climbing approach to Hunts, but requires a 4WD with good clearance. Most stock SUV's should be able to access along with perhaps some carefully driven crossover types, but don't hold us responsible for damages. In addition, the route associated with this trailhead takes you through a recent burn area. Because the old road up S. Rock Creek has been closed off, we expect this route to become overgrown and difficult to follow in the coming years.
To reach the South Rock Creek trailhead, if approaching from the north on US285, drive south over Poncha Pass watching for County Road Uu52. The turnoff will be shortly past there. So from the pass, measure about 4.8 miles to a dirt road turnoff on the east side of the highway that immediately circles around an abandoned gravel pit. If coming on US285 from the south, measure just under 10 miles to the same dirt road while driving north from Villa Grove. Across the highway on the west side is another dirt road that maps show leading to "Alder." This turnoff is difficult to spot and if coming from the north, you'll have to turn across traffic, which can be heavy and dangerous. Coordinates are: N 38° 22' 10.65" W 106° 02' 19.80".
Once on the dirt road follow it down to the east to another intersection where you will bear right and descend to a crossing of San Luis Creek. You may have to pass through a closed gate (be sure and leave it closed after passing through) then drive up a steep, short hill to a multiple road intersection. You may encounter yet another closed gate. Of the three most visible forks, take the right most. This should put you on FR980. Coordinates are: N 38° 22' 22.93" W 106° 01' 46.39". Follow 980 SE for 1.2 miles to a crossing of Decker Creek. This section of road is not too bad. Just on the other side, there will be another intersection. Stay left. Coordinates: N 38° 22' 14.93" W 106° 00' 47.28". The other road, FR982, we found to be less used, rockier and more difficult to follow. Staying on FR980 is a better choice and easier on your vehicle. Follow FR980 NE for 2 miles to the Wilderness Boundary and another intersection. The road diminishes in quality, passes through some scrub oak that may scratch your paint and becomes rockier, but is still easy to follow. On the way up, there may be yet another closed Forest Service gate. Farther up, you'll pass a very nice campsite on the left on a rounded ridge just above the road. This is where you'll first encounter some trees - aspen and ponderosa. At the intersection, turn right onto a road that parallels a diversion ditch and which contours SE to South Rock Creek. This is FR982. There's another good campsite just after you make the turn. After that campsite, it's about another .8 mile to where you'll park. This section of road appears to be kept clear for servicing the ditch and since it runs nearly level, has few hazards of any kind. Just before it makes a drop down to cross S. Rock Creek, there's a small area on the right where about two vehicles can park or use this for a turnaround.
From our suggested parking spot just north of South Rock Creek, walk down the road, cross the creek, then turn up east on an old roadbed not indicated on more recent maps, but shown on the USGS quad. There is now a large log fence blocking vehicle access to that road, nevertheless, in 2017, we saw clear signs that a larger vehicle of some type had managed to drive most of the way up this old road. As of 2017, the roadbed is easy enough to follow, but within a decade, vegetation may begin to obscure it unless it receives enough hiking visitors to keep a trail established.
Following the road east, it climbs steadily all the way to its terminus. It's a little boggy in places and grasses are overtaking portions of it. About a mile up, you'll enter into the burn area with a forest of standing conifers, stripped bare of their bark and showing mostly unharmed wood. The road departs the main stream and heads more SE, continuing through burned out forest. At about 1.5 mile in, the road makes a switchback to the left at 10,821 ft. You can follow it on as it contours north, then turns back east to end abruptly after a short distance. From here, you can struggle to find a route up the steep embankment and onto the NW ridge of Hunts. The forest is all burned here and erosion has stripped away a lot of the soil leaving a lot of small rocks that almost form a cobble that's difficult to get good footing on. In 2017, vegetation was just beginning to get re-established here.
Another way up however, starts from the switchback. In fact, there are two options here. At the switchback, there's a good-sized cairn. It marks the beginning of a cairned route that heads more or less east to gain the NW ridge. The other option is to follow the main drainage path SE to a saddle just west of the knoll at 12,100 feet, directly west of the Hunts summit. In all three options, reaching that knoll is the objective. The drainage route had a little more vegetation being re-established and helping to provide some better footing through more burn area. Hiking through all this burn area provides an opportunity to study the way in which the land recovers after a fire. One of the more interesting things we observed is that we never noticed any new, young conifers coming back up.
From the 12,100 foot knoll, head east, dropping to a saddle, then begin the final 1,000 foot ascent to the summit. The remaining distance is mostly tundra with some embedded rock, and at times, areas of boulder talus to cross, but it is fairly easy going all the way to the summit, which surprisingly, had a fair amount of tundra coverage as well. Once on the summit, one of the more interesting views will be that of Hunts Lake to the east. You'll also enjoy nice views of Mt. Ouray to the NW and the summits above Bonanza more to the west. You are now on the central "spine" of the Sangre de Cristo. Two miles along the central ridge to the south is Red Mountain. At 12,994 feet, it is a worthy objective worth considering, being only six feet short of qualifying as a 13er. Crossing that two miles will require about two hours one way on some tundra, embedded rock and plenty of boulder talus. Our general advice is to stay on the ridge crest and avoid the temptation to contour around the two bumps on the ridge. It was easier to just go over them rather than around.
If you do head for Red Mtn., there is really no alternate way back other than to walk back the two miles toward Hunts. At about 12,800 feet on the south ridge of Hunts, you can easily contour back over to the west ridge of Hunts and avoid having to go back over the summit. If doing Hunts only, simply return the way you came. In 2017, it took us a ten hour day to go up Hunts, traverse to Red Mtn., then return.