Vermejo Peak is the 3rd southernmost 13er in Colorado, located in the extreme southern Sangre de Cristo Range on the Cielo Vista Ranch property (formerly known as the Taylor Ranch). This is private property so permission must be obtained to access. The peak itself is an easy Class 2 hike that may involve some moderate skill level in route finding. If access is allowed, this area has some of the most prolific wildlife you'll ever see anywhere in Colorado.
The Cielo Vista Ranch (translation - "View of Heaven") was previously known as the Taylor Ranch. Total acreage of the property now exceeds 83,000. Be advised that as of August 2017, the ranch property changed hands again and is now under the ownership of William B. Harrison. Any information provided here may change dramatically depending on the new ownership. The eastern boundary of the property is the central ridge of the Sangre de Cristo range from De Anza Peak in the north all the way to State Line Peak on the New Mexico border to the south. All of the land on either side of that central ridge is privately owned from Maxwell Mountain on south. Trespassers have been and will be prosecuted. As of the date of this writing, the only property owner allowing access is/was the Cielo Vista Ranch. One newspaper report indicated that the new owner did not plan to change the access policies previously held by the Cielo Vista ranch owners, but there have been some changes that do impact climbers. The property is a virtual wildlife preserve, rich in its diversity.
The main, current website for the ranch is https://cielovistaranchco.com/. There are three sub-pages that are relevant to climbers.
Some items to know up front:
Since all climbers must report to the main ranch headquarters, that location will serve as the main trailhead, however, Whiskey Pass can also serve as a trailhead, after you have registered at ranch headquarters. We will divide access as follows: Use the main ranch entrance and the 4WD road up to "four-way" as the TH for Purgatoire, UN13,466, Vermejo, Red Mtn., Culebra, UN13,565, UN13,229 and Miranda. Use Whiskey Pass as the TH for Lomo Liso, Francisco, Beaubien, De Anza and Mariquita. (Note that Mariquita is not actually on CV Ranch property.) We also have a report that indicates some climbers were allowed access up Carneros Creek to climb UN13,229 and UN 13,565. We have no specific information however in regards to that access. Also, for peaks other than Culebra and Red Mountain, Cielo Vista has required climbers to have a hand radio which the ranch supplied.
Driving Directions: From the small town of Ft. Garland, located on HWY 160 east of Alamosa and west of Walsenburg, drive south on HWY159 to San Luis - about 15.5 miles.
Turn left on the P.6 Road (4th street) and drive 4.0 miles to Chama.
In Chama, turn left on L.7 Road.
Drive 3.5 miles on L.7, across a bridge and immediately turn right on dirt Road 25.5.
Go 1/2 mile on 25.5 Road, stop, and turn left on M.5 Road.
Drive another 0.9 miles to reach the North Gate of the Cielo Vista Ranch.
The gates are usually closed and ranch representatives will meet you for an escort to the ranch headquarters.
Once through the north HQ gate, continue 2 miles to the ranch headquarters for check-in.
After check-in, reset your odometer and drive on an easy 4WD road to the upper trailhead. Stay right at about .1 mile and continue driving up the steepening road.
You will reach "Four Way" at 3.4 miles with ample parking, 11,250 ft. N 37° 08' 32.23" W 105° 13' 57.08"
You may be allowed to continue on to the highest point of the road at 4.4 miles. This is the upper trailhead and you may park near a stream. 11,670 ft. N 37° 08' 20.38" W 105° 12' 56.72"
The following directions are provided by the Cielo Vista Ranch on their website:
Find San Luis, Colorado. Begin in San Luis, at the Conoco station on main street. You will be driving southbound from Ft. Garland. At the Conoco Station, turn east (left). Drive 3 miles to stop sign. Right turn onto County Road 21. Traveling southbound on CR 21, proceed to County Road L.7. Left turn on L.7, you will be driving eastbound. Continue on CR L.7 to one of several county roads which go south from L.7. (Note that CR L.7 is also the "Whiskey Pass Road.") Each of these short roads will take you to County Road M.5, which parallels L.7, about 200 yards to 500 yards south. Take one is these roads (CR 22.5, 23.5, etc.) south to CR M.5. Left turn on M.5 sends you east. Continue east on M.5 until you reach the large heavy green steel gate, which is the entrance to the North headquarters of Cielo Vista Ranch. Watch for local dogs which are roaming the streets and county roads in the area, at will!
To get to the Whiskey Pass road, once you have reported to ranch headquarters, reverse these directions back to CR L.7 which is the Whiskey Pass Road and head east. The road is drivable by 4WD to about 11,500 feet as reported by Dave Hahn. Once you are back onto this road, the distance to the end of the road will be over 10.5 miles. An overnight camp was allowed. Dave also reported that when he drove to Whiskey Pass in his own vehicle, he was accompanied by ranch personnel driving another vehicle. When you are done climbing peaks off Whiskey Pass, you will need to return to ranch headquarters to report out.
The following link has some interesting history regarding this overall area:
Unless the ranch owners grant permission to camp on their property somewhere (which is unlikely), there is no close camping available, however, they do state on their website that climbers may camp just outside the main gate if needed.
Vermejo Peak is part of the vast Cielo Vista Ranch which is all private property. The ranch property line extends down the west side of the central ridge of summits that stretch all the way from De Anza Peak in the north to State Line Peak in the south. You can download a Google Earth map of the property by going to this link and scrolling on the right down to the GE map link: https://www.mirrranchgroup.com/ranches/cielo-vista-ranch/. Permission must be obtained to access any of these peaks. For several decades now, the owners of this ranch property have been the only ones to allow access to these high peaks. CF&I Steel owns some of the land on the east side and has never agreed to any access and will prosecute trespassers. Policies by the ranch owners have varied in the past regarding access to which summits and routes to them. Before attempting any peaks, make sure you have a clear arrangement with the Cielo Vista Ranch owners/managers. See the "trailhead" description for more details.
When we climbed this summit in 1995, we had permission from the current ranch manager to hike to Purgatoire, Vermejo and Alamosito peaks that day, so in the hopes that future hikers may be granted the same access, we will describe in limited detail, the route we followed. Do not attempt this unless you have permission. Mileage and elevation gain shown is for this summit by way of Alamosito Peak. Elevation gain/loss may vary significantly from our estimates depending on the exact route you take.
The route we followed was a reversal of that described by Mike Garratt & Bob Martin in "Colorado's High Thirteeners." We were able to drive with 4WD vehicle (Jeep Cherokee) not only to the "four-way" junction from the ranch headquarters, but on up another mile to the limited parking area used by those climbing Culebra Peak at 11,700 ft. An old roadbed crosses the creek here and heads generally SW to cross a ridge, then turns more south to contour through an open-forested basin and cross another, broader ridge to a meadow at these coordinates: N 37° 07' 49.45" W 105° 13' 04.38". From that meadow, that's about all the easy help you're going to find. Drop down & cross the next drainage. The goal now will be to make a generally contouring hike above North Vallejos Creek, cutting across two more major drainages and crossing two more major ridges before you eventually drop down into the headwaters of North Vallejos Creek at about 11,500 feet. By staying high around 11,500 - 700 feet in this contouring hike, you can stay out of dense forest, walking mostly on grassy tundra and avoid any major cliffs. This entire area we found rife with elk and their trails helped us greatly in making this traverse. So here's a hint if you haven't discovered this already: Game like elk are not interested in climbing cliffs, therefore, when you find their trails, you don't have to worry about being led to the edge of a cliff even though at times the trails can be quite steep. They are nevertheless, reliable for getting through difficult terrain.
Aim for dropping into the N. Vallejos drainage about where it turns to the south. The Culebra quad shows a depression just below 12,000 feet. You may find a small lake here. From that lake, aim for the saddle due south on the west ridge of Vermejo Peak. In gaining that 800 feet, we found ourselves on mostly snow even though it was early August, but 1995 was a heavy snow year. If the snow is gone, the terrain will be a mix of mostly scree and some tundra. You should hit the ridge near the 12,909 marker. Turn left and head for the summit of Vermejo. The hiking is not too steep and goes over tundra to begin with and then medium-sized rock. When you arrive at the west end of the main summit area, you'll need to continue east some more to reach the true summit at the east end. This last bit will be on mostly tundra.
To climb Alamosito and Purgatoire first, then back over Alamosito to Vermejo took us about seven hours at an unhurried pace with breaks on each summit. If done for the day, you can descend the north ridge of Vermejo to a saddle at 12,962 ft. (Class 2) From there, you can drop back into the headwaters of North Vallejos Creek and pick up your route from the morning. It's also possible to continue north to Red Mountain and Culebra Peak following the main ridge. If doing so, expect some tundra, but as you approach Red Mtn., plenty more loose rock. (Class 2 overall)