This circuit route is a fun and efficient way to take in three Colorado Springs Peaks: Knights Peak, McKinley Peak, and the scrambly San Luis. This circuit requires basic but solid route-finding skills as it is largely an off-trail endeavor. Despite its proximity to town, this outing provides a surprising feeling of remoteness thanks to its un-tracked nature.
While the roundtrip mileage and net elevation gain are quite moderate, the track-less nature of this outing makes it a pleasant, adventurous affair.
Roundtrip Distance: 3 miles Elevation Gain: 1,400 NET gain (cumulative higher) Planning Map: Trails Illustrated #137 Pikes Peak | Cañon City YDS Class: Class 3+ (San Luis Summit)
I recommend starting at the Penrose-Rosemont Reservoir Trailhead and working clockwise, as this trailhead is most likely to have parking and avoids private property / Forest Service lease issues of the Beartrap Ranch area.
To Penrose-Rosemont Reservoir from the intersection of Penrose Boulevard and Cheyenne Mountain Boulevard in southwestern Colorado Springs: Take Old Stage Road (FSR 368) 6.5 miles from there to Gold Camp Road (FSR 370). Travel 5 miles on Gold Camp Road to the trailhead.
A note on travel on Old Stage Road & Gold Camp Road
These roads comprise a wash-boarded dirt thoroughfare running between western Colorado Springs and the mining & gambling town of Cripple Creek. All sorts of vehicles will be seen on this road, including low-clearance sedans and street motorcycles, though neither of these is recommended. In dry conditions, high clearance will suffice. In snow or mud, 4x4 is required. This area is served by Randy’s High Country Towing, regionally famous for extracting the vehicles of folks who got in over their heads on Pikes Peak area back-roads.
Be forewarned that Old Stage Road & Gold Camp Roads are bedeviled by irresponsible, speeding, out of control drivers. Combine this behavior with narrow, wash-boarded dirt roads and deep - and your worst objective hazard of the day becomes other drivers and their vehicles. Drive defensively on this road!
Stage 1: From Penrose-Rosemont Reservoir Parking to Knights Peak summit
• From the Penrose-Rosemont Reservoir parking area (dirt), head southeast along the road for a brief while.
• Your first goal (Knights Peak) will be obvious in front of you. Leave the road and head southeast up the trackless slopes of Knights Peak.
• Initially, you will climb up semi-steep, wooded terrain before reaching a bouldery summit area.
• The summit of Knights Peak is a large boulder of Pikes Peak granite and clearly distinguished by a white PVC pipe summit register.
Knights Peak - typical northwest slopes
Knights Peak summit area boulders
McKinley Peak from Knights Peak
Stage 2: From Knights Peak to McKinley Peak
• Descend the summit boulders of Knights Peak and strike out east, then east-southeast, toward McKinley Peak.
• Descend through moderately sparse forest toward a saddle between the two mountains, favoring the north-side of the saddle area to avoid boulder difficulties. There are lovely granite outcrops between these two mountains.
• From the broad, gentle saddle, continue sticking to the north side to begin ascending the rocky western slopes of McKinley Peak.
Enjoy easy scrambling along the western slopes to the summit of McKinley Peak.
Stage 3: From McKinley Peak to San Luis Peak
Final few feet to the San Luis Peak summit
Boulders between McKinley and San Luis
Outcrop between McKinley and San Luis
• Descend due-east from the summit of McKinley Peak toward San Luis Peak. In short time, the terrain becomes more interesting.
• Pick your way, occasionally scrambling over mid-sized granite boulders, eastward toward San Luis Peak.
• After a few rugged outcrops on the west side of the San Luis summit area are overcome, you will reach a small, gentle sub-saddle. At this point you should begin to notice cairns pointing you toward the summit of San Luis Peak.
Cairns near San Luis summit
East from San Luis
NNE from San Luis
• Follow the cairns east to a weakness between rock outcrops. The San Luis summit is to the north / the northernmost of these outcrops.
• Easy scrambling brings you to the base of the final San Luis summit pitch. At last, the reward you have been working for!
• The San Luis summit is gained via a Class 3+ (easily argued easy Class 4) south-facing crack and friction pitch. While generally easy, a fall from this pitch could indeed have dire consequences! The rock is grippy and the crack is forgiving, but the pitch is relatively steep – please take your time!
Crack to the summit of San Luis
San Luis downclimb
NNE from San Luis
NE from San Luis Peak
Almagres and Rosa from San Luis
McKinley and Knights from San Luis
ENE from San Luis Peak
Mt. Big Chief from San Luis
Devils Slide from San Luis
Stage 4: From San Luis Peak to Parking
• After enjoying the wide-open views, carefully descend the summit of San Luis Peak. Return to the saddle area west of the summit, then pick a route trending generally northwest down the northern slopes of McKinley Peak. At times the timber is dense and the going is steep.
• Upon nearing the valley, an odd series of decommissioned roads and old / informal trails will carry you west and then southwest across the valley floor.
• Eventually you will regain Gold Camp Road. Follow the road west to the parking area!
Leveraging old footpaths
Looking back up at McKinley Peak
Westbound toward Knights Peak
Westbound along Gold Camp Road
• Hiking gear appropriate to the season
• Navigation tools and the skills to use them: A good map and compass and / or GPS
• Ample water, as this is a dry area