Mt. Stratus is located on the Continental Divide along the southern half of Rocky Mountain National Park's Never Summer Range. It is one of four "cloud peaks" that lie in the Never Summer Mountain Range within the park. The others being Mt. Cirrus, Mt. Nimbus, and Mt. Cumulus. The peak itself is located less than a mile south of Mt. Nimbus at the apex of Red Gulch. The trail towards Mt Stratus is used seldomly as it does not lead to any mountain lakes, waterfalls, or lookout points and generally hikes straight up for it's duration. The rock, like with most Never Summer peaks, is suspect at times so care should be taken when climbing the peak as rocks large and small tend to move under foot.
Because the peak is located within Rocky Mountain National Park, an entrance fee is required if you are wanting to climb the peak origination from inside the park. The fee is $20 per vehicle or $10 if walking in or on a motorcycle.
Although Mt. Stratus can be climbed from the east or the west, the most common ascent route begins from the Colorado River Trailhead in Rocky Mt. NP. This is a very well marked and well used trail, at least at it's start. After less than half a mile on this trail you will see the cutoff for the Red Mtn. trail. Take this trail and walk mostly uphill for 2.8 miles until you reach the Grand Ditch Road. Officially marked a "trail" in the park, this road grants vehicle access to the Fort Collins Water Supply company which maintains the ditch. Unfortunately there is not private vehicle access to this road.
When on the ditch there are two main options for climbing Mt. Stratus. If you are only wanting to climb this peak by itself hike towards Red Gulch. At the entrance to the Gulch on the Ditch Road there is a bridge that takes you to the Red Gulch campsite. Walk over this bridge and bypass the site on the right. Follow the obvious Red Gulch Creek up the canyon. This can be a tiresome bushwhack but once above tree line you will be rewarded with tremendous views. Upon reaching timberline you will see Mt. Stratus directly in front of you. It is flanked by the higher Mt. Nimbus to the north along the same ridge line and Green Knoll to it's SE breaking off on a separate ridge from Mt. Stratus' summit. From here pick the path of least resistance to the summit. The rock is loose and care needs to be taken. There are several small gullies which all take you to the summit and they are all relatively similar is slope angle and rock quality. If you go earlier in the season this can be a pleasant snow climb that negates all or most of the loose rock and scree. While this is a fine option for getting to the summit I believe a longer and more summity option would be preferable.
A second option for climbing Mt. Stratus is to do a horseshoe style loop over Red Mtn., Mt. Nimbus, Mt. Stratus and, if you're feeling risky, Green Knoll. For this option head to the base of Red Mtn. on the Ditch Road. If you start heading up the direct east or NE face of the mountain there is a culvert that covers the ditch which can be easily walked over. Head up Red Mtn over large and stable, for the Never Summers, talus and scree. This is steep, but not too tough. Once on top of Rd Mtn. simply follow the obvious ridge to the summit of Mt. Nimbus. The ridge gets rocky and loose in a few sections but is never harder than class 2. Once atop this peak head south along the Continental Divide less than a mile to your goal of Mt. Stratus, an easy and stable class 1-2 walk. Hooray, you made it! Now comes the tricky part. If you are feeling lucky and your route finding skills are good head east over class 4+ terrain to the summit of Green Knoll. If you are feeling less lucky head down and obvious and quite loose chute of Stratus' SE side and traverse below Green Knoll. Stay high over the talus and scree so you can regain the ridge and drop down into Red Gulch via one of the steep grassy slopes that flank Red Gulches north side. From here follow the creek back out to the ditch and head home! This makes for a long but very rewarding day.
A third option is to summit the peak from the west. This would require either starting at Lake Agnes or the Bowen-Baker Trailhead and hiking around to the western slope of the peak. From here is would be a class 2 scramble to the summit. This option would be longer mileage wise and would likely require an overnight trip.
The Colorado River Trailhead is located along Trail Ridge Road (Rt 34) going through Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP). The trail head is on the west side of the Continental Divide but can be easily reached from Estes Park, CO during the summer months (May/June - October(sh)) when Trail Ridge Road is open.
From the East, take I -25 (Colorado) to the exit for highway 34. Continue west on 34 up the canyon and through Estes Park. Staying on 34, pass through the gate to Rocky Mountain National Park. You are now on Trail Ridge Road and it will take about 45 minutes - 1 hour to reach the Colorado River Trailhead (a few miles beyond Milne Pass).
From the West, take highway 40 (Colorado) to highway 34 north/east toward Grand Lake. Again, pass through the gates to Rocky Mountain National Park and drive approximately 8 or 9 miles to the Colorado River Trailhead.
There is no real red tape for this peak. If you are dayhiking the peak you do not need a permit. There is the entrance fee into the park which can be avoided if you arrive at the trailhead very very early.
Most people do the peak as a dayhike, however you can stay at the Red Gulch backcountry site in order to break the trip into two days. You can also stay at the Timber Creek campground which is only a few miles from the trailhead if you do not want to drive from far far away. Reservations for the campground can be made online at recreation.gov and phone reservations can be made for all backcountry sites in the park at 970 586 1242 from March 1 to May 15 or anytime in person at one of the backcountry offices in the park.
When to climb
Although the peak can be climbed at any time of the year, Trail Ridge Road is generally only open from Memorial Day until the first major snowstorm of the season. When the road is not plowed the Colorado River Trailhead is only accessible from the West Side of the park via skis or snowshoes. This adds several miles to the journey and creates a lot of extra travel time if you are coming from the east side of the park, i.e. Estes Park. Because of this the main climbing season is June-September. Furthermore the name of the mountain range should be some indication to the amount of snow that generally lies on all aspects of the peak.