Maybe you want the bragging rights to say you hiked to the top of a mountain. Or maybe you just want to enjoy the breathtaking views that come with such a feat. Whatever the reason, Boulder’s your place.
Colorado is well known for its fourteeners — peaks that top 14,000 feet above sea level— but many of these are difficult and dangerous, especially without proper training and precautions. But some of us want a bigger challenge than many of the hiking trails in Boulder County give. Luckily for us not-in-great-enough-shape-to-tackle-Longs-Peak people, there is a perfect middle ground right here in Boulder. We’d like to introduce you to Mount Sanitas.
Local Tip: Hit Mount Sanitas early in the morning or late in the evening to catch a gorgeous sunrise or sunset. The trail is short enough you won’t be hiking in the dark.
Mount Sanitas, less than a mile from downtown Boulder, is easily accessible and a popular destination for locals and travelers alike. The trails are open year-round, though we recommend bringing spikes if you’re going to hike it in the winter or spring. Snow, ice and mud can make the trail more difficult, despite its relatively short length. Completing the full loop, up the mountain, across the ridge and back down, is a 3.1-mile trip with a moderate difficulty rating when the trails are dry. But the views? They’re breathtaking, and worth every step.
Take Sunshine Canyon drive out of Boulder and look for parking on the left. You’ll park at the Centennial Trailhead, and then cross Sunshine Canyon for the Mount Sanitas trail access. Parking is easy to miss, so keep an eye out. Came to Boulder without a car? The trailhead is close enough you could pay for a ride for cheap, or you could walk from downtown to get warmed up for the mountain.
Local Tip: Pack light. This trail doesn’t require a lot of gear, and you’ll feel every extra pound on the steep stairs.
Once you arrive, start at the Mount Sanitas Trail, taking the stairs up 1,320 feet in just 1.8 miles. Yes, it’s tough. No, you won’t die, no matter how badly your quads hurt and lungs feel like they might explode. Once you hit the peak, you’ll be rewarded with breathtaking views, and you should budget time to fully enjoy them. On a clear day you’ll be able to see Denver, and if you’re really lucky, you might even be able to glimpse Pikes Peak in Colorado Springs. Pack a lunch to eat while you enjoy the views atop the almost 7,000-foot peak.
After taking in the views, follow the East Ridge Trail, a short, 0.4-mile trail that connects to the descending half of the loop. The East Ridge is rocky and there are lots of tree roots, so watch your step. While not as tiring as the ascent, this section of the loop is the most treacherous.
Local Tip: If you want an easier hike, need a warm-up or just really hate stairs, take the Valley Trail up Sanitas. You can either cross the East Ridge to the peak and descend the Sanitas Trail, or turn around and go back down the Valley Trail.
When you’ve reached the Sanitas Valley Trail, take a moment and celebrate. You have officially completed the hard part. Follow this wide gravel trail on a gentle slope back down the mountain. But don’t forget to stop and take advantage of the views along the way.
Want to avoid the stairs but don’t want to repeat trail? Take the Sanitas Valley Trail to the top and instead of taking the East Ridge Trail to the left, take the Dakota Ridge Trail, which ascends slightly to the right and then runs parallel to the Valley Trail on the way back down the mountain.
Once you reach the bottom of the mountain, there are only a few things left to do: Go home. Share photos. Brag. You have officially scaled a mountain.