Mt Sneffels via South Slopes 14er Trail Guide
Mt Sneffels is a 14er located in southwest Colorado near the mountain town of Ouray. When driving out to Telluride, Ouray or even Montrose, this mountain is easily visible from miles away. In fact, it is one of the more prominent mountains in the state. The difficulty of the hike on Mt Sneffels is entirely dependent on the vehicle you have and how close you are able to park to the upper trailhead. Don’t be fooled by the short distance though, this is a steep hike on poor trail conditions with a fairly difficult move towards the top.
Mt Sneffels Quick Facts
Virtual Trail Guide: Mt Sneffels via South Slopes
Mt Sneffels Trail Rating: ★★★ ★ (⅘ Stars)
Distance: 7.75 miles RT from road split, 6 miles RT from lower TH, 2.5 miles RT from upper TH
Elevation Start: 10,600 ft from lower parking area 10,900 ft from lower TH, 12,300ft from upper TH
Summit: 14,150 ft
Total Elevation Gain: 3,200 ft – Assuming a start from lower parking area
Estimated Time to Complete: 7-8 Hours RT from lower parking or lower TH, 3-4 Hours RT from upper TH
Difficulty: Moderate What does this mean?
Class: Class 3+ (officially this is listed as a class 3 hike, but the move towards the summit is higher class 4 IMO) What does this mean?
Season: Late June – Early November – Expect snow outside of this period. Winter access adds MANY more (10+) miles of hiking.
Directions to Mt Sneffels
Trailhead: Yankee Boy Basin
Getting Here: First step is to get to Ouray, Colorado. Drive through the town and turn right onto County Road 361 toward Yankee Boy Basin. Pay attention to your odometer from here on out. The name of the game at this point is stay right. The dirt road is usually in fairly good condition for about 6.5 miles, but there are sections of very narrow road with steep drop offs.
-At 4.6 miles, stay right CR26
-At 5.9 miles, stay right towards Imogene Pass
-6.7 miles, you will reach your first potential parking area. This is about .7 miles from the lower trailhead and a good place to stop if you have a lower clearance car. If you are confident with your car’s clearance, continue right here.
-7.5 miles you will reach the lower trailhead which has the only non plumbing bathroom along this route. If you don’t have a 4WD car, this is a good area to stop. I will say that you can probably go to the 8.2 mile mark without 4WD or high clearance, but there are not great areas to turn around or park.
-7.5 miles (100 yards past lower TH)- continue right
-8.0 miles: Stay right
-8.2 miles: If you do not have high clearance or 4WD, continue at your own risk
-9.2 miles: Upper Trailhead. This area has room to fit about 5ish cars. There is no bathroom of any kind up here.
Parking: The parking situation is entirely dictated by your car, the road conditions, and your driving ability. Parking in all areas is free and the only bathrooms are at the first campground and the lower trailhead. As of October 2020, the road was in pretty rough once you take a right at 6.7 miles. There was a 40-50 yard section here that was tough for even lower clearance 4WD vehicles to get through. Unless the road improves, I imagine this first split will become the new standard parking area. The split can fit about 5-10 cars. The lower trailhead lot can fit about 20 cars comfortably and past that point there are a handful of 1-2 car pull offs until you reach the upper trailhead that can fit about 5-10 cars.
Dogs: I am pretty liberal with my dog recommendations, but Mt Sneffels is one that I would not recommend for dogs. I was so torn while thinking about this on my hike because I have seen other people summit with their dogs. However, in my opinion, the loose rock and tricky move at the “V” towards the summit make this one that is better to leave your furry friend at home. In the main gully approach or colouir (once melted), your dog could easily dislodge some gravel or rocks that could hit other hikers below them.
Camping: Surprisingly for a mountain so remote, Mt Sneffels does not offer the best camping situation. Once you are on CR 26, there are a very limited number of “permitted (technically illegal)” camping spots outside of the initial campground. Much of the land leading up to the Mt Sneffels trailhead/hiking area is private mining land, which takes away a lot of the usual spots to camp. If you want to camp along the road, there are some spots on the right hand right near the 6.5 mile mark, otherwise you will need to go up the lower trailhead. Once past the lower trailhead, camping is again prohibited. If you want to backcountry camp, that could be an option as well but not in Yankee Boy Basin itself, camping there is illegal. Please note: this area gets extremely heavy usage during the summer, do not make new campgrounds, stay on existing roads and leave no trace. Yankee Boy Basin is one of Colorado’s most beautiful areas, lets keep it that way.
Make it a Loop: Mt Sneffels has two main routes to the summit: the standard route and southwest ridge. If you decide to take both routes, this hike could easily be made into a lollipop loop. If you do plan on taking the southwest ridge, be aware that hiking here is much more technical and exposed. However, trail conditions on this route are MUCH better than the standard south slopes.
Trail X Factors: Time of Year You Hike
Mt Sneffels, like many mountains, has a very different experience in winter vs spring vs summer. The snow level is a major factor for what your experience on Mt Sneffels will be. In my opinion, the more snow on this route, the better. With snow, the slopes before the ridge and colouir are fairly easy to ascend. Once the snow melts, the snow reveals loose gravel and poor trail conditions basically from the upper trailhead to the summit. Of course, snow presents its own challenges in both the drive in and trail itself, so I suppose it’s whatever poison you prefer.
Hike Tip(s): Hike Early in Season with Snow
As I mentioned, the level of snow has a huge effect on your experience of hiking Mt Sneffels. Although it takes a bit more gear and maybe a longer walk in, I think that hiking Mt Sneffels in the late spring or early summer makes the most sense if you plan on taking the standard route. Once the snow melts out of the gully below the ridgeline, the trail really goes to hell. If possible, it’s best to hike both that section and the final colouir still covered in snow. If your plans do not allow for an early season trip, it’s 100% still doable in the summer and fall, you will just have to alter your gear and plan for poor trail conditions.
Best Views: Anytime you are hiking in the San Juans, the views are going to be beautiful. The geography here is very different than the rest of the state and of course, most peaks are very secluded from humans. While hiking Mt Sneffels, you will have outstanding ridgeline views, lots of wildflowers in the summer, and of course the opportunity to view three blue lakes from the summit. The top of Mt Sneffels provides views down into Montrose and over into Telluride as well. Even though it was a short hike, I really enjoyed the many photo opportunities that Mt Sneffels had to offer.
Mt Sneffels Hike Route
- 14er Day Hike Packing List
- Men’s Trail Runners
- Women’s Trail Runners
- La Sportiva Trango Hiking Boots (Men’s)
- La Sportiva Trango Hiking Booths (Women’s)
- Food & Water
- Optional: Climbing Helmet
- Optional: Garmin inReach
- Optional: Hiking Poles
- Optional: Headlamp
- Optional: Garmin Fenix Watch
- Optional: Camera and Lens
- Optional: GoPro, Joby Tripod
- *Links included in this description might be affiliate links. If you purchase a product or service with the links that I provide I may receive a small commission. There is no additional charge to you.
My Trip to Mt Sneffels: July 2017
Hiking “14ers” is something that I love to do, but that can’t be said about everyone who lives with me, particularly Jackie. Since my mission is to hike all 58 of them, I try to incorporate Jackie and Juno into as many hikes as I can. The plan was to get down to the base of Sneffels camp out and start around 1AM to summit Mt Sneffels. When we arrived in Ouray, the weather looked awful and it started to rain as we turned on to the road where the trailhead was located. As we approached the lower trailhead, I realized almost immediately that my car had a -1,000% chance of making it there. This sucked because we had planned to drive up as far as we could and camp. Plan B was immediately put into action as the rain continued to fall. We found a camping spot off one of the old mining roads, set-up our tent, ate dinner and called it a “night.”
The alarm woke us up at 1AM and I wanted to hike like I wanted a hot poker in my eye. These early mornings never get easier folks. I dragged my sorry ass out of the tent and laced up my hiking boots. Jackie and Juno seemed THRILLED to be joining me on this hike. We gave Juno her breakfast which she seemed 0% interested in and started up the long 4WD road towards the upper trailhead. Morale was low; I felt like garbage covered in sewage and Jackie was already doubting Juno’s ability to hike Mt Sneffels. Doesn’t this sound fun??
We reached the lower trailhead about 10 minutes after our start and were happy to be that tiny bit closer to our starting point. The one massive positive of the night was that the stars were out and the milky way was about as bright as I had ever seen it. I tried snapping some pictures of it, but nothing seemed to do it justice. We continued our death march along the 4WD road and started to notice several pairs of eyes laying in the brush. The first couple of sets were too far away to pinpoint the owners, but soon we hiked near a pair that was about 10 feet off the road. Deer and lots of them! Luckily, Juno could only smell the deer and not see them because we noticed about 10 more before we got the upper trailhead. The last set of eyes we saw before the sun rose was not that of a deer and I am still curious who they belonged to.
When we reached the upper trailhead, Jackie decided that she was going to turn around with Juno. She had a feeling that the trail to Mt Sneffels was not going to be suitable for dogs and was worried about slowing me down. (It turns out she was right about this theory.) I departed from Jackie and Juno and noticed a deer in the area who was trying to get Juno’s digits. No joke, the deer stalked the area for about 10 minutes, slowly getting closer and closer to Jackie and Juno. I watched from afar and eventually refocused on my goal, Mt Sneffels.
The trail after the upper trailhead started through a rock field and after about 10 minutes turned into the valley that was south east of the summit. This was where things started to get more difficult. The remaining trail up to the ridge of Mt Sneffels was loose rock and gravel and made for very slow going. Once I did gain the ridge, the views were outstanding and I was so happy to have only one section left, the colouir.
The colouir was still full of snow which was not a surprise to me since I had done some research beforehand. I took out my mountain axe and made my way up the steep colouir. I decided to save the microspikes for the way down, which turned out to be a good decision. The hike up the colouir was not bad since it was only about 7AM and the snow was still crusty from the night before. I dreaded what this would turn into later in the day though. I approached the top of the colouir and started to look for the infamous “V” in the wall that indicated the time to turn out of the colouir. It was very easy to find which was great.
I knew that this “V” was the hardest move up to the summit of Mt Sneffels, but I think that it was underrated in difficulty. It involved a rather large step-up with poor footing and hand-holds. After a couple of minutes of experimenting, I finally dragged myself through the rock and towards the final push of Mt Sneffels. I think this move should be considered at least a Class 3 and borderline Class 4 move, not class 2. If you are shorter adult, child or dog, this move could be very hard without someone else to help you get through.
After making it through the “V,” the summit was in view only a couple of hundred yards away. I summited Mt Sneffels and had the top all to myself. The clouds looked good in all directions and it was a fairly clear day. I was so pumped! Although Mt Sneffels was not a terribly difficult mountain, I was still so proud to be standing on top of it after such a rough start to the day. I took in the views of the blue lakes and noticed that I could see into Telluride to the west. I did my usual summit video and pictures and decided to head back down to the car. I knew that Jackie and Juno would be waiting and wanted to maximize my time with them as much as possible.
On my way down from the summit, I I ran into about 20-30 other hikers. Many of them asked me how the conditions and weather was higher up on the mountain. I told them that I was glad to have my microspikes and mountain axe and wished them them luck. I reached the car around 11:30 which made for about an 7.5 hour RT hike.
Many consider Mt Sneffels an “easy” hike because of the short distance they read online. However, even if you are able to make it to the upper trailhead in your veichle, the valley and colouir will significantly slow you down. All things considered though, I really enjoyed the hike on Mt Sneffels. The ridge offered great views and the colouir was in great condition for early July. Though the “v” move was harder than expected, I still think this hike is doable for most ability levels and a hike I would recommend.
5 thoughts on “Mt Sneffels via South Slopes 14er Trail Guide”
Good review, though I’d out standard route solidly as class 3. Highly recommend SW ridge route. What I found to be the crux was a short chimney exiting one of the gullies that presented a good technical challenge to figure out the moves to get past. But the real secret is the Blue Lakes approach for either route. Easier road in than YBB, beautiful overnight camping, but should without a double t be done over ight since the approach to camp is a good few thousand vertical over 4 miles.
Thanks John, will have to check out that route when I am down there next. I wanted to go via SW ridge, but had our dog so didn’t want to push her too much. Heard its awesome though!
Camping in Yankee Boy basin, even at the time this was posted is illegal. There is a campground near the beginning of the road but after that there is no camping.