Climbing Mount Sneffels | A Terrific Class 3 Climb

A lot of people say that climbing Mount Sneffels is Colorado’s best fourteener experience. Viewed from the Dallas Divide it has everything you’d want in a rugged mountain: Symmetry, high towers and pinnacles, and lush, aspen covered slopes. Mount Sneffels is also a great entry into Class 3 climbing, with a relatively simple route with limited exposure. It’s a great mountain to get your feet wet without too much risk. Before you attempt climbing Mount Sneffels, plan your trip there with my Route Guide.

NEW TO 14ERS? CHECK OUT MY BEGINNERS GUIDE FOR A SAFE FIRST SUMMIT!

Climbing Mount Sneffels: Fast Facts

Climbing Mount Sneffels - South Slopes

Your trip climbing Mount Sneffels starts with the trailhead – this peak provides a few different trailhead options, depending on your vehicle. 2WD vehicles will need to park 1.5 miles from the lower trailhead. If you aren’t an experienced 4WD driver, I recommend parking at the lower trailhead at 11,350 feet, as the road gets much worse after this. From here, continue hiking up the road if you start here.

Continue up the road until you reach the upper trailhead around 12,4500 feet. Continue through the parking area onto a well-built trail that leads into the talus field ahead of you. A quick pause to look at the route sign here is often prudent.

Take the trail through the talus until you eventually take a sharp right turn. This is where the hiking turns into scrambling and climbing for the rest of the route.

Looking up this broad-scree-covered slope, you’ll have no clear trail to follow. Pick a line and start to climb up the peak. Climbing just left of the center of the slope provides the best rock. The rock is loose and ugly, so be careful and take your time.

At the top of the gully, you’ll come out to a flat saddle below the summit. Turn to your left and identify another small gully that leads northwest up towards the summit. After stopping to check the weather, begin to climb this gully as well.

As you climb the upper gully, watch for snow and ice (crampons and ice axes are recommended if any significant snow exists). Take your time and keep climbing towards the top. Take care not to knock rocks lose down onto those below you.

Aim for a v-notch at the top of the gully. You’ll pass through this to reach the final crux of the climb. As you climb through, be wary of exposure on your left—head right to climb the final section beyond the notch.

Climb right from the notch, up, and to your left to gain the summit proper. The rock here is good and solid, so the risk of rockfall is limited, but a helmet is still a good idea.

On the summit, enjoy your accomplishment! Make sure you descend with plenty of time to make it back to the trailhead before afternoon thunderstorms become an issue. I hope you found my Mt Sneffels Route Guide helpful and informative. Good luck climbing Mount Sneffels, and safe travels on the trail! 

Mt Sneffels Route Guide

My Mt Sneffels Route Guide includes this handy topographical map of the route to the summit. It’s important to have with you while climbing Mount Sneffels. I recommend that you download a digital copy of this map on your phone, and also print out a paper backup copy in case anything happens to your electronics during your climb.

Besides reviewing this Mt Sneffels Route Guide, take time to research the weather forecast before you go. It’s a key step for climbing Mount Sneffels. Here are several dependable weather forecast sources for this route area.

Mountain Forecast for Mt Sneffels

NOAA Forecast for Mt Sneffels

Mt Sneffels Route Guide

The South Slopes Route begins at the Yankee Boy Basin Trailhead. You will need a 4WD vehicle to reach the upper trailhead (2.5 miles round-trip). Parking at the lower 2WD trailhead adds around 5 miles of hiking to the trip (7.5 miles round-trip).

DIRECTIONS TO THE YANKEE BOY TRAILHEAD:

Drive out of Ouray on CO 550 about 0.3 miles heading south towards Silverton. At a bend in U.S. 550 (the San Juan Skyway/Million Dollar Highway), turn south onto County Road 361 (Camp Bird Road). Look for the sign: Camp Bird Mine, Yankee Boy Basin, and Box Canyon Falls. Continue up this road, which -turns from a graded dirt road into a narrow shelf blasted road into the canyons west wall.

The road beyond the basin to the Mount Sneffels trailhead is a steep, rough, rutted road that requires high clearance and low gears. At mile 6, at the confluence of Sneffels, Imogene and Canyon creeks, the road to the left leads to the Camp Bird (gold mine) and Imogene Pass. The road narrows and continues up the canyon of Sneffels Creek.

At mile 6.3 it passes through the site of Sneffels, a town founded in 1875. At mile 6.9, a fork to the left goes to the site of Ruby City and up to Governor Basin. The road to Yankee Boy Basin is rocky from here and continues to climbs steeply for another mile or so into the basin.

As a class 3 climb, Mount Sneffels will involve a good bit of scrambling in steep gullies. I recommend a pair of hiking boots, as their ankle protection will help prevent sprains and twists if you trip while climbing Mount Sneffels. Here are my top hiking boot recommendations.

You should always bring the ten essentials with you on your trip (see the infographic below). This is especially true on a class 3 peak like Mount Sneffels. To carry them all, bring a backpack with 20-30 liters capacity. These are several good backpack options that won’t break the bank. 

While trekking poles are not a necessity on this mountain, I use them myself as they offer many benefits and make hiking easier. If you want a pair, I share my personal favorites here

Don’t forget to bring 2 liters of water, and a good bit of snacks and food for the trail. Learn more about packing for a 14er here.

Camping near Mount Sneffels:

There are also many dispersed camping opportunities along forest roads near the trailhead ideal for those climbing Mount Sneffels. Note that camping is not allowed at the trailhead. Learn more about dispersed camping near 14ers here.

Lodging near Mount Sneffels:

There are many cabins available via Airbnb and other services in Ouray, Ridgeway, and the surrounding area, ideal for those climbing Mount Sneffels.

Mount Sneffels is getting busier and busier every year! As more people attempt climbing Mount Sneffels, it is more important than ever to remember and use these key Leave No Trace practices while you are out in the wilderness.

  • Plan ahead, review the route and pick a weekday or day in September to hike.
  • Stay on the trail, and keep dogs leashed on and off-trail to reduce trampling of alpine grass.
  • Leave your Bluetooth speaker at home and let nature’s sound reign.
  • Urinate off-trail, and pack out your waste – a cathole won’t work at high altitude.
  • Give wildlife a wide berth – 100 meters if possible. If they approach, back up to keep space.
  • Take nothing but pictures, and leave nothing but footprints.

Safe travels, and good luck climbing Mount Sneffels! Learn more about LNT on 14ers here.

Mount Sneffels has a very interesting origin for its name. When members of the Hayden Survey visited the peak in 1874, they likened it to a massive mountain from Jules Verne’s 1864 novel, “Journey to the Center of the Earth.” One of them looked up and proclaimed “There’s Snaefell!”, referring to the Icelandic mountain from the book. The locals’ mispronounced version, Sneffels, became the name shortly after. 

Mount Sneffels is a class 3 climb, but it’s relatively easy, making it a popular choice for those new to this tougher level of climbing. Most of the tough scrambling involves moving up gullies, where rocks can be knocked loose by those above you. Be sure you wear a helmet and move carefully!

Climbing Mount Sneffels is an inherently high-risk activity – do so at your own risk, and use the following best practices to help keep yourself safe.

  1. Research your route and bring a compass & topographic map.
  2. Check the weather forecast and stay home during inclement weather.
  3. Bring the Ten Essentials and the knowledge/skill to use them.
  4. Leave your plans with someone back home along with a detailed itinerary.
  5. Start early, and end early: Be back at tree line by noon to avoid lightning.
  6. Bring a buddy on your first ascent, preferably someone experienced.

NEW TO 14ERS? CHECK OUT MY BEGINNERS GUIDE FOR A SAFE FIRST SUMMIT!

Climbing Mount Sneffels is an inherently high-risk, dangerous activity. There is a significant risk of injury or death, even with proper planning and experience. Those using my guide accept all risks associated with climbing 14ers and do not hold this website or any information they obtain from it liable for any accidents or injuries that occur while engaging in these activities on Colorado’s high peaks. It is each hiker or climber’s responsibility to research their route carefully, bring the ten essentials, and practice other safe practices, though even these precautions do not eliminate risk and danger. Visit these summits at your own risk.

Alex Derr, Creator of The Next Summit

Alex is an Eagle Scout and mountaineer living in Denver, Colorado. He created The Next Summit to help others stay safe exploring the mountains and advocate to preserve the peaks for the future. You can subscribe to his Next Summit Newsletter here.

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