Nestled in the valley beyond Colorado’s two tallest peaks you’ll find French Mountain, a fantastic high thirteener worth your time. This centennial peak (one of Colorado’s 100 tallest summits) is a class two scramble that sees very few visitors each year. Compared to nearby Mount Elbert and Massive, you will find peace, quiet and solitude while hiking French Mountain. Before you head out to the trailhead plan your visit ahead of time with my complete route guide below. Safe travels on the trail!
Hiking French Mountain | Fast Facts
Hiking French Mountain via the South Slope Route
There is no formal trailhead for those hiking French Mountain. If you cannot make the creek crossing off of Halfmoon Road park at the road junction. If you have 4WD and good clearance you can make it across the first creek crossing, but you will be forced to stop at the second crossing. Pull over and start hiking French Mountain from this point.
Follow the old mining road that leads up the gulch. You will hike along some meadows and trees with Casco Peak ahead of you and French Mountain itself up and to the right of you. The road will switchback once or twice as you start to climb higher above treeline, eventually bringing you to the old Iron Mike Mine. All that remains from this old prospecting mine is a log cabin and the remains of the mine shaft entrance.
Leave the road at the mine and take a sharp right to head towards French Mountain, aiming for a steep, grass-covered to the left of the summit. The hillside is steep but not rugged or rocky, so you should be able to hike directly up it. Aim for the saddle at the top along the ridge between Casco and French Mountain. This is the crux of the route, and is entirely off-trail.
Once you reach the saddle it is a good place to stop for a drink of water and to check the weather conditions before you continue. Turn right at the saddle and begin scrambling up along the south ridge of French Mountain. It’s only a few hundred feet up to the summit with nothing more than average class two scrambling.
From the summit enjoy views of Mount Elbert to the east and Massive to the north, along with the Elk Mountains to the west. Be sure you descend with plenty of time to get back to the treeline before afternoon thunderstorms become a hazard. I hope you enjoy your time hiking French Mountain and found my route guide helpful. Safe travels on the trail!
This topographical map is an essential resource if you want to try hiking French Mountain. I recommend that you download it on your phone and also print out a paper backup copy in case you run out of batteries or something happens to your phone while scrambling or hiking up this thirteener.
It is very important to check the weather forecast before hiking French Mountain Sniktau. The weather conditions in this area can be very difficult to predict. I recommend checking both of the forecasts below and using an average of the two – as forecasts can differ quite a lot depending on which model they use.
There is no official trailhead for those hiking French Mountain. You can park at the junction of the Forest Road 110J with the main Halfmoon Road, or continue past the first stream crossing to park along a pull-out beyond the stream. There is a second stream crossing that stops nearly all vehicles, including those with 4WD and good clearance. You will need to plan on hiking from that point onward.
DIRECTIONS TO THE FRENCH MOUNTAIN TRAIL:
Take US-24 until you reach just south of Leadville. Turn on to CO-300 W and continue a few hundred feet. Turn left onto Halfmoon Rd and drive 1.3 miles. Turn right to stay on Halfmoon Rd, and continue for 7.5 miles until you see the turn for Forest Road 110J to your left. Park here or cross the stream and continue about a mile if you have a 4WD vehicle with good clearance.
The right gear will make your time hiking French Mountain more enjoyable and reduce the risk that something goes wrong. Here’s what I recommend bringing with you on this trip.
- The Ten Essentials: Key gear to help you stay alive if something goes wrong.
- Hiking boots with good traction and ankle support.
- A backpack to store your food, water, and emergency supplies.
- Trekking poles to provide extra stability and support.
- Snacks to keep you going while hiking Mount Sniktau
- Maps or Route Guides for the Mount Sniktau area.
- A personal locator beacon in case anything happens to you and you need help.
- Water: I recommend 2 liters of water per person.
Camping near French Mountain:
There are also many dispersed camping opportunities along forest roads in the area, including many along Halfmoon Road as you drive in.
Lodging near French Mountain:
There are many cabins available via Airbnb and other services in Leadville and Buena Vista for those hiking French Mountain.
Help protect this beautiful area by following these Leave No Trace practices while hiking French Mountain. This includes:
- 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 hiking French Mountain! Learn more about LNT on 14ers here.
About French Mountain: The area around French Mountain was heavily mined during the late 19th century gold and silver era. The name likely refers to French miners or prospectors, as many nationalities were represented in the Leadville area. While hiking French Mountain you will pass the site of the Iron Mike Mine. All that remains of the mine is a filled in mine shaft, log cabin, and collapsed wooden building. Be careful of nails and debris if you visit the mining area while hiking French Mountain.
Hiking French Mountain is an inherently high-risk activity – do so at your own risk, and use the following best practices to help keep yourself safe.
- Research your route and bring a compass & topographic map.
- Check the weather forecast and stay home during inclement weather.
- Bring the Ten Essentials and the knowledge/skill to use them.
- Leave your plans with someone back home along with a detailed itinerary.
- Start early, and end early: Be back at tree line by noon to avoid lightning.
- Bring a buddy on your first ascent, preferably someone experienced.
Hiking French Mountain 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.