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Mount Sanitas and Sanitas Valley Loop

Distance3.62 mi
Elevation Gain1,289 ft
My Time2 hr 7 minutes
Difficulty Hard
Closest TownBoulder
Food NearbyThe Sink

Mount Sanitas and the Sanitas Valley Loop

Mount Sanitas is a very popular hike in Boulder, Colorado for both hikers and trail runners. The steep incline also connects to a series of other trails in the area. Due to the elevation gain this can be considered a hard hike for some.

Getting Started

The parking lot for the Mount Sanitas trail is at the Centennial trailhead. This parking lot is rather small for the amount of trails that it supports and it fills up quick. There is a bit more parking around on the road as well. To get the Sanitas trail you will have to cross over Sunshine Canyon Boulevard to a small building where the trail starts.

The trail starts simply through some woods before splitting off into two options. You can either take the Mount Sanitas trail to the left to head straight up the hill or the Sanitas Valley trail that takes you up the valley before heading up the mountain. They are both steep to get to the peak but I started on Mount Sanitas to get the misery over with quicker.

A narrow trail up to Mount Sanitas with some wood built into small steps.
The Start of the Mount Sanitas Trail and some stairs that become common

Mount Sanitas Trail

The Mount Sanitas trail starts off relatively easy for the first few hundred feet. Then, for the next mile and a half, it is pretty consistently above a 20% grade and even tops off around a 39% grade. Essentially the entire hike is uphill. There are steps built into the trail on the lower sections to help with the elevation but it is still pretty steep.

A rocky and dirt path up to Mount Sanitas with dirt on side and rocks down the middle.
The steep dirt path of the first third of the Mount Sanitas Trail.

While the trails are steep they are pretty easy to manage and mostly wide. The mix of dirt and wood steps gives way about half way up and turns more into a combination of smooth and jagged rocks to walk on. While this makes footing a little trickier if you find a good path it is manageable. It will be important to plan out your path to find the best footing among the rocks.

A part of the Mount Sanitas trial that is just jagged rock to walk over.
An especially rocky section of trail on the Mount Sanitas Trail

Mount Sanitas isn’t that far away and the entire hike from parking lot to peak is only about a mile and half but that doesn’t make it an easy hike. The last third to the top is a little bit easier but is still a steeper challenge. I get that some people use this trail run but for the average hiker the hike from top to bottom will be a challenge. The peak does provide some really nice views overlooking Boulder.

The view from the peak of Mount Sanitas of the city of Boulder down beneath.
The view of Boulder from the top of Mount Sanitas

I found the peak to be the best views on the trail. I was a little disappointed on the views throughout but most of my focus was on just making it to the top! When you get to the top you have a couple of choices. Most people did the trail as an out and back and headed back down the way they came but I wanted to do the loop and headed to the East Ridge Trail.

East Ridge Trail

I thought taking the Sanitas Valley loop down the hill would be a little bit easier but that was before I got on the East Ridge trail. East Ridge starts at the Sanitas peak by crossing the peak and heading down the other side. East Ridge starts with a 30% downhill grade so shoes with good traction are important here.

As the trail continues the grade drops down into the 20% range but the terrain is much more of a loose gravel than on the way up. I also found the trail a bit hard to follow between some large boulders and sandy and loose terrain. I knew I was heading downhill and that was about all I knew at times.

The East Ridge trail from Mount Sanitas is full of large boulders that need to be walked over or around.
Large Boulders that make up the trail on the East Ridge of Mount Sanitas

As you get further from the peak the trail does seem level out into more of a dirt path that gets easier to follow. Switchbacks become a bit more common and less steep. The trail also turns from loose gravel and rock to softer dirt.

The East Ridge trail goes for about seven tenths of a mile before it connects with the Sanitas Valley trail and out into the open space of the valley.

Sanitas Valley Trail

Once making it to the Sanitas Valley trail the hike gets a little bit easier. This was also one of my favorite parts of the hike. While I didn’t like walking on what was essentially a dirt road the views of the valley were really nice. Also, my feet didn’t mind the break from all the rock!

A dirt road cutting through a valley of the Sanitas Valley on the Mount Sanitas loop trail.
The view from the Sanitas Valley Trail

The Sanitas Valley portion of the loop is a gently sloping mile and half that leads you down the valley back to the car. The area is totally exposed so you will get plenty of sun so be prepared for that. In the spring and summer there are some nice flowers that bloom too. I really liked finishing the hike this way as it gave my legs a bit of a break and let me relax for the first time and just enjoy the amazing scenery of the Boulder area.

Video of the Mount Sanitas and Sanitas Valley Loop

I put together this time lapsed video of the hike to give you a feel of what the hike is like. Unfortunately my battery died and I missed the peak. Besides that it is a great representation of the hike. If you enjoy this video please subscribe to my YouTube channel, it is free and you will be the first to know when new content is ready.

Distance and Elevation

If you don’t have the AllTrails app you might want to check it out, I really love mine. It records your progress and is a great way to search for hikes that are nearby and gives you difficulty measurements. According to AllTrails today’s hike was around 3.62 miles and had a total elevation gain of about 1,289 feet including undulations. That put the high point at around 6,811 feet. I was also moving for a total of 2 hours and 7 minutes.

Effort

This hike is hard. I know a lot of people will say that it isn’t because it is short or because people run it but it is. The trail is basically a constant straight up and down from start to peak including a lot of stairs built into the hill. It is a challenge physically on the legs and lungs and it is a challenge. Plus, because it is at a lower elevation it also gets really warm if you do the hike in the summer.

Terrain

The lower section of the trail is mostly dirt with wood steps built into the trail. As you get higher the trail becomes more and more rocky. The stairs from the lower level become boulders to walk up and some slick rock sections as well. The Sanitas Valley section is more of a road. I would recommend a pair of hiking shoes or thick bottomed trail runners to protect from the harder rock sections.

Access

Mount Sanitas can be accessed from the Centennial trailhead parking lot in Boulder. The lot is located at 501 Sunshine Canyon Blvd. The lot fills up very fast! The Sanitas trailhead is across the street. Centennial trailhead lot has room for about 20 cars and has some port-o-potties available.

Wrapping Up the Mount Sanitas and Sanitas Valley Loop

Mount Sanitas is a Boulder hike. What I mean is that it is going to be one heck of a workout! I have found most of the hikes in the Boulder area are steep and challenging which makes sense because Boulder is a very fit city. The fact that the trail is so crowded with both hikers and trail runners proves that the locals really enjoy this hill and how challenging it is!

It definitely is a challenging hike and if you are looking for a short steep workout this would be a good hike for you. If you are looking for more of a scenic walk in nature maybe the Sanitas Valley portion would be a better fit. My biggest complaint on this hike is that as you are hiking up the steep trail there isn’t much to look at. The best views are at the peak. I prefer a hike that gives a bit more views throughout even if it is challenging. Still, I was proud of myself for finishing. I just don’t know if I would rush to try this one again.

I have added this hike and all of my hikes to my interactive map page that you can find here. If you have a suggestion or comment you can email me at fatmanlittletrails@gmail.com. Or follow me on any of the below social media platforms. Happy Hiking!

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