I must admit, within about two minutes of beginning our hike up Mount Sniktau I was regretting our decision. I know summiting 13ers and 14ers requires some substantial climbing, but this hike gave a whole new meaning to the phrase ‘elevation gain.’ The trail basically goes straight up the mountain, gaining 1000 vertical feet (305 m) in the first mile (1.6 km). According to one hiking website, the steepest part is at a 68% grade! Oh, and did I mention the elevation at the trailhead is just shy of 12,000 feet (3658 m)?
Sniktau is often listed as a good beginner 13er, but I’m not sure that’s the best classification for it. Yes, it’s easy to get to from Denver and the road and parking areas are paved so 4WD and clearance aren’t necessary… but it’s a hell of a trail from the very first step.
Fortunately, once you reach the first high point – which is marked by a couple large rock piles and where many people turn around – the trail becomes markedly less steep. Even if you’re not up for climbing a 13er, I recommend climbing to this point; the views are spectacular. And even if you’re not up for climbing to this point, the drive up Loveland Pass to the parking area is beautiful as well… albeit a little precarious as the two-lane highway zigzags its way up the mountainside.
Anyway, from this high point, called Point 12,915 based off its altitude, you have two options: continue right to Cupid and Grizzly Peaks, which are also 13ers, or left to Sniktau. We went left. Originally we thought we might bag Cupid as well, but the weather chased us back to the car too soon for that. I guess we’ll have to summit Grizzly and Cupid another time.
From Point 12,915 the trail becomes considerably narrower. It was frustrating to me that probably 50% of the hikers we encountered were walking off trail and trampling all the fragile tundra plants. This entire hike is in the alpine zone so any step off trail has the potential to kill a plant that took years to grow to its tiny size.
The trail to Sniktau descends slightly from Point 12,915 before climbing to the first false summit. From here, you can see the trail descend and climb up to a second high point… which is also a false summit. You can’t see the actual summit of Sniktau until you reach the top of the second false summit, but looks like this:
Not like this:
Though AllTrails lists the net elevation gain on this hike as about 1500 feet (460 m), the ups and downs between the false summits adds at least another 500 feet (150 m). However, the higher you climb, the more expansive your views become. From the summit on a clear day – which we were fortunate enough to have – you can see northeast to Rocky Mountain National Park and west to Mount of the Holy Cross which is about 50 miles (80 km) away. Immediately south are Grays and Torreys Peaks which – along with Mount of the Holy Cross – are 3 of the 10 visible 14ers. Thanks to my PeakFinder app, we were able to pick out all 10 of them!
(I’m not being paid to promote PeakFinder, it’s just a really cool app and I’ve been telling everyone about it. I’ve never paid for an app before but this one was 100% worth the $5.)
I haven’t decided if I recommend this hike or not. There are 500+ 13ers in Colorado so this is far from the only option. Some of them are easier to summit than Sniktau and some of them are more difficult. Some of them probably have views that are just as incredible, if not more so. The trail up Sniktau is close to the highway and you never quite escape the traffic noise, while other mountains are in much more remote locations.
On the other hand, few if any of the other 13ers have a stranger name than Sniktau. The mountain is apparently named for Edwin Patterson, a 19th century Colorado journalist who went by the pen name “Sniktau.”
So if you’re looking for a mountain with a silly name that’s close to Denver, challenging, and with gorgeous and expansive views, Mount Sniktau just might be the 13er for you!
The Important Stuff:
- Getting there: the trailhead for Mount Sniktau is located at Loveland Pass on US Highway 6, just off I-70
- Fees and passes: none
- Hiking: 3.5 miles (5.6 km) round trip with approximately 2000 feet (610 m) of total elevation gain
- Where to stay: this hike is an easy drive from Denver as well as from many of the available camping locations in the surrounding National Forest
- Other: we lucked out and had a windless day for this hike, but 99% of the time it will be cold, windy, and intensely sunny at this elevation so don’t forget a hat, gloves, layers, and sun protection!