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Hiking Snowmass Mountain – Elk Mountains, Colorado

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Article Categories: Hiking

Snowmass Mountain is a 14,092 foot mountain in the Elk Range of Colorado featuring a very long day hiking approach, or a commonly done overnight 14er. Hikers pass along the absolutely stunning Snowmass Lake, where many choose to spend the night. Here’s everything you need to know to summit this difficult Colorado summit.

Distance – 21.6 miles round trip (34.76183 km)
Height – 14,092 feet (4295.24 m)
Elevation gain – 6,640 feet (2023.87 m)
Duration – 13 to 16 hours (book time)
Difficulty – Very Strenuous
Class: Class 3 Hike
Seasons – This hike can be completed in all seasons, but winter is especially difficult, and dangerous. Only very experienced hikers should attempt this hike in any season.
Trailhead Location – Maroon – Snowmass Trailhead – 8,400 feet (directions below)

Trails

Maroon Snowmass Trail: 21.6 Miles Round Trip | 6,640 Feet Elevation Gain | Class 3

This is really the only route to the summit of Snowmass (some alternate options explained below). It begins at the Maroon Snowmass trailhead through private property where hikers encounter 3 gates within the first 2 miles of the hike. Across the first two miles very little elevation gain occurs. Hikers simply remain on the Maroon Snowmass Trail which stays close to Snowmass Creek nearly the entire duration to Snowmass Lake.

Within the first 3-4 miles there are various dispersed campsites along the trail, some of which are traveled enough to appear to be the true trail but are not. Remember to simply take the trail that stays closest to the Maroon Snowmass Trail, except for 1.3 miles in when hikers reach the marked junction towards the West Snowmass Trail.

6.3 miles in, hikers will reach a log jam created at the end of a pond. Here, hikers cross the log jam to the other side of the water and follow the well established trail. In high water, the crossing is a little more difficult, but generally, the logs make for a pretty easy crossing. Be extra careful because it is easy to get a wet boot, or twist an ankle during this crossing.

8 miles in, hikers reach a junction that is well marked. Here, follow the signs and trails towards Snowmass Lake, not towards Geneva Lake or the Maroon Snowmass Trail.

8.3 miles in, and 2,580 feet higher from your starting point, you’ll reach Snowmass Lake and some absurdly stunning views. You can see the summit from here.

Cross the river leading out of the lake heading towards the south and east side of the lake. It is very easy here to head up the Geneva Lake Trail which you do not want to do. Follow the trail close to the lake so you’ll only rise 20 ish feet above the lake. If you start to rise 50-100 feet above the lake, you have gone too far to the left.

Hikers make there way around the lake and see the scree slopes heading up the gully towards the summit. The hike is difficult from here on out. Lots of scree, lots of boulders, lots of class 3 hiking.

The key to this entire section is to follow cairns all the way to the base of the last push to the summit. Simply follow cairns in the direction of the summit, though you can be off path a little bit without recognizing it. Just follow the easiest route for you.

Hikers have a choice of taking the direct route to the summit, which heads up steep scree and takes people to the ridge right near the summit, or taking a more stable rock approach and going around the left hand side. (Pictures below to describe this).

Our recommendation is to go up the left, and down the direct route scree field.

Alternate Routes

Hikers technically have the option to start at the Capitol Creek Trailhead or from the East Snowmass Trailhead. Both of which add a whole lot of miles and elevation gain. We don’t recommend this unless you are doing a backpacking trip and loop out to another trailhead.

Hikers also have two options for the last summit push. The direct route, or a loop around the left hand (southeast side) of summit ridge. (Pictures below should make this easier for you)

Trail Map

Snowmass Mountain Trail Map

Snowmass Mountain Trail Map

Hiking Snowmass Mountain in Winter

Snowmass is not an easy hike even in the best of weather. Add in some snow, and you can be in for quite a long day, and a bit of extra danger, not to mention the extra weight of gear you have to carry. However, snow may actually make this route a little easier to travel with the right conditions, plus, it makes the direct route to the summit a bit more accessible.

Camping For Snowmass Mountain & Lake

There are dispersed campsites near the trail at numerous points before hikers reach Snowmass Lake. The best sites are near Snowmass Lake where there are many of dispersed sites. Backpacking permits are necessary, and the area does have bears, so having proper bear equipment and storage is necessary.

You can read about permits and camping locations here: https://www.fs.usda.gov/recarea/whiteriver/recarea/?recid=40555 

Current Weather Conditions:

Here is the detailed weather forecast for the next few days. We highly recommend you check out the mountain forecast for this peak the morning of your hike.

Marble, CO

Overnight
Snow showers and a slight chance of thunderstorms. Cloudy, with a low around 24. West southwest wind 10 to 15 mph, with gusts as high as 25 mph. Chance of precipitation is 80%. New snow accumulation of 1 to 3 inches possible.

Tuesday
Snow showers before 9am, then snow showers and a chance of thunderstorms between 9am and 3pm, then snow showers and a chance of thunderstorms and patchy blowing snow. Cloudy, with a high near 28. West southwest wind 10 to 15 mph, with gusts as high as 30 mph. Chance of precipitation is 90%. New snow accumulation of 3 to 5 inches possible.

Tuesday Night
A chance of snow showers and a chance of thunderstorms before midnight. Partly cloudy, with a low around 14. Southwest wind 5 to 15 mph, with gusts as high as 30 mph. Chance of precipitation is 30%. New snow accumulation of less than half an inch possible.

Wednesday
Sunny, with a high near 37. South southwest wind 5 to 15 mph, with gusts as high as 30 mph.

Wednesday Night
Mostly clear, with a low around 24. Southwest wind 10 to 15 mph, with gusts as high as 30 mph.

Thursday
Mostly sunny, with a high near 42.

Thursday Night
A slight chance of thunderstorms and a slight chance of rain and snow showers before midnight. Mostly cloudy, with a low around 24. Chance of precipitation is 20%.

Directions & Parking

The road leading to the trailhead is great up until the last mile or so. Any high clearance vehicle should have no problem with this road. Some portions of the road should be driven cautiously with 2wd or low clearance vehicles.

Directions to Maroon Snowmass Trailhead

Additional Pictures

Snowmass Mountain Routes To Summit

Snowmass Mountain Routes To Summit

Snowmass Lake From Base of Scree Field

Snowmass Lake From Base of Scree Field

Snowmass Lake

Snowmass Lake

Trail Junction Before Snowmass Lake

Trail Junction Before Snowmass Lake

The Non Direct Route Trail Conditions Lots of boulders and class 3 scrambling

The Non Direct Route Trail Conditions Lots of boulders and class 3 scrambling

Max DesMarais

Max DesMarais

Max DesMarais is the founder of hikingandfishing.com. He has a passion for the outdoors and making outdoor education and adventure more accessible. Max is a published author for various outdoor adventure, travel, and marketing websites. He is an experienced hiker, backpacker, fly fisherman, backcountry skier, trail runner, and spends his free time in the outdoors. These adventures allow him to test gear, learn new skills, and experience new places so that he can educate others. Max grew up hiking all around New Hampshire and New England. He became obsessed with the New Hampshire mountains, and the NH 48, where he guided hikes and trail runs in the White Mountains. Since moving out west, Max has continued climbed all of the Colorado 14ers, is always testing gear, learning skills, gaining experience, and building his endurance for outdoor sports. You can read more about his experience here: hikingandfishing/about

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