Saint Vrain Mountain (12,162′) | Colorado | 08/06/20

Saint Vrain Mountain (12,162′) | Indian Peaks Wilderness

Allenspark, CO | 08/06/20 | 9.2 miles | 3,268′ gain


Saint Vrain Mountain is a low 12er that was recommended to me by an old coworker. I’d hiked along the trail a few times before but always happened to come on a day with too much snow or too much wind so I’d never summited. A failed peak is always in the back of my mind and I was waiting for a day I could return once again. Early August proved to be snow-free and while the wind is ever-present, it would at least be manageable.

(There is some conflicting information online about whether or not dogs are allowed on this trail so I opted to leave mine at home just in case. Officially, per the USFS -dogs are not allowed on the short portion of trail that crosses into Rocky Mountain National Park. An alternative for those with dogs is not provided. There is a sign at the park boundary but it doesn’t have any regulations posted and plenty of dog owners either disregarded or simply didn’t know this rule. “No Dogs Allowed” in this case apparently falls into the “Know Before You Go” category.)

Indian Peaks Wilderness boundary

I arrived early to beat the afternoon thunderstorms, plus I needed to work a bit once I got home. Since it was a weekday, the small parking area was mostly empty. The Saint Vrain Mountain Trail starts in an aspen forest but soon transitions to pine and fir. It is a moderate but steady climb and I soon reached the Indian Peaks Wilderness boundary.

A small stream along the trail

After a few miles in the forest, the trees thinned a bit and I could finally see the surrounding mountains.

View across the valley
Treeline is within sight now!
Looking back down the valley

There is one final long switchback just before treeline. Once past that, it’s an easy hike to treeline and the saddle between Saint Vrain Mountain and Meadow Mountain, an 11er. I considered adding Meadow to my hike as well if time and weather allowed.

Almost to the saddle…Saint Vrain is peeking up in the distance
Sun rays – looking back from where I came

The Saint Vrain/Meadow saddle is a destination in itself. In fact, many hikers were turning around there, satisfied with their efforts at reaching this scenic vista. Many of Rocky’s high peaks are visible and 14er Longs Peak (the only 14er in the national park) is incredible from this angle.

Looking northwest from the saddle, Longs Peak (14,255′) is on the far right. Visible 13ers include Pagoda Mountain, Chiefs Head Peak, and Mount Alice.
Looking west from the saddle, visible 13ers include Ogalalla, Copeland, Isolation, and Alice.

Although I was more than happy with the expansive views, the saddle wasn’t my final destination. I turned south to continue along the Saint Vrain Mountain Trail and crossed into (and then right back out of) Rocky Mountain National Park.

Dogs are not allowed past this point…but in 1/4 mile they’re allowed again.

I found the views to get even better just after the saddle. Even if you’re not interested in climbing Saint Vrain Mountain, I’d encourage you to travel a little past the saddle for a better view of Longs Peak.

Longs Peak (the flat topped peak right of center) is such a cool mountain!
Zoom of Longs with its surrounding 13ers. From left to right: Chiefs Head Peak, Pagoda Mountain, Longs Peak, and Mount Meeker.

Contrary to its name, the Saint Vrain Mountain Trail continues right past Saint Vrain Mountain, skipping its summit by about 800 vertical feet. This last bit was up to me to find the best route and it ended up being very straightforward.

Saint Vrain Mountain…trying to find the best route

I wanted to avoid the trees and bushes (see above picture) so instead of heading directly up the mountain, I stayed on the trail for another minute or two. I saw a cairn which appeared to mark an ideal starting point for the last push to the summit. From the cairn, I could avoid all of the trees and bushes, keeping me on easy grass and rock.

I turned off the trail at this small cairn, notice that I was now able to avoid the trees entirely.
The valley south of Saint Vrain Mountain is really pretty as well. Snowmelt and rainfall leaves this valley in small unnamed streams that feed into Middle Saint Vrain Creek.

Even off trail, the hiking was moderate, though unrelenting. I found a number of other cairns as I ascended so it was clear that the way I chose is a common route.

Another cairn, getting closer now!
Who even qualified me to see views like this!?

The top of the mountain turned from grass to talus relatively abruptly but I did happen upon a faint trail that easily guided me up.

Grass to talus

The views from the summit weren’t much different than what I’d seen all morning, but there’s something about working hard for (and then attaining) a summit that makes everything seem so much more spectacular. Two women had reached the summit just before me and we soaked up the scenery together for a few moments.

Southwest of Saint Vrain are more 13ers: visible peaks include Mount Audubon and Paiute Peak.
Summit shelter and another view of Longs (because I couldn’t get enough!)
Summit marker! 12,157 must be an old elevation, Saint Vrain is now listed as 12,162′.
A very unusual flower near the summit. I have never seen one like this before.

The wind was picking up and darker clouds were moving in so I didn’t stay long. I followed my approximate ascent route back down to the trail, where I ultimately decided not to attempt Meadow Mountain. I’d made good time all morning and could probably summit before the storms hit, but I didn’t want to risk it. I can always come back another time if one day the 11ers beckon to me.

Parting views of Longs Peak & friends

I followed the now very busy trail back down into the forest and all the way to the car. It sprinkled on and off and many hikers stopped to ask me questions. The once nearly empty parking lot (and road) was overrun with cars by the time I got back. I guess it pays to get an early start. I drove home happy, already reminiscing about this amazing hike and dreaming up what I’d do next.


15 thoughts on “Saint Vrain Mountain (12,162′) | Colorado | 08/06/20

  1. Wow that looks like quite the hike. What a varied landscape you went through and all sorts of different trail conditions! Thought it was funny about the dogs not allowed, but then allowed again…hmmmm haha


  2. It seems really dumb that they didn’t just make the trail outside the park boundary. It doesn’t look like there’s any terrain to avoid or anything. Hmmm. Anyway… those views of Longs are 😍


  3. Hi Chelsea…many thanks for dropping a “like” on my blog yesterday…much appreciated. Thoroughly enjoyed your post – you have hills that are a a wee bit bigger than ours here in Scotland…well a good bit bigger actually! Noticed your comment about not summiting – we have a saying in our hillwalking community “the hills will always be there tomorrow” – we reckon it’s a philosophy that creates the best mindset to tackle the mountains. We’re lucky here in that there are very few no-go areas for dogs – they just have to be kept under close control. My biggest access issue was having to lift 37kg of slightly podgy Labrador over difficult fences 🙂 Ken


    1. Hi Ken, thanks for stopping by! We have the same saying here though we say mountains instead of hills. 🙂 I’ve never been to Scotland but I’d love to visit someday! Most trails in Colorado allow dogs but the National Parks (all throughout the US) generally don’t allow dogs except in developed areas. Since this trail crosses over the National Park boundary (though just barely), dogs aren’t allowed on that one section of trail. It’s more a technicality than anything that is likely to be enforced. Just a weird situation but I was glad I left my dogs home this time just in case a ranger happened to be up there.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Pingback: Mount Audubon (13,223′) | Colorado | 10/08/20 – Colorado Chelsea

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