Mount Parnassus (13,574′) | Colorado | 06/17/21

Mount Parnassus (13,574′) | Arapaho National Forest

Dillon, CO | 06/17/21 | 7.12 miles | 3,273′ gain | YDS Class 2


The mountains don’t tend to follow our pathetic human calendars, so while true summer wouldn’t start for a few more days, mountain summer had already arrived in full force. Winter’s snow had melted, creeks were flowing, wildflowers were blooming, and thunderstorms darkened afternoon skies. My favorite season had arrived and it was time to move back into the high country for my weekly hikes.

I kicked off the summer with Mount Parnassus, an easy-to-access 13er just off I-70. My friend Tori and I got an early start in an effort to beat not only the afternoon storms, but the crowds that would inevitably descend upon the popular Herman Gulch Trailhead. We were on trail at 6:40am, behind a few early-morning trail runners.

Herman Gulch Trail

We followed the Herman Gulch Trail for about 0.2 miles before reaching the intersection with the Watrous Gulch Trail. Herman Gulch is by far the more popular route, but we were heading up Watrous Gulch to access Mount Parnassus’ west slopes. These lower sections of trail traveled through lush forests carpeted with wildflowers.

Colorado Blue Columbine
Purple Fringe
Our first peek of Mount Parnassus (summit not yet visible)
Typical trail conditions on the lesser-traveled Watrous Gulch Trail
Indian Paintbrush

The trail wraps around the mountainside, curving to meet and then follow Watrous Gulch. We continued along the creek, following the trail nearly to its end at the top of the gulch.

Finally in the sun
Looking down Watrous Gulch – the prominent peak on the right is Torreys Peak (14,267′)
Mount Parnassus above Watrous Gulch

We soon crossed the creek on a log. Tori walked like a normal person while I crawled and cursed whoever picked this hike. (It was me.)

Creek crossing
Tori’s new home

Once across the creek, we continued up Watrous Gulch for another 0.6 miles.

Nearing the end of the gulch, Woods Mountain (12,940′) rising up ahead.

We cut off trail near treeline, aiming for Mount Parnassus’ grassy west slopes. Very quickly, we ran into another trail (not on the map) which we followed briefly before it turned the wrong direction, and we cut off again.

Heading off trail…
…before finding another trail.
Nice view of Torreys Peak (left), Grizzly Peak (middle) and Mount Sniktau (right)

Once above treeline, the trails disappeared but the route was obvious – just go up.

It doesn’t look like much in this picture, but there is still 1500′ to climb.
Yet another view of Mount Sniktau
Sky Pilot in front of Mount Sniktau
And still going up…

The slope was steep but easy grass. After a long time and many, many breaks, I finally neared the top.

Neighboring Woods Mountain
Tori beat me to the top!
The summit with Bard Peak on the left
Summit shelter
Bard Peak

I’d considered adding Bard Peak onto this hike, but I was moving too slowly so we retraced our steps instead. Unsurprisingly, the hike down the slope went at least 3 times faster than the hike up. We soon reached the upper trail, which we followed back down to the main trail.

Heading back down the slope to Watrous Gulch.
Hiking out

On the way up, just above the log crossing, I spotted an alternate bridge that looked quite a bit easier than the rounded log. (Arrow on the map.) It turned out to be mostly flat logs/boards that I was able to walk straight across. It took a few minutes to get back down to the trail, having to navigate some willows, but this was absolutely worth it.

A better crossing
Right branch goes to the log, left branch heads toward the easier crossing. Might be tough to find in this direction, but probably worth trying if you struggle with log crossings like I do.

The rest of the hike out was uneventful and we saw few people until we met back up with the Herman Gulch Trail near the trailhead. Everyone was heading up Herman Gulch (admittedly, this trail is also quite beautiful), but Watrous Gulch and the gentle giants that surround it have a lot to offer and shouldn’t be missed.

I would like to acknowledge that Mount Parnassus is on the ancestral land of the Núu-agha-tʉvʉ-pʉ̱ (Ute) and Cheyenne.


28 thoughts on “Mount Parnassus (13,574′) | Colorado | 06/17/21

  1. jeffdlb

    Thank you for this trip report about Mt Parnassus. I frequently drive between Boulder and Summit County, and have become curious about climbing Parnassus, Bethel, and some of the other peaks visible on the way, which don’t get as much attention as the 14ers.


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