Boulder’s Backyard Challenge: The Triple Sanitas

triple sanitas hike boulder
If you hike in Boulder, you’re probably quite familiar with Mount Sanitas. The Sanitas network of trails provides a variety of options just minutes from downtown. The classic summit loop is a mere 3.1 miles, but it encompasses a lung-busting 1,343 feet of elevation gain. The South Ridge, referred to by locals as “Nature’s Stairmaster,” features some short but grinding climbs and a series of false summits for good measure.

For many Boulderites, the Mount Sanitas summit loop is a weekly or even daily routine. It’s easy to access and can be completed in under 90 minutes, so it’s the perfect workout for trail junkies with busy schedules. In spite of its relative difficulty, Sanitas is so popular that you’d be hard-pressed to find a Boulderite who hasn’t summited it. Suffice it to say, Sanitas is pretty standard fare… but standard isn’t how we do things in Boulder.

Yes, leave it to Boulderites to take a well-worn, moderate challenge and turn it into something epic. Enter the “Triple Sanitas.” As the name suggests, this hike entails making the summit loop not once, not twice, but three times in a row. Why take a quickie summit and turn it into 9.3 miles and 4,000 feet of elevation? Well, why not? Given its low altitude and sun-drenched slopes, conditions are almost always excellent. Its popular trails are well marked and easy to navigate. And with a trailhead right in the heart of town, your travel time is next to nothing. Whether you’re training for an event or just looking to mix it up, the Triple Sanitas serves up an extreme mental and physical challenge right in our own backyard.

Prep for it

Even though it’s “just Sanitas,” three summit loops will take time and energy. Be sure to pack plenty of water and snacks. If you’re prone to blisters on longer hikers, a stash of blister pads and a change of socks can be a lifesaver. Lastly, consider using trekking poles. The descent down the East Ridge is rocky and steep. Poles will take a lot of the pressure off your knees.

Get there

Take Mapleton Avenue west past 4th Street. There is parking at the Mount Sanitas Trailhead on the right or at Centennial Trailhead a bit farther down on the left.

Hike it

The classic Sanitas summit loop begins with the Mount Sanitas Trail (i.e. the south ridge). From the trailhead, follow the signs for this trail and begin heading up. Almost immediately this turns into a steep climb. Make your way up the log and rock steps toward the summit. Stellar views to the east and west help soothe your aching legs and heavy lungs. Be aware of the false summits and don’t get too excited until you’re near the 1.6-mile mark.

At the summit, be sure to touch the metal pole or it doesn’t count. (This may or may not be true.) Take a breather and snap your first summit selfie.

sanitas hike boulder co

Cross over to the east side of the summit and descend via the East Ridge Trail for 0.6 miles. East Ridge keeps it interesting with some cool rock formations, some light scrambling, and beautiful views of the Boulder range to the south.

At the bottom of East Ridge, connect with the Sanitas Valley Trail. Follow this gentle trail as it bears to the right and returns you to your starting point about one mile later. From here, you guessed it… begin heading up the Mount Sanitas Trail for your second time. Repeat for a third time. Triple Sanitas = boom.

The Triple Sanitas is not for the faint of heart. It’s longer and has more elevation than Bear Peak. The process of ascending, descending, and then ascending again will challenge your body more than a typical summit hike. And mentally, it’s downright grueling. Get ready to become familiar with every nook and cranny on this little mountain. You’ll suddenly feel a kinship with that tree root you’re stepping on for the third time today. And be prepared to say “Hi again! It’s me, Crazy!” to fellow hikers as you pass them for a second or third time.

Congratulations! You’ve just upgraded Mount Sanitas. You scored some epic trail time and you’re still just 10 minutes from home.

Extra credit

Come on now. There is no extra credit. You just summited Sanitas three times in a row! Give yourself a pat on the back and go get some brunch already.

Happy trails, Boulderites!

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Alli Fronzaglia

Alli Fronzaglia

Alli Fronzaglia is a hiking guide, naturalist, and community volunteer. Originally from New England, she and her family have settled down in Boulder for the long haul. When she's not hiking or running on Boulder's trails, Alli is hitting the water with her standup paddleboard. She writes to inspire others to get outside and play. Alli serves on the board of the PLAY Boulder Foundation and she's the co-founder of Boulder Hiker Chicks.
Alli Fronzaglia

Alli Fronzaglia

Alli Fronzaglia is a hiking guide, naturalist, and community volunteer. Originally from New England, she and her family have settled down in Boulder for the long haul. When she's not hiking or running on Boulder's trails, Alli is hitting the water with her standup paddleboard. She writes to inspire others to get outside and play. Alli serves on the board of the PLAY Boulder Foundation and she's the co-founder of Boulder Hiker Chicks.

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