Day hike or backpack to the twin summits capping Snow Mountain Wilderness for expansive views of Berryessa Snow Mountain National Monument and much of Northern California.
2020: Snow Mountain Wilderness Trails Closed Due to 2018 Ranch Fire through all of 2020
In 2018 the Mendocino Complex Fire, which included the Ranch Fire, burned through much of this area. Mendocino National Forest has closed the area until roads and trails can be rehabilitated, with the earliest possible open date being summer of 2021. Definitely call the Grindstone Ranger District first!
Snow Mountain Summits Key Data
Length: 8.0 miles round-trip
Hiking time: 6 hours or overnight backpacking trip
High point: 7,056 feet
Total elevation gain: 2,150 feet
Season: mid-June to early October
Water: essentially none; bring plenty of your own
Summit Springs Trailhead GPS coordinates: N 39 20.745 W 122 45.124
Maps: USGS 7.5’ Potato Hill, USGS 7.5’ Fouts Springs, USGS 7.5’ St. John Mountain, USGS 7.5’ Crockett Peak
Information: Grindstone Ranger District, Mendocino National Forest
Notes: dogs allowed, backpackers will find many level spots and will need a California campfire permit
Driving Directions to the Snow Mountain/Summit Springs Trailhead
Reach the town of Stonyford by exiting Interstate 5 at either Maxwell or Willows. Take Forest Road M-10 (18N01), which is initially called Fouts Springs Road, and follow signs for Snow Mountain and Summit Springs. After 24 miles turn right at a “Trailhead 1” sign for the final, steep 1.4 miles to the Summit Springs trailhead parking area.
Hiking the Snow Mountain Trail in Snow Mountain Wilderness
The trip to the twin summits of Snow Mountain offers scenery that includes serene forests of pine and fir, a psychedelic assortment of multihued rocks, and sweeping vistas of mountains and valleys stretching to the far horizons, a vista that includes the Berryessa Snow Mountain National Monument, created in 2015.
The path begins in a small forest of Jeffrey pine and white fir and quickly enters open areas created by a huge wildfire in 1987. As you climb over the next mile, note the variety of shrubs and other plants that have begun a long process of succession, which should eventually restore much of this area to forest.
Climbing High Rock
Go left at a trail fork at 0.7 mile, and then cross two small, seasonal creeks at 1.0 mile. Next, switchback uphill to a ridge at 1.5 miles. Look to the right for High Rock, about 300 yards east of the trail; it offers expansive westward, southward, and eastward views similar to those of the destination summits, lacking only a northward vista.
Reaching Cedar Camp
The path now climbs along the ridge, passing through a forest of Jeffrey pine and red and white fir. Ignore the other faint trails that disappear into the trees. Continue to Cedar Camp at 1.9 miles, which has a green meadow, an excellent campsite beside a small pond, and no cedars. Bear right here at a trail fork.
After a steady ascent through the forest, substantial parts heavily damaged by past wildfire, enter the open, glaciated basin below Snow Mountain’s summits. Climb steadily 0.7 mile to the saddle between the two summits, and then turn left at a three-way trail junction.
Snow Mountain West
After a brief climb, reach the 7,038-foot summit of Snow Mountain West. From here, you have northward views of Mount Linn, Mount Shasta, and the Klamath Mountains; eastward views of Stony Creek Gorge, the Sacramento Valley, Sutter Buttes, the Cascades, and the Sierra Nevada; and southward and westward views of endless chains of Coast Range ridges and peaks. Be sure to look at the odd assortment of green, gray, and purple metamorphic rocks at your feet.
Snow Mountain East
After you’ve rested and enjoyed the view, go back to the saddle and take the right-hand trail up to the 7,056-foot summit of Snow Mountain East, which offers views similar to those of its sibling.
If you have the ambition, consider camping on one of the summits (and follow Leave No Trace principles). You’ll have far-reaching, earthly views during the day and an open universe above at night. Bring all the water you’ll need, be prepared for possible high winds, and head downhill into the relative safety of the forest if a thunderstorm threatens.
Then see the fourth edition of my book 100 Classic Hikes: Northern California for trails in the Wine Country, the Bay Area, the North Coast, the Sierra Nevada, Lassen Volcanic National Park, and the mountains of the far north of the state.