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Cultural Resources Mount Sanitas Hike

Cultural Resources Mount Sanitas Hike

Hiking in Mount Sanitas: The more things change, the more they stay the same!

If you’re like many Boulderites, you probably already think of the Sanitas area as a great place to hike, run, walk the dog or simply get some fresh air.  But do you know how it got its name?

Boulder Colorado Sanitarium and Hospital

In the late 1800s, the campus that we now refer to as Boulder Community Hospital at 4th and Mapleton was the site of the Boulder-Colorado Sanitarium and Hospital.  It was one of a series of John Harvey Kellogg’s Battle Creek, Michigan, Sanatoriums.  Kellogg, a Seventh-Day Adventist, was one of the leaders of a growing movement in ‘health building and training’ called the Western Health Reform Institute.  The institute promoted ‘hydro-therapy, exercise and a vegetarian diet’ as the way to good health. 

While our generation has come to understand that diet and exercise are essential to one’s health and well-being, the concept was brand new and somewhat controversial in the late 1800s.  Victorians were well known for five course meals, rich with meats, cream, starch, butter and sugar.  In 1876, a typical breakfast could consist of steak, bacon and eggs, fried potatoes, pancakes and sausage, porridge, donuts and fruits.  Dr. Kellogg believed this diet was at the root of many of the diseases that plagued his generation.  Kellogg was determined to change the way Americans not only ate, but lived, and developed the Battle Creek Sanatorium as a place where the patient’s lifestyle could be completely controlled.  The Sanatorium became a popular and profitable method of spreading the word, and by the turn of the century, he and his brother, W.K. Kellogg began to mass produce their healthy foods (including some cereals we would recognize today!). 

In 1893, Seventh-Day Adventist Elder John Fulton came to Colorado for health reasons.  During his recovery, he realized Colorado was the perfect place for a Battle Creek Sanatorium and was able to convince Dr. Kellogg to start one here in Boulder.  The town, he believed, was situated very well for healing, and featured a climate “as nearly perfect as can be found.”  In 1894, the first Sanatorium and Hospital was opened in several cottages on University Place.  The main sanatorium building was completed in 1896.

Treatment at the Kellogg Sanatoriums was almost spa-like.  Meals were of the utmost importance, and of course, cereals and grains were featured prominently.  At its height, the Sanatorium had its own dairy and food factory with a natural food store here in Boulder and several in Denver. There were strict rules about what foods to combine and alcohol, tea, coffee, meat and most sugars were forbidden. 

In keeping with the most modern medical discoveries, the Sanatorium also prescribed some hydro and electric therapies: 

Prominent among these (forms of treatment) are the use of electricity in all its forms, massage both general and special, Swedish movements, various baths such as the electric light bath, electro-thermal bath, sprays, douches, salt glows, cold mitten friction, etc.  These, together with proper exercise, proper food, pure air and pure water, constitute the true sanitarium idea – the cultivation of health.

Historic Photos of the Boulder Sanitarium

Historic photo of Boulder Sanitarium CottagesHistoric photo of Boulder Sanitarium patientsHistoric photo of hiker at SanitasBoulder Sanitarium post card

See all related photos in the Photo Gallery

In its beginning days, the Sanatorium and Hospital originally welcomed tubercular patients.  Colorado was home to a number of tubercular sanatoriums because, at the time, it was believed that our altitude and climate contributed to the cure of the rampant disease. (Indeed, a number of notable Coloradoans moved here and were cured, including Enos Mills and F. O. Stanley).  Because of the stigma of tuberculosis, patients were soon moved to outlying cottages.  The presence of patients with this highly contagious disease ultimately proved to be bad for business, and by 1904, people with tuberculosis and other communicable diseases were no longer accepted at the Sanatorium.

The decision to exclude tubercular patients from the Sanatorium and its emphasis on diet and exercise may have contributed to the notion that the institution offered more of a ‘spa vacation’ than a stay in the hospital, in spite of its surgical and obstetrical facilities.  In fact, in 1930, the Sanatorium advertised itself as a vacation destination in their brochure, “The Vacation Extra.” 

And why wouldn’t people want to spend their vacation here? “The unrivaled ensemble of advantages is making the Boulder-Colorado Sanitarium justly and increasingly popular with professional workers and others who recognize in this institution the rare opportunity of combining, during the vacation period, the Sanitarium System of rational, tonic treatment with the ideal climatic conditions and the magnificent mountain, plain and canyon scenery of this National Park region.”  Brochures touted activities and facilities – hiking, burro rides, a swimming pool – all of which could very well be found in advertising for tourist attractions of today.  In fact, hiking in the area was encouraged, and in a 1902 brochure the Sanitarium proclaimed their trail to the top of Mount Sanitas to be newly completed:

The sanitarium has just completed a trail to the very summit of the mount, a distance of nearly two miles.  The slope is not so great but that nearly everyone can reach the peak by simply taking his time…. A number of trustworthy burros have been purchased, and the patients have free access to them.  By means of these many are able to reach the peak who otherwise would be denied the privilege, owing to lack of strength.  The donkeys not only aid the feeble but give comfort and amusement to the strong.

Obviously, getting outside and enjoying the “equable” climate of Boulder was integral to both the physical and emotional well-being of the patient.  To that end, several stone structures were built just to the west of the Sanitarium probably in the mid-1910s.  Unlike the original Sanitarium, these structures still stand unaltered and remind us of the area’s beginnings.  You can visit those structures today.  And, although OSMP doesn’t provide burros to make the hike up Mount Sanitas, you can climb the same trail used by patients at the Sanitarium in 1902.

Did you know?
Because the name Sanitas is derived from the word sanitarium, its pronunciation is similar: Instead of the popular san-‘ee-tis, with the emphasis on the ‘ee’ sound, the correct pronunciation actually sounds like ‘san-eh-toss, with the emphasis on the first syllable, ‘san.’

Want to learn more?
Boulder's Carnegie Library has a wealth of information about the sanitarium' s history, including bulletins, brochures, photographs and personal histories!


You know the history, now take the hike!

Trailhead: Mount Sanitas or Centennial

Difficulty: Easy to structures, Moderate/Difficult to climb Mount Sanitas

Distance: Approximately 1 to 2 miles round trip.  Climb up Mount Sanitas involves 1,300 ft. elevation gain.

Sanitas Cultural Resources Trail Map 3.16 Mb

For more information: Carnegie Library, Mount Sanitas OSMP Trailhead

Start your hike!
You can begin the hike from several access points -- here are the two most convenient access points:

Mount Sanitas Trailhead: north side of Sunshine Canyon Drive, .5 miles west of Fourth and Mapleton

Centennial Trailhead: south side of Sunshine Canyon Drive, approximately .7 miles west of Fourth and Mapleton. 

From Mount Sanitas Trailhead to Sanitas Valley Trail: hike up the trail to the intersection of Mount Sanitas and Sanitas Valley trails.  Take a Right to go north on Sanitas Valley Trail.

From the Centennial Trailhead to Sanitas Valley Trail: take the path that leads you east and cross Sunshine Canyon Drive at the crosswalk.  Walk along the road until you can take the first Left into the Sanitas area.  This trail will take you to an intersection and you will have the choice of going Left up to Mount Sanitas.  Sorry, no burros are readily available these days, but it’s a great hike with a spectacular view if you wish to follow in the footsteps of the Sanitarium’s ‘patients!’  If you don’t feel up to making the climb but would like to see the stone structures, take a Right and follow the Sanitas Valley Trail

From Sanitas Valley Trail: Continue along Sanitas Valley Trail – you’ll walk along the historic Silver Lake Ditch for a few feet before you come to the intersection of the Sanitas Valley and the Dakota Ridge Trails.  You will take a Right onto the Dakota Ridge Trail. Follow this trail up to the top of the ridge to where the trail sign indicates a Left turn to continue on the Dakota Ridge Trail.  You will actually turn Left and hike up the ridge through the trees, going south for 50 feet.  As you walk along the ridge, you will see the smokestack from what is now Boulder Community Hospital, but was part of the original sanitarium campus. 

Coming up on your Left you’ll see the first structures, the Stone Shelter, and some stones that are mortared together, probably for campfire sites.  You are welcome to go inside the shelter (the entrance faces east so as to enjoy the view of Boulder), but please do not climb on the structure. 

Continuing south a few more feet and looking to your Left, you will see what first looks like an undefined pile of rocks.  Get a little closer (please follow the trails) and you will find a Stone Arch just south of this pile of rocks.  Because the arch doesn’t serve a purpose and really doesn’t lead anywhere, we call it a ‘folly.’  Follies are architectural structures made simply for fun, and exist only to make the builder or owner happy.  While they are common in Europe, they are uncommon in the United States – and we have a folly right here in Boulder!

From the folly, you can walk down toward the crossing of Silver Lake Ditch.  The bridge itself is a Stone Bench, beautifully crafted to provide a nice spot to sit in the cool shade.  This would have been an ideal spot for patients to stop on their way to or from the Sanitas walks, because it was shaded by the trees and the water in the ditch itself would have helped to drop the temperature.  Feel free to stop here and take a moment to ponder about Boulder’s Sanitarium – and how historic Boulder so closely resembles the Boulder of today. 

Hiking in Mount Sanitas Photos

Sanitas Stone ShelterSanitas Stone ArchSanitas Stone ArchStone bridge over Silver Lake DitchWayfinding sign

See all related photos in the Photo Gallery

People come here from all over the world to enjoy the fresh air, sunshine, climate and the healthy lifestyle we offer here – it’s true what they say – ‘the more things change, the more they stay the same!’


Schlereth, Thomas J. “Victorian America: Transformations in Everyday Life,” Harper Perennial, 1991, p. 219.

Brief History of Boulder, Colorado Sanitarium, Information provided by sanitarium, 1939 (archives Carnegie Library)

Colorado Sanitarium Bulletin, November 1902, Vol. 1. No. 1. Page 1

Colorado Sanatorium circular, 1904.

“The Vacation Extra,” The Boulder-Colorado Sanitarium, The Battle Creek of the Rockies, 1930.

November 1902. Vol. 1. No 1. page 4.


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