Monday, November 30, 2009

Chief Mountain, Evergreen Colorado

Chief Mountain is Colorado's 1,452nd highest peak at 11,709 feet tall located in the Arapaho National Forest. It is located just minutes outside of the Denver metro area and is a very do-able hike with incredible 360 degree views. I plan to take visitors here the next time they are ready to do a hike, you get a great alpine experience without the long, long hiking.

Getting there:
From the Denver area take I-70 West to exit 252 onto highway 74 toward Evergreen. After about 3 miles turn right onto highway 103, also called Squaw Pass Road. This is a well marked turn at a light, it is also the road to Mount Evans. Stay on Squaw Pass road for 12.3 miles until you reach the trailhead. This is an easy trailhead to miss, here are a couple of hints; the trailhead is exactly 1/2 mile past the Echo Ski Area turnoff; you will see the ski resort on the right side of the road as you get closer and the road widens to allow parking on the right side of the street, very near the top of the ski lift. You can see my car and the ski lift here in the photo and the trail is across the street from this. Here is the map.

The Hiking Journey:
After a wonderful Thanksgiving weekend, my last day of vacation is today, Monday. I love hiking on Monday's because the trails are empty, the dogs can run around without leashes and I can hike in peace and solitude! Since this past summer, I have had the urge to hike more challenging peaks and I have really made the effort to hike a peak rather than just hiking a trail. Since it is winter, I wanted to stick to trails close to the front range which might have less snow or are well packed where snowshoes are not needed. I found Chief Mountain from another blog and decided this would be a great Monday hike.
I left the house at 10:55am and in 10 minutes I was turning down Squaw Pass Road; after about 25 minutes of windy mountain roads, I made it to the vicinity of the hike. However, I had a difficult time locating the trail-head sign. It took a couple minutes and two turns around, but I found it. The temperature gauge read 33 degrees, 20 degrees colder than in Denver, and I had managed to leave my mittens at home. The dogs and I started up the well packed trail at 11:40am and began to climb up the mountain. The views that peeked through the trees were incredible and I was excited to get to the top, other bloggers had said the views here rivaled a 14ers views and I was eager to check them out. I continued my trend of listening to my MP3 player, which is again, unsafe, but really enjoyable while hiking. In the past couple of years I have trained myself to look behind me back at the trail so that I can remember what it looks like coming down; something I learned from a John Krakauer book which saved his life on Everest. It has helped me numerous times in the past, especially in the winter.
After just a couple minutes into the hike you come to a fork in the trail with three choices and I had no idea which way to go. After looking at my choices it appeared the middle trail choice continued up the mountain and my philosophy is "when in doubt, GO UP". I started up this middle trail and a sign (in photo) immediately confirmed my choice that Chief Mountain in this direction, the other trail headed back into Idaho Springs in one direction and to Squaw Mountain in the other direction.
The trail remained well packed and easy to follow the entire way, in about 30 minutes we came out of the trees and could see the summit and the VIEWS. You can see the peak in the photo to the left. There is a tall outcropping on the top of the mountain, and that is where you are headed. The wind picked up at this point and I was pretty chilly, and wishing I had my mittens.

After a steep incline I made it to the top after about 10 more minutes and enjoyed the incredible views from the top with the two dogs. I have stood on the top of lots of mountains and this relatively small peak offered views that I have never seen before! All of the front range Continental Divide mountains were in view from the southernmost Pikes Peak all the way to Longs Peak in Estes Park. As far as you could see, there were snowcovered peaks and evergreen trees. Looking east you could easily see well past Denver International Airport to the far off plains. After a few minutes the wind had picked up and I became pretty cold, as did the two dogs so instead of eating lunch we hiked back instead.
In total the hike to the top and back was probably just under 3 miles, and a relatively short hike which took me 1.5 hours with a good long rest at the top for photos. I was back home in less than 3 hours from the time I had left and if a slow truck had not gotten in my way on the drive down the Squaw pass road, it would have been much sooner. There are also lots of other hikes along Squaw Pass road that I will be back to hike soon.
Here are some more pictures for your pleasure.

Looking northeast toward Squaw Mountain at 11,400 feet.

You can see Grays and Torrey's the two twin looking peaks (lt side of photo) I have hiked Grays with Laura B and David, Josh, Rock and Sadie in the fall of 2007 but not Torrey's Peak... yet. The road is Squaw Pass Road.

Looking East into the Valley below.

Mt Evans, a 14er, hiked last fall with Dad, Josh, Jess, Laura, Rock and Rocco.

Rock and I at the top of another Peak, my most favorite hiking buddy. Belle was too busy running around to get in the photo, but I tried.

Here is a google map with directions to echo mountain, just go 1/2 mile past this, and you will find the trailhead.

View Larger Map


  1. Great shots Jenn! Looks like a great hike and a beautiful sunshiny day!

  2. One correction: the trailhead is near the Echo Mountain ski area; NOT Eldora.

    1. Thank you, much appreciated! Its corrected in the post now and was always correct on the map. I have skied both and mis-spoke. Cheers!

  3. Nice photos. I blogged this hike also. I've hiked it many times. The place where you came to three forks is where the Old Squaw Pass Road crosses the trail. We used to go cross country skiing here in late winter/early spring, but parked farther down. Note: if you go to the right you can easily bushwhack back up the side of the mountain if the snow is hard enough--or in summer..