Monday, October 4, 2010

Chief Mountain in fall; Scenic drive on Peak to Peak highway

Orange & yellow along Peak to Peak Hwy, Squaw Pass Rd
I have been sick for nearly 3 weeks now with a terrible fall cold that is just not going away anytime soon!  Because of the cold I haven't been out hiking nearly as much since I am trying to rest, but last week I couldn't stand it any longer and I had to get outside and do a short hike!  I decided to hike Chief Mountain a sub-peak of Mt. Evans because it was close plus, the drive up Mt. Evans is a great place to see the fall color, even though it's a hike I have done before.  This year the aspen trees turned a tint of orange with the bright yellow and forest green evergreen trees.  
As I drove up the windy road I had to keep a careful eye on the road and not look at the scenery as much as I'd like because several cars were parked along the road with passengers even standing in the middle of the road to take photos of the beautiful colors!  The views were definitely stunning, but maybe not so stunning that it warrants standing in the middle of the road.  When I reached the trailhead, I was a little disappointed that all of  the aspen trees were at lower elevations, but the views from the top did not disappoint.  

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 Mountain 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. 
Views from the top looking SW to Mt. Evans
Specs:  The trail is 3 miles round trip from start to peak.  There are no bathrooms; the closest is back in Evergreen or at the Mt. Evans campground.  Dogs can be offleash easily. 

The Hiking Journey: After being cooped up in the house for 10 days with a nasty cold, I decided that I needed to get outside and do a short hike in hopes that the fresh air would help me feel better soon.  It took me a while to decide where to hike because I have hiked all over the Front Range and get a little bored with the Open Space trails.   Just then, the news on television mentioned Mt. Evans was a great place to view fall color right now and the photos they showed of the trees made my decision for me.  I thought I could hike Papoose Mountain, which is a smaller peak between Chief Mountain and Squaw Mountain; so I parked at the forest road before the Chief Mountain trailhead and started up the road; then turned on the next trail I found to the right (directions above take you to start of Chief Mtn trailhead).  Apparently this was not the correct way to go, and I ended up at the Chief Mountain trailhead in a few short minutes.  Because I wasn't feeling real well, I decided to just go with it and hike Chief Mountain again; the views from the top are great and it's a short hike to get to them.  The Chief Mountain trail climbs through the pine trees for about 1.2 miles then the trail comes out of the woods and takes the hiker up the mountain above the treeline to the peak.  Once the trail comes out of the mountains, I could see the bright yellow aspen groves speckling the mountains all around me.  I hiked the last little bit to the top of the mountain, coughing all the way, and made it to the top in another 20 minutes.  The views from the top were pretty amazing; not as great as Raspberry Peak a couple of weeks prior, but still very good views.  The difference is that on Raspberry Peak you are so much closer to the aspen trees and color, where this hike it was much farther away in the distance.  I noticed several aspen groves on Mt. Evans which were still green and it made me happy that the fall color isn't quite over yet and there is still some hope to get in another hike or two with the beautiful colors.
Aspen Groves on the front range mountains
I ate some lunch on the top of the peak while taking in the views; my two dogs were very antsy to get back home for some reason, so after lunch I snapped a few more photos and then started down the mountain.  It only took me about 40 minutes to get down and make it back to my car, and I drove slowly back down the mountain, stopping myself to snap a few photos of the fall color along the roadside.  This has been one of the prettiest falls that I can remember in the 8 years we have lived in Colorado.  Last year, the early snow knocked all the leaves off the trees very early in the season and years prior I don't remember this much orange in the trees. 
If you haven't gotten outside and checked out the fall color, you don't have a whole lot of time left!  Get outside today in the beautiful weather and enjoy the mountains and fall color before winter sets in.  If you have hiked Papoose Mountain or others in the area, I'd love to hear your comments.   Click Map below for personal directions to hike; the map locates the Echo Mountain Ski area, the trailhead is just .4 of a mile farther up the road from this.  
See below map for more hiking photos!  

View Larger Map

Nearing the top of Chief Mountain
Aspen Groves along Peak to Peak Highway

Self portrait on the top :)

Trail on the way to the top, through the pine forest. 

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