This happens to everyone, right: you do something wrong and you get corrected and then you can never remember which version was wrong and which one was correct?
As a preteen I attended Chief Joseph Middle School and, in one of the more embarrassing moments of my time there, I misspelled the word ‘chief’ at the school spelling bee. To this day, I can never remember if it’s spelled ‘ie’ or ‘ei’… as evidenced by the fact that I just spelled it wrong yet again as I wrote the title of this post (thanks, spellcheck!).
Anyway, Chief Mountain is a nice moderate summit (approx. 11,700 feet/3566 m) located about an hour west of Denver. This is a great half-day hike at any time of year; Pat and I summitted in late April. The trailhead is located on the south side of Squaw Pass Road (Hwy 103). There’s a large, unmarked pullout across the road that serves as a parking area; a GPS should get you there without issue. To find the trail, cross the road and walk back a short distance until you see the trail sign. Beware that it might be completely buried in the winter.
The trail begins by climbing steeply up the hillside before moderating across the lower slopes of Chief Mountain. The hike itself is fairly moderate, at 3.1 miles (5 km) round trip with just under 1000 feet (305 m) of elevation gain. The trail was fully snow covered for our hike, thanks to the never-ending winter of 2019, but it’s well trafficked so we didn’t need microspikes or snowshoes. However, I imagine one or both would be necessary at certain times of the year.
We completely lost the trail about halfway to the top, which we’ve found is common in the winter. Most winter hikes don’t end up following the actual trail. This wasn’t a problem, as we could simply continue following various social trails through the snow up to the summit. One thing to note, though: in general, it’s considered acceptable to be off trail in the snow since you won’t be crushing any plants. However, the summit area of Chief Mountain is tundra and crushing the delicate tundra plants with your foot is extremely damaging, so once the snow melts it would be bad form to stray from the trail.
From the summit of Chief Mountain, we had 360° views: Mount Evans rises massively to the west, the Front Range extends to the north and south (we could see south all the way to Pikes Peak!), and Denver is to the east. On this particular day, low clouds hung over Denver. In fact, when we left our house we couldn’t even see the mountains and we were bracing for a cold, miserable hike. But we ended up above the clouds, which fully obscured Denver as we gazed down from the summit.
We began our hike at around 8:00am and were back to our car just after 11:00, by which point the trail had become much more crowded and the parking area was nearly full. As with most Colorado hikes, I recommend starting early to secure parking and avoid the crowds.
And there you have it; a moderate and beautiful Colorado Front Range summit!
The Important Stuff:
- Getting there: the trailhead located on Highway 103 (Squaw Pass Road), 5 miles (9 km) from Echo Lake. Parking is at an unmarked pullout on the north side of the road. If you park head in rather than parallel, there’s room for many more cars
- Fees and passes: none
- Hiking: 3.1 miles (5 km) round trip and 1000 feet (305 m) elevation gain
- Where to stay: this hike is not far from Denver so there are plenty of camping and lodging options in the general area
- Other: go early to avoid crowds, and bring spikes and/or snowshoes and some form of navigation system if you plan to hike this trail in the winter