Have you ever walked along a trail mere minutes before a car went flying off the road and landed on said trail, right where you’d just walked? No? Me neither… until December 2020.
My friend Savannah and I set out early one Saturday morning, the landscape beautifully dusted with snow from an overnight storm. The first section of our chosen trail ran parallel to the highway, just a few feet away at the bottom of an embankment. Our morning walk along this part was uneventful. However, had we been just a couple minutes later on our return to the car that afternoon, we very well may have been walking by as a jeep lost control, went off the road, tipped onto its side, and came to rest literally on top of the trail. Talk about being in the wrong place at the wrong time. It’s frightening to consider what could have been.
Fortunately for us, we were safely back to the car when this happened. Fortunately for the jeep driver, he was unhurt. And fortunately for the two other people we’d seen on the trail, they were elsewhere.
Semi-near-death experience aside, everything about this hike was pretty amazing. We drove to the trailhead amidst a beautiful, brightly colored sunrise (which I sadly have no photos of since we were driving). We arrived to find an empty parking area and a landscape glistening with snow and frost. While there was a chance for more snow later in the day, the storm apparently went around us and at one point we even got some blue skies and sunshine. And – as mentioned above – we saw only two other people the entire day!
Chair Rocks is a collection of large somewhat chair-shaped rocks in the Pike National Forest southwest of Denver. To reach it, one must hike or mountain bike part of section 2 of the Colorado Trail, a 500ish mile trail that runs from Denver to Durango. This is a fairly easy section of trail; our roundtrip hike was 10 miles (16 km) with an elevation gain of only 900 feet (275 m). It was essentially a walk through gently undulating hills.
After the initial section along the road, the trail curves back away from traffic and into a burn area. This expanse was left behind by the Buffalo Creek Fire that burned in 1996… it’s clearly not recovering very well. We walked through this mostly treeless region for nearly 3 miles (4.8 km). I wouldn’t recommend doing this hike on a hot or windy day; there’s no shelter whatsoever.
We spent much of this section stopping every five minutes to take pictures of the frozen landscape. Between the frost covered trees, the open views, and Pikes Peak rising from the horizon, I ended up with quite a few photos. Right after a snowstorm when the landscape is coated in white and the sun comes out and makes everything shimmer is one of my favorite things.
After spending the next mile and a half hiking through the forest, we reached our junction; there’s a sign here marking the Colorado Trail but no sign telling you where the intersecting trail leads, so you have to just know where to go. We were using AllTrails and had no issues finding our way. From this junction, we travelled alternately along an old logging road and a trail, which frequently crisscrossed. We could see Chair Rocks straight ahead so it was pretty easy to navigate.
Chair Rocks is also a rock climbing destination, but even without climbing gear you can follow the trail to the base of the formation and scramble up a couple boulders. The views from here were amazing!
This is definitely one of the prettiest hikes I did all year. I’ll never complain about the gorgeousness of rugged peaks and alpine lakes. But this hike was a good reminder that there’s beauty to be found everywhere in Colorado, if only you take the time to stop and look around.
The Important Stuff:
- Getting there: access to section 2 of the Colorado Trail is on Pine Valley Road (CO 126) about 12 miles (19 km) south of Pine Junction
- Fees and passes: none
- Hiking: for us this was a 10.1 mile (16.2 km) hike with about 900 feet (275 m) of elevation gain, but there are also other starting points along the Colorado Trail from which this could be reached
- Where to stay: backpacking is allowed on Pike National Forest land, and there are camping options nearby; also, this is an easy day trip from the Denver area, no overnight stay required
- Other: the burn area offers no shelter, so this is a trail best hiked when it’s not hot, windy, or stormy