Length: About 4 miles, round trip
Difficulty: Moderate
Why we Love it: It’s a well-constructed trail to a craggy summit with panoramic views of the Front Range’s snow-capped peaks
When to go: May through October, especially when it’s broiling on the plains
Pre-hike buzz: Stop by The Frothy Cup in Idaho Springs for a giant muffin and a fresh cup of their Mount Evan’s blend coffee
Dogs: Allowed on leash

Although there are many places in Colorado with breathtaking mountain panoramas, most are difficult to access and require a lot of sweat to get there. One noteworthy exception is Chief Mountain, a 11,709-foot peak that rises above Squaw Pass Road between Idaho Springs and Bergen Park. Thanks to its high-elevation start, this trail only gains a modest 1,000 vertical feet, but the view from the top is no less impressive than many Fourteener summits.

From the trailhead on the south side of the road, the path begins with a steep climb through a thick spruce-fir forest. In less than half a mile, the trail crosses a flat dirt road and continues uphill past another small, brown U.S. Forest Service sign, which (incorrectly) indicates that there are still two miles to go to the summit.

The easy-to-follow trail continues to climb, albeit not as steeply, through the forest. As you gain elevation, the trees slowly thin out, and the rocky summit becomes obvious. At treeline, the trail winds past a few, gnarled bristlecone pines and then bends west for the last, short stretch up to the craggy summit block. For the easiest ascent, scramble up the last 30 feet on the right side.

In good weather you’ll definitely want to hang out on the summit, enjoy a snack, and admire the view, which is spectacular in the early summer when snow still clings to the highest peaks. Mt. Evans’ bulky summit looms just above you, and almost the entire Front Range is visible from Longs to Pikes Peak. Once you’ve gazed your fill, you’ll enjoy the easy hike back down to your car.

Getting there: From Denver, follow I-70 west and take Exit 252 for CO Highway 74, then turn right on CO Highway 103 (Squaw Pass Road) and follow it south for 15 miles. Between mile markers 20 and 19 there is a long, paved pullout on the left just above the ski lift for Echo Mountain Resort. Park here and cross the street to reach the trailhead, which is marked with a U.S. Forest Service sign.

Terri Cook
Terri Cook
Terri Cook is an award-winning freelance writer based in Boulder. More of her work can be found at down2earthscience.com.