Chief Mountain Trail

Location: Arapaho National Forest, Clear Creek District
Nearest town: Evergreen
Distance from Denver: 35 mi / 0:55
Trail distance: 3 mi RT
Elevation: ~10,700 ft at TH – 11,709 ft at peak
Directions: From I-70, go south on Hwy 74 toward Evergreen. Go right on Hwy 103 / Squaw Pass Rd (also the way to Mt Evans Rd). At 12.2 mi is the Front Range Ski Club, formerly Echo Mountain Ski Resort. Immediately past this turn, park in the larger pull-off on the right, which can fit maybe 8-10 cars. I parked just up the road in the next pull-off which could fit another 2-3 cars and had a big view.
Date hiked: 12/2012
Additional resources:
Trail and Park Reviews
Colorado Lifestyle (summer photos to contrast mine from late fall)

Trail notes and photos:

This is one of the shorter, easier trails for getting awesome views within a short drive of Denver. The drive itself offers great views, as Hwy 103 winds its way to the turn off to 14er Mt Evans before continuing back down to Idaho Springs and I-70.

I got a nice preview of the views from where I parked, then walked down the road a few hundred feet to the trailhead.

Chief Mountain Trail - Arapaho National Forest - Clear Creek District

View from where I parked for Chief Mountain Trail

The trail starts across the road on the southern end of the pull-off. A green plastic post marks the spot on the road, along with a brown trail sign and a small Forest Service sign holder, both of which are a few steps up the trail and disguised by trees and hard to see if you weren’t looking for them.

Chief Mountain trailhead - Arapaho National Forest - Clear Creek District

Chief Mountain trailhead, looking south/east along Hwy 103

The trail climbs above the road to begin the short, moderate (1,000 ft) ascent about 1.5 mi to the peak. Today the trail had about 2-3 inches of snow and I guessed two people and one dog hiked the trail in the past day or two, which packed the trail a bit and provided a helpful guide for finding the way in the snow. No one else was on the trail today, a Wednesday, but I could imagine this being pretty busy on your average nice weekend day. I noticed many blazed trees marking the way, but didn’t need to rely on them due to the reliable human and dog tracks, and my dog friend, Truly, sniffing out the trail.

Chief Mountain trailhead - Arapaho National Forest - Clear Creek District

Just above Chief Mountain trailhead and Hwy 103

About 0.25 mi up the trail after getting tucked in from the windy road, we crossed a dirt road (Old Squaw Pass Rd) to follow the trail up. The old trail sign suggests it is 2 mi to the peak, but I agree with the blogs and online comments that it is likely about 1.5 mi one-way.

From here the trail continues a moderate climb through forest to reach the more open, stunted lodgepole pine forest with glimpses of the mountain views to come. Soon, the trail goes above tree line and becomes rockier and harder to follow as it leads to the obvious peak. A short, 5 min final scramble up the rocky peak rewards you with an amazing 360 degree view that will wow visitors from out of town along with the most seasoned Colorado hiker.

Scramble to peak of Chief Mountain - Arapaho National Forest - Clear Creek District

Final trail and scramble to peak of Chief Mountain

Scramble to Chief Mountain - Arapaho National Forest - Clear Creek District

Looking down on the final scramble to the peak of Chief Mountain

West from Chief Mountain - Arapaho National Forest - Clear Creek District

Part of the 360 degree view from the peak of Chief Mountain

Rock formation on Chief Mountain - Arapaho National Forest - Clear Creek District

One of many rock formations on Chief Mountain

Mountain views below Chief Mountain - Arapaho National Forest - Clear Creek District

Even below the final scrabble to the summit are huge mountain views

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