General Mountain Information: Chief Mountain
Chief Mountain Rating: ★★★ (⅗ Stars)
Distance: 2.9 miles RT
Elevation Start: 10,500 ft
Chief Mountain Elevation: 11,709 ft
Total Elevation Gain: 1,200 ft
Estimated Time to Complete: 2-2.5 Hours RT
Difficulty: Easy to Moderate What does this mean?
Class: Class 2 (very minor class 2 towards the top of the mountain)
Season: Year Round – Expect Snow December – March
Trailhead: Squaw Pass
Getting Here: Finding Chief Mountain can bit a bit of a pain. From either Evergreen or Idaho Springs, take Squaw Pass Rd until you are near Echo Mountain resort. Continue past the main entrance of Echo for about a ½ mile until you see a small dirt pull off on your right (if Echo is on your right). Cross the street and you will see the small entrance to the trail in between some pine trees. This trailhead is very easy to miss, I drove by it 3 times trying to locate it before my first hike. If you hit a signed pull-off, for either hiking or camping, you have gone too far. Unfortunately, there is nothing to enter into your navigational device, but you could enter in Echo Mountain to get you in the right general area.
Parking: Chief Mountain has a small parking area off Squaw Pass Rd. that can fit about 5-10 cars. There is no bathroom and parking is free.
Dogs: Chief Mountain is a dog friendly mountain.
Camping: Technically you are not allowed to camp in the backcountry near Chief Mountain, however, you will notice several old campsites on your hike. If you want an official campground, continue west on Squaw Pass rd for several areas there.
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Make it a Loop: Chief Mountain is an out and back hike, but you could easily pair neighboring Squaw Mountain (link) if you are looking to extend your hike.
Trail Summary: Chief Mountain is a short out and back hike located in Idaho Springs, Colorado. One of the many trails off Squaw Pass, Chief Mountain’s summit has rewarding view. This is a great hike for after work or on a weekend as it is not heavily trafficked.
Trail X Factors: Finding The Trail
Once you are on the trail, the hike up Chief Mountain is very straight forward. However, finding the start of the trail is another story. Before my first hike up Chief Mountain, it took me three separate trips up Squaw Pass to locate the beginning of the trail.
- Mickey’s Mountain Kit
- Optional: Hiking Poles – great for the way down
- Optional: Microspikes – helpful in winter, the trail can get icy
- Optional: Camera
- Optional: Snowshoes – if hiking in deep winter snow
Mick’s Tip:Even though Chief Mountain is relatively short (for Colorado’s standards), don’t let it fool you. In the winter it is susceptible to strong winds and blowing snow and in the summer it is still dangerous to be on top of it during a lightning storm. In other words, don’t take Chief Mountain lightly.
Photography Tip: Chief Mountain offers mediocre views until you get to the summit where there are great views of Evergreen, Idaho Springs, Mt Evans and on a clear day: Denver and Indian Peaks Wilderness to the north. This is a short hike, so feel free to bring all the extra gadgets.
Mick’s Trip: Chief Mountain
When we moved up to Evergreen, one of the things I was most excited about, was discovering the new hiking trails in our area. Squaw Pass is one of the main ways to get to Mt Evans and filled with a variety of hiking trails along the miles of winding pavement. Juno and I set out to hike Chief Mountain after work one day and ran into some difficulties. Unlike some of the trails I am used to hiking, the signage for hikes along Squaw Pass is not the best; hidden to those who are not familiar where it is. It took me three separate trips up the pass to find both Chief Mountain and Squaw Mountain.
When I did finally find the start of the trail, I was with Jackie and Juno. Family hikes…my favorite! We started the hike up Chief Mountain and immediately ran into a problem: ice. Stupidly, I had left my microspikes in the car. The hike up Chief Mountain was doable without them, but the way down was awful, more about that later. The trail started steep and gained steady elevation for the first ¾ of a mile or so. The dirt path worked through the dense trees with ice coating the narrow trail. The trail flattened out for a bit, but after a bit, turned west and started gaining elevation again.
From here, the trail was covered in thick ice, forcing Jackie and myself to walk on the side of the official path. Shortly after this icy section, we emerged from the trees to see a scenic valley facing nearby Idaho Springs. The sun was setting over Chief Mountain and we were hoping for a colorful sunset. As we exited the trees, the winds started to pick up a bit dropping the temperature significantly. Although it was cold, we were close to the top of Chief Mountain and Juno could sense it because she started pulling in excitement. We reached the top a couple of minutes later and had it all to ourselves. The views weren’t far because of cloud coverage, but we were able to make out some of Evergreen, Mt Evans, and the Indian Peaks Wilderness to our north.
We enjoyed the summit for a handful of minutes, but light was fading fast and we didn’t have our headlamps, so we decided to head back down towards the car. The hike down was very slow going because of the numerous icy sections. In fact, the trail got so slippery towards the bottom that we had to make our own path through the deep snow to avoid falling on our asses. Memo to self: always have microspikes in my bag.
Overall, I enjoyed the hike up Chief Mountain and would highly recommend this hike to residents of Denver, Evergreen or those who are visiting Colorado and want a relatively easy hike with rewarding views. Although the hike is short, the elevation gain is decent, so don’t take Chief Mountain lightly!