Chief Cheley Peak is not a mountain that gets too much attention. This is due to a number of reasons. It is not a very high mountain (at 12,804 feet, it is only the 28th highest in Rocky Mountain National Park), it lies further down the trail than it's often climbed neighbor, Mt Ida, and it appears to be no more than a ridgeline bump when viewed across forest canyon from Trail Ridge Road. However, Chief Cheley Peak is a very visible mountain when driving Trail Ridge Road, and is often photographed along with its majestic neighbors, Mt. Ida, Cracktop, Julian Mountain and Terra Tomah Mountain, which rise above the very beautiful Gorge Lakes basin. Millions of tourists see it every year along the road and it could be one of the more photographed mountains in the nation as it provides the backdrop to a few busy scenic overlooks along Trail Ridge Road. It lies along the Continental Divide and your approach, from Milner Pass, takes you along the divide by way of one of the more scenic trails in the park. This is also a wonderful trail for spotting bighorn sheep.
This mountain is not overly difficult to reach, but is not climbed nearly as often as Mt. Ida, which is most people's destination for the day. It doesn't take too much extra effort to move beyond Mt. Ida, and up the fun, boulder filled and steep slope to Cheleys pointed summit rocks. The ridge beyond, which connects to Cracktop, is a very fun scramble around Highest Lake, no too far below.
From Milner Pass:
5 miles (one way)
2,130 feet elevation gain
The Milner Pass Trailhead is most often used to summit this mountain. This is along Trail Ridge Road (HWY 34 west) about halfway between Grand Lake and Estes Park. Park at Milner Pass and follow the very well defined trail along the Continental Divide all the way to Mt. Ida's summit. Continue down Ida's southeast slope and up to the summit of Chief Cheley.
The only permit required is a pass to get into the National Park. You can buy a week pass for $15, or an annual pass for $30. If you plan on camping in the area, you will need to contact the Backcountry Office at 970-586-1242. Fees for camping vary, depending on the season, and the number in your party. A parking pass will only be required when parking overnight. A pass is included in the price of you backcountry camping permit.
This mountain is climbed 99.9% of the time between Memorial Day and the middle of October, or when Trail Ridge Road is open. NOTE: During late spring and early Fall, temporary road closures are common, and it would not be uncommon for extended closures or seasonal closure in early October, so check the status of Trail Ridge Road before your trip.
If you do want to climb this mountain earlier or later in the year, you can leave from the Timber Lake Trailhead if Trail Ridge Road is open to that point from Grand Lake. But you will need to check on the conditions of the road. From this trailhead, the climb will be 1.5 miles longer to the summit and add 1,750 feet in elevation gain.
If both of these trailheads are closed, which is likely in the winter months, then you would summit from Bear Lake which would make for a very long approach (approx 14 miles). So it would be much more difficult out of season.
There are a couple of campsites (Snowbird @ Timber Lake & Little Rock Lake) and some cross country zones, some closer to Cracktop than others. Call 970-586-1242 to make reservations. Fees will vary depending on season and the number in your party. These will ALL be STOVES ONLY campsites.