The east ridge of Cougar Mountain is an easy route with only minor bushwhacking. Some of the lower slopes have been formerly logged making for easy travel. On the upper slopes there are scattered game trails, but they may not always head in the direction you want to go. Even though there is no trail, the routefinding through the forest isn’t bad and this is a relatively quick and easy off-trail route.
Warning: The topo maps available don’t show the roads or trails around this mountain accurately. The closest one that bears resemblance to reality is the Forest Service Map-Routt National Forest
, but it is of a small scale. The USGS maps don’t show many of the roads in the areas, but seem to show roads and trails that don’t exist; at least not any more.
From the junction of Highway 40 and 13 in Craig, turn north on Highway 13, drive north for about 13 miles to north of mile marker 102 until you see a sign posted for County Road 27. The road is posted for “Forest Service Access” and “Black Mountain”. Drive County Road 27 through private lands for 10 miles which is where you reach the Routt National Forest boundary. The road becomes FR 110. From the Forest Boundary, follow FR 110 for 9.7 miles to FR 116. Turn right on FR 116 and follow it for about 0.8 miles and park at a small pull off on the right side of the road. We parked here because in the open area, it would be easy to spot and find the vehicle on our descent.
Cougar Mountain as seen not far from the trailhead.
There are many possible starting points to choose from, but for the sake of simplicity, start at the car park as described above. From the trailhead, head south or southeast towards the saddle visible directly ahead. The route goes through an old logged area. There is no trail, but the routefinding and hiking is easy.
Once on the saddle, follow the ridge in an easterly direction up and over one hump and then up towards Cougar Mountain itself. At first there are some really nice views of the Bears Ears and the walking is really easy, but part way up the ridge you will enter the thick forest. After entering the thick forest, there isn’t much in the way of views. The old growth forest is pretty attractive and the route gets rougher from here on because you must climb over quite a bit of fallen timber. Even so, the there isn’t much bushwhacking and this is one of the easiest summit routes in the Elkhead Mountains.
The route will steepen a bit and after climbing a few hundred feet more you will find yourself on the east summit of Cougar Mountain, which has a nice log to sit on to soak in what little views there are. There are some views to the Southeast, but not to anywhere else because of the thick timber. To me this appears to be the highest summit, but if you want to reach the west summit (which according to the map is the highest), you can follow the ridge another 0.3 miles to the west summit. The timber is thick here and there are many fallen logs to cross.
Return the route you ascended.
This is a short and easy climb. The round trip distance is just over three miles and the elevation gain isn’t much over 1000 feet.
[img:655404:alignleft:small:This is about the only view you get from the east summit of Cougar Mountain. The east summit even has less views.
Because of the thick timber, there aren't many good views from the upper slope of this mountain, though there are some nice views from the lower slopes.
If you look closely and zoom in to full size you can see a deer watching us from the lower right of the photo. I didn't know the deer was there until after this photo was taken.]
A good pair of boots are needed.