Chief Mountain Overview
Chief Mountain is an easy class 2 mountain located above the Squaw Pass road in the foothills of Colorado's Front Range. Like many other foothill peaks, it consists of a rocky summit, with it slopes completely covered by dense forests of lodgepole pines. It is indeed a foothill despite it's elevated height, because of it's distance and prominence from the high massifs of the front range. Chief Mountain is a very prominent mountain and leaps up from the surrounding valleys. If it weren't for the Squaw Pass road it would take a minimum of 3500 ft to climb to the summit. It is 4200 ft. higher than Idaho Springs and the Clear Creek valley. This is pretty good vertical rise for a mountain this small (by Colorado standards) and it gives a good sense of scale for the size of the mountains in the Front Range.
Millions glimpse at it each year as they drive on I-70 through Idaho Springs. It is visible for only a few seconds if one looks up Warren Gulch to the south. Its barren rocky summit seems to tower over the surrounding scenery.
Because of its easy access and short easy (but steep) climb, this summit is quite popular on summer weekends. What draws them, is the spectacular views that are to be seen from the summit. Close by and directly to the west looms the huge Mt. Evans Massif, and with an extra 2500 ft. of elevation, it makes Chiefs summit seem very insignificant. Behind Evans you can gaze back among the high massifs of the Front Range up the Clear Creek drainage to the Continental Divide. You can also follow the divide up through the James Peak Area, the Indian Peaks, and ultimately Longs Peak and RMNP. To the south you can glimpse at the Mosquito Range, South Park, the Lost Creek Wilderness, and the enormity of Pikes Peak. Views of Denver to the East are somewhat obstructed by nearby Squaw Peak, but still very climbworthy. That such panoramic views are available from such a low summit is truly spectacular. This, the ease of the climb, and the proximity to Denver, make Chief an excellent choice for people from out of state who want catch a glimpse at what Colorado has to offer.
The trailhead is located at a large pullout on the north side of the Squaw pass road. Colorado 103 can be accessed from Evergreen parkway, exit 252 on I-70. There will be a light with a sign for 103, and turn left right there.
It is somewhat hard to locate unless you're climbing on a summer or fall weekend in which case there will be plenty of cars but it should be the biggest one around. Basically drive up squaw pass road from Evergreen for twelve miles. After about this time you will pass a road to the south that leads up to the Squaw peak radio tower. The pullout will be shortly after this. Look across the road for a three foot high cement marker with the number 290 on it. Looking down on the north side fo the road you should also be able to see the remnants of the old Squaw Pass ski area. This is the start of the trail. The trail will switchback steeply up into the trees.
An alternative is to keep driving on the Squaw Pass road until the second time you meet the road coming down from Squaw Peak. From there hike up to the road until you encounter the trail.
To gain the summit if you don't find the trail, climb up into the woods going ever slightly to the west. Keep climbing and you can't miss it, its the highest thing around. Also chances are you'll find the trail switchbacking up Chief's slopes. From the road its approximately 1 mile and a thousand feet of climbing to gain the rocky summit.
There are no fee, permits, passes... that I am aware of.
When To Climb
The mountain is usually climbed in summer because of the better weather. Don't be fooled, you are still exposed to lightning on the barren summit. The peak can still be climbed in winter for almost assured solitude and views of the snow clad front range. There is very low avalanche danger because the slopes aren't steep enough, but the snow is very deep down in the trees and snowshoes are ver highly recommended. Also the trail is almost impossible to find in winter, and your best bet is to just bushwack up the mountain instead of wasting time looking for it and trying to follow it. It is a great snowshoe hike in winter, providing a spectacular reward for an easy climb.
It's national forest land and you can pretty much camp where you like. That being said, the trailhead is located near old Squaw Pass Ski Area property, and to avoid any problems with the landowners or operators of this area it might be advisable to hike up the sides of the mountain a ways. There are no real forest service campsites real close to the mountain. On the western side of the summit plateau, below the summit cliffs, there's a nice flat spot with what looks like it might be great camping with a view. Sunrises over the Front Range from the top of Chief are said to be spectacular for those willing to brave the cold.
Check the weather for Idaho Springs if you're headed for the summit. There's no gaurantee that Chief's weather will match up, but its the closest you can get. Be careful, though this peak isn't very high, altitude sickness can come in at any time especially if you're from out of state.