A cool afternoon with fluffy clouds covered Clear Creek county as I recently drove up the winding road between mountain walls and their cliff sides overlooking the pine-filled valleys.
The weather was a cool 65 degrees, possibly dropping to 45 degrees at the summits of the 12,000 foot mountains I was heading to — Chief Mountain and Mestaa’ėhehe Mountain.
Only a third of a mile apart, these mountains form a pair that, together, can fill a half-day with some relatively easy-going hiking, and a view of Mount Evans, Idaho Springs and — on a clear day — Denver.
Mestaa’ėhehe Mountain, changed to the name of an influential Cheyenne translator from Squaw Mountain because of the word’s racist and misogynistic usage against Native American women, sits at 11,431 feet. The trail is really a rocky maintenance road up to the fire tower that sits on the summit, with the trailhead considered to be where this road starts, right off Route 103.
On the side of Route 103 where the trail road connects is some parking in the form of worn down grass and dirt. Driving up the road is allowed, and there is more parking up there, but it’s very rocky. An RV and a sedan were parked at the top though, so it’s certainly possible.
Past the parking lot, the path is wide and obvious, nestled between thin but vividly green pines, with Mount Evans easily seen across the valleys. The elevation gain — how much height is actually gained by hiking the path — is only 862 feet. Being a total of about 4 miles long, considering the main road to be the start, the trail is somewhat steep, but certainly not stairs.
Switchbacks — when the trail U-turns gaining height rather than going straight up — lead up the granite summit to the fire tower, the bulk of which is similarly made of the mountain’s granite, has a 360 degree view from its catwalks. It’s here that the mountain no longer blocks the East, and Denver can be seen on a clear day. Throughout the walk, Chief Mountain could also be seen through the pines, and now has the backdrop of the Rockies near Mount Evans to the North.
After hiking down, giving a total of roughly two hours depending on hiking speed, Chief Mountain is only a minute’s drive away. Both hikes are beautiful, with mostly 360 degree views at the tops, but each is still distinct. The fire tower on Mestaa’ėhehe is a beautiful peak, but Chief Mountain’s top is much larger and treeless, letting the landscape fall away much closer to see the surrounding valleys.
Being relatively short and easy-going hikes, though — multiple people were wearing nothing but the clothes on their back and sneakers — conquering both is definitely possible, and can give both views.
The trailhead of Chief is small and blends into the side of the main road. It’s also much more popular than Mestaa’ėhehe, and with less parking — the side of the road is what there is — so walking a minute or two down the road back to the trail will probably be necessary.
The trail starts steeper than Mestaa’ėhehe, as Chief’s elevation gain is slightly higher at 941 feet and is shorter at 2.8 miles. Together, it will take about the same amount of time, but it stays relatively steep until closer to the summit where it mellows a bit with switchbacks until the trees thin out and it opens up to almost a field.
Here the mountain almost drops away, the valleys and Rockies filling the view. Here is also wher Idaho Springs can be seen far below and away. It’s only another minute following the trail until the boulders making up the real summit come into view. There’s a few larger ones scattered here, all climbable to finally see the view of the south that the mountain has blocked.
Chief Mountain’s trail is much more settled into the forest, immediately blocking out everything else until hiking higher up the mountain, cutting through the forest, rather than the forest being cut away like for Mestaa’ėhehe’s rough road.
As more trafficked that Chief is, it’s still big enough that it doesn’t feel crowded, especially with its dense pines blocking everything on its twisting path.
Again, these are perfect hikes for beginner hikers, or anyone wanting a guaranteed beautiful view for the least trail work possible — Mestaa’ėhehe as a warm-up or judge for the hiking in the the thin Colorado air, and then Chief, where everything else drops away and the summit feels like it floats over the rest of the valley.