Hiking Colorado: Chief Mountain & Bear Creek Trail
Need an alpine fix? Are you so sick and tired of listening to car horns and police sirens and peeking through searing hot smog to the skyscraper next to you? Do you need a reality detox session? Then what you really need is to get above timberline for some spectacular views, as well as a reminder of why Colorado is one of the greatest places on earth? Sure, you say, but who has all day to spend driving into the mountains? Try Chief Mountain.
This trail has long been a popular one for Denver-area residents looking for a quick alpine fix. With the trailhead less than an hour's drive from downtown, and a (relatively) moderate 11,709-foot elevation at the summit, Chief Mountain gets you above timberline without the effort required for many of the Rockies' other popular peaks.
Begin the 1.7-mile walk to the summit from Forest Service marker 290 on Colorado 103, west of the Evergreen Parkway. An immediate half-mile switchback to the west brings you to an old jeep path. Cross the path, and the trail takes you up a series of long switchbacks to timberline.
Every now and then, you'll catch a glimpse of the Clear Creek canyon to the north, through the trees. Those vistas, while impressive, are just a sampling of the view you'll enjoy from the summit. There, you'll see Squaw Mountain directly to the east. The plains and hogback are visible along the eastern horizon, while Mount Evans dominates the view to the southwest.
Return by the same route, taking care with your step along the rocky trail. On the way up, this trail's rocky terrain is not much of a hindrance, but on the way down, you're asking for a twisted ankle should you let your attention wander.
A hiker of moderate ability can complete the round trip in about 90 minutes, plus whatever time you choose to spend at the summit. This makes it an excellent morning hike; one that won't interfere with the balance of your day.
Bear Creek Trail
Emerge from the backcountry to sample one of the Denver area's excellent urban trails. The Bear Creek Trail runs along the course of its namesake, from the Bear Creek Reservoir east to the South Platte River. The "trail" is actually a wide concrete path that provides an excellent venue for a hike with small children, a scenic, yet no-hassle bike ride, or an excursion for persons with disabilities that might discourage them from a traditional backcountry trek.
You get to the trail through Sister City Park, a Lakewood park accessible from Girton Avenue, one block north of U.S. 285, west of Wadsworth Blvd. Park on the street, then walk west through the park, bearing right once you reach the sculpture of the bike rider a few hundred yards into the park. The path will wind north past an apartment complex, eventually bringing you to the south rim of the Bear Creek Valley. Follow the trail to the right into the valley, then head west.