By Jeffrey V. Smith
Colorado’s Peak to Peak region is teeming with amazing backcountry spots and the trails that take you there. Each month, MMAC Monthly takes a closer look at some popular places to enjoy the outdoors in a variety of ways and in any season.
Getting to Squaw Mountain Lookout Tower, recently reopened following renovations, is a fun adventure in both summer and winter weather. The hike is short and offers amazing Front Range views and a little bit of history. For an even more unique trip, rent the lookout for an overnight stay. Besides offering the unique experience of living in a fire lookout, Squaw Mountain provides panoramic views of Denver, Mount Evans and other nearby snow-capped peaks.
The original Squaw Mountain Lookout Tower was built in 1925 by the City and County of Denver and is among one of the highest lookout towers in the U.S. at 11,486 feet. The current tower is a unique structure constructed of native granite and rebuilt in 1940 by the Civilian Conservation Corps. The cab sits on top of a one story stone base and measures 14-feet in each direction. It is completely lined by windows and surrounded by a catwalk.
The remarkable structure represents a time before modern fire detection methods and appropriately provides 360-degree views. The lookout building and surrounding area were added to the Colorado State Register of Historic Properties in 1998 and to the National Historic Lookout Register in 2003.
The Squaw Mountain Lookout is located off of Hwy. 103 west of Bergen Park and sits on the summit of Squaw Mountain in Clear Creek County. In addition to being an active communication site, the Squaw Mountain area is a popular dispersed recreation use area with hiking, recreational target shooting, cross country skiing, snowshoeing, and camping.
Access to the site during the summer is from Hwy. 103 via F.R. 192.1 to a small parking area. It is accessible by car, but a high clearance vehicle is recommended. From the parking area a mile hike up a steep dirt road is necessary to reach the lookout.
During the winter, access is from a small parking area along Hwy. 103 and travels two miles to the lookout. High winds frequently occur. Winter storms limit access to the site and visitors should be prepared to snowshoe or cross-country ski two to three miles to the lookout.
Due to the remote location of the site and difficult access there is no water or garbage service available at the lookout. Guests are reminded to pack-it-in and pack-it-out.
The lookout is available for rent year round and includes an electric stove, refrigerator, and heat; beds; table and chairs; dishes; and toilet, and can accommodate four people per night.
Squaw Mountain Lookout Tower
Trail Features: A short hike offers outstanding views of Mount Evans, Denver and Front Range peaks and a lesson in early fire detection techniques.
Trail Location: Head to the Evergreen Parkway (I-70 exit 252) and go south and west to the 4th stoplight. Turn right onto the Squaw Pass Road. The trailhead is 12 miles along the twisty road.
Round-trip Length: 1 mile in summer,
2-3 miles or more in winter
Destination Elevation: 11,486 feet
Trail Difficulty Rating: Easy