Trail Length: 1.19 miles (one way)
Trailhead Elevation: 10,865’
High Point: 11,486’
Elevation Gain: +621’
Trailhead Location: From Interstate 70, take Exit 240 (Colorado 103) and drive south over the bridge, for 18 miles. Turn right onto a dirt road, Forest Service road 192.1 and continue for one mile where you will come to a locked gate. Park below the gate in the designated parking area (do not block the gate) and proceed on foot one mile up the road to the Lookout Tower. During the winter park off the right hand shoulder of the road and continue on foot on the road to right, heading southeast for two miles where you will come to a locked gate. Pass around the gate and continue for one more mile to the Lookout Tower.
A few weeks ago, we had the opportunity to have a unique experience by spending the night in an old fire lookout. What a great experience and the views were incredible from the lookout! I first read about the Squaw Mountain Fire Lookout a year ago. It is so close to home but we had never hiked up to it and I had no idea that you could rent it to spend the night there. It is available to rent year round. I checked the online reservation availability last summer and saw that it was fully booked. The US Forest Service allows you to book it six months in advance. I made a mental note that I needed to start checking for this summer as soon as they opened up the availability calendar.
At the end of January we were talking with some good friends of ours and I was telling them about the Fire Lookout. They said they would love to join us in spending a night there. I got online the first part of February and was poised at midnight to hit the reserve button as soon as the Saturday night we wanted in August became available. As I said, I could see from the calendar that the lookout books up almost as soon as they open up the calendar, and especially if you want to book for a weekend. I was successful and was able to book a Saturday night in August so we were set!
A little history about the lookout.
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 United States at 11,486 feet elevation. This remarkable structure is built of hand-hewn native stone and represents a time before modern fire detection methods. The cab measures 14 feet by 14 feet and is completely lined by windows on each side and surrounded by a catwalk, all of which sit on top of a one story stone base. The lookout tower contains a 1930s era fire finder and historic photos depicting the life of a Forest Service fire lookout.
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. Volunteers from the Colorado and Utah chapter of the Forest Fire Lookout Association worked with the U.S. Forest Service since 2007 to restore the lookout to its historic state. The Squaw Mountain Fire Lookout became available for overnight rental starting August 1, 2013.
We headed out from home around 11:00am and stopped in Bergen Park for lunch before continuing up to the trailhead. Once at the trailhead parking, we put on our backpacks and were ready to head up the mile road/trail to the lookout.
We headed up the trail. After a steady climb up the switchbacks on the forest service road, the lookout soon came into view.
A little further up, we arrived close to the base.
We headed up the final stretch and retrieved the keys from the lockbox to take a look inside. The lower stone base level of the lookout has two bunk beds, stove, and refrigerator. The upper level has a couple of chairs, two cots, the 1930’s fire finder, and windows on all four sides with incredible views! Since I made the booking, I called dibs on the upper level for Lisa and myself! Welcome to our home for the night!
A shot of us with views to the southwest.
Enjoying the views.
Some shots of inside the lower level of the lookout.
A shot looking down to the incinerating toilet.
We took a field trip down to the toilet to read the instructions on how it worked. Since there is no water up on top of the mountain and no way to really dig a pit toilet and then have a way to pump out the pit, they have installed an electric incinerating toilet. The bathroom process:
You line the toilet bowl with a paper liner (provided) and do your business in the toilet. When finished, you push on a foot pedal which drops the liner and its contents into the incinerator. You then push the button on the back of the toilet to start the incinerator. The heater and blower will come on and begin the incineration process. It will run for approximately 1 hour. When finished, there is an ash pan that then needs to be emptied into the trash. The fire lookout facility is a “pack it in, pack it out” facility so the next day we will pack out all of our trash including the ash from the toilet.
OK, we all passed so we will now be ready to use the toilet when nature calls!
We took a little walk around the mountain, exploring the views.
Back at the lookout, we sat out on the catwalk and enjoyed the views in all directions.
The sun continued to drop in the sky as we continued to enjoy the views.
Evergreen Lake off in the distance.
The shadows of the peaks to the west lengthened as the sun continued to fall on the horizon.
The lighting continued to change as we took it all in.
The setting sun.
Now we watched as the clouds changed color as dusk approached.
After preparing and eating dinner, we continued to watch the night sky. The lights of Denver began to illuminate to the east. A shot of downtown Denver and Sports Authority Field where the Broncos play. The photo is a little blurry because of the high level of zoom.
The ever changing view. We were now treated to the moon rising. It looked spectacular!
Fireworks shooting off from Dick’s Sporting Goods Park.
More moon shots.
We could have looked at the lights and sky all night, but we did decide to turn in for some sleep. We did set our alarms though to make sure and not miss the sunrise the next morning.
First light hitting the peaks to the west.
Mt. Evans (14,265′)
A beautiful morning in the Rockies!
Enjoying breakfast on this beautiful morning.
Hikers over on Chief Mountain with Torreys Peak (14,274′) in the background.
Some final shots before leaving the lookout.
After hiking out, we stopped at Echo Lake Lodge for a nice lunch before heading home.
What a unique experience to spend the night in the Squaw Mountain Fire Lookout! We would highly recommend. For anyone interested, information about renting it can be found at http://www.recreation.gov/camping/squaw-mountain-fire-lookout/r/campgroundDetails.do?contractCode=NRSO&parkId=113589