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Hiking Chautauqua Mountain: A Little-Known Gem

View of Chautauqua Mountain from the road

Chautauqua Mountain is located in Palmer Lake, Colorado. This little-known gem is a challenging hike with a steep incline, but as any hiker in Colorado knows, the elevation gain is always worth it when you reach the top!

The neighboring Palmer Lake Reservoir is a popular trail that can get pretty busy, especially in the summer. However, hiking Chautauqua Mountain is more peaceful, less populated, and well worth the effort.

Hiking Chautauqua Mountain will take you on a nearly vertical adventure for about a mile until you reach the peak. In this article, we’ll cover all you need to know about hiking this fantastic hidden gem in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains.

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A Little History About Chautauqua

First, Chautauqua is a popular name for many parks and mountains in Colorado, so let’s ensure we’re in the correct region! Chautauqua Mountain of Palmer Lake is separate from Boulder’s Chautauqua Park or the nearby Royal Arch Trail or Mesa Trail.

Now that we know we’re in the right place let’s talk a little history about Palmer Lake’s Chautauqua Mountain.

Colorado Springs and the surrounding areas are known for their cultural history of Native American tribes. The Ute, Cheyenne, Arapaho, Suix, and other tribes were the first to step foot at the base of Pike’s Peak.

Despite the history of American Indian Tribes, Chautauqua Mountain is not actually named after an Indian Tribe or People. Chautauqua refers to a vacation university established in Palmer Lake in 1887 and was active until 1910.

At this University, folks came from all over to experience programs in music, nature, religion, and the arts. It’s not as exciting as lore from the Native Americans, but it still has an interesting backstory! Now, let’s prepare for your hike up Mount Chautauqua.

Getting Ready For Hiking Chautauqua Mountain

Let’s chat about prepping for our hike up the fabulous Chautauqua Mountain. Because we all know that preparation is vital to any successful adventure, right? Here are some mountain hiking tips to make your trip the best!

Proper Hydration

First thing first, water is your best friend on any hike. Colorado’s high altitude can dehydrate, so aim to pack at least 2 liters per person. It might sound like a lot, but your body will thank you.

Snacks For Hiking Fuel

Next, think about energy-packed snacks. Trail mix, granola bars, or even a peanut butter sandwich are all great choices. Remember, this isn’t the time for a diet – your body needs fuel for this journey!

Sun Screen

Colorado sun can be pretty intense, even more so when you’re higher up. So, do your skin a favor and bring sunblock, sunglasses, and a hat. You’ll be warding off those pesky UV rays like a champ.

Wear The Right Clothing

When it comes to clothing, layers are king. Start with moisture-wicking base layers, add an insulating mid-layer, and top it off with a waterproof shell. Oh, and remember a good pair of hiking boots!

Check The Weather

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, always check the weather before you set out. Weather in Colorado can be as unpredictable as a squirrel on caffeine. One minute it’s sunny, the next, it’s hailing marshmallows. So, don’t just trust your weather app. Check a local forecast specific to Palmer Lake or Chautauqua Mountain.

For more information on what to pack for your Chautauqua Mountain trip, check out our article on what to pack in your hiking bag.

Best Time To Hike Chautauqua Mountain

Now that you’re all geared to trek up the incredible Chautauqua Mountain, it’s time to talk about the best times to go.

Spring

Let’s talk about hiking Chautauqua Mountain in the spring. If you’re still getting familiar with Colorado’s weather, spring hardly exists in Palmer Lake. Instead, you get an extended winter with a few lovely days thrown in the mix.

I’ve hiked Chautauqua in all four seasons, and spring is my least favorite. It’s usually wet from all the snow melt, it’s chilly, and everyone’s a little stir-crazy from the winter months, so it tends to be a little busier. 

Hiking Chautauqua Mountain in the spring and the fog is blocking the view.

Summer

The summer months in Palmer Lake are usually an excellent time to hike. The days are long and warm, and the high elevation means humidity stays pretty low. However, there are two main problems with hiking Chautauqua Mountain in summer:

  • Heat – temperatures can get pretty high in the summer in Palmer Lake, sometimes reaching well into the 90s.
  • Thunderstorms/hail – summers in Colorado are pretty unpredictable. You can start the day with a beautiful blue sky, and two hours later, you’ll be caught in a hailstorm.

Summer also brings the crowds. The neighboring Reservoir Trail that leads to the Palmer Lake Reservoir is very popular in the summer, and it shares a trailhead parking lot with Chautauqua. When I lived in Palmer Lake, this was never an issue as I just walked to the trailhead. However, for first-time visitors, I’d get there early in the summer!

Enjoying coffee on top of Chautauqua Mountain on an early summer morning.

Fall

Like Spring, Fall is a little short in Palmer Lake. Winter comes far too soon after the summer months. However, this short window is a beautiful time to hike in Colorado.

Much of the surrounding forest is evergreen, so don’t expect to see any spectacular fall aspen views. That said, fall is my second favorite season to hike this beautiful mountain. It’s not too hot, the weather is a bit more stable, and it’s less crowded.

Winter

View of the Palmer Lake Reservoir next to Chautauqua Mountain.

Now, onto my absolute favorite season to hike Chautauqua Mountain. For many folks, winter means an end to the hiking season and a time to hang up your hiking boots for a pair of winter boots.

In Colorado, you can get blessed with a 60-degree, blue-sky day quite often! There are a few reasons I love hiking Chautauqua Mountain in the winter:

  1. It’s less crowded: not many people like hiking in the winter.
  2. Gorgeous views: If you hike Chautauqua after a snowfall, the entire hike is filled with beautiful snow sitting on the branches of stark green pines, spruces, and firs.
  3. Quiet: Winter brings a certain hush to the world, and hiking up a steep mountain in the quiet of winter is an experience like no other.

I’ve hiked Chautauqua Mountain in all four seasons, and I must say Fall and Winter are the best times to make the trip to enjoy this wonderful hike.

Hiking Chautauqua Mountain

One of the nice things about hiking Chautauqua Mountain is its straightforwardness. It doesn’t intersect with other trails, so there’s no threat of turning wrong and ending up on a different trail. 

So, let’s break down how to conquer this 8,352-foot mountain and give you some Chautauqua Trail directions!

Where To Park

The parking lot for Chautauqua Mountain shares the lot with the Palmer Lake Reservoir trail, which can get packed on the weekends. I recommend getting there early if you plan to hike on the weekend. It’s less busy during the week or in the off-season.

Park at the Palmer Lake Reservoir Trailhead. This is on Old Carriage Road (GPS coordinates: N39.1184, W104.9205).

This is a dirt parking lot on both sides and does not require a 4-wheel drive to get to. Unfortunately, there is no trail map available at the parking lot.

Finding The Trail

From the parking lot, head west towards the sharp bend in the road. At the bend, you’ll see signs for the trailhead that are well-marked and obvious. This is the Reservoir Trail, but it will quickly separate from the Chautauqua Trail.

Once you find the trail, follow it for less than 1/10th of a mile until you see another trail shoot off to the left – the Chautauqua Trail. Take the left and follow this smaller trail. You’ll know you’re on the right path when you come to a small creek crossing with a few large boulders you can hop over.

A few different footpaths will lead you to the creek, so don’t worry if you’re unsure which small path to take. They all lead to the same place!

Getting To The Summit

Once you cross the creek, the grueling..ahem..enjoyable hike begins! You’ll start by winding steeply up a bend and then walking through an open forest. This is the easy part.

Once you hit the rocky part of the trail system, the fun really starts! Continue upwards for about 0.4 miles until you hit the first spot with a view. This is a great place to catch your breath and take in the town of Palmer Lake below you!

Steep incline while hiking Chautauqua Mountain.

Onward! Keep hiking along the rocky trail, watching your footing. There are a few spots with a sharp drop-off to the right, so take your time on the trail, continuing upwards. Some locations along the trail will split off – this is just the trail separating from a gully. However, you can take either path, and they eventually connect back together!

You’ll reach the summit after what may seem like an endless, sheer vertical adventure. You’ll know when you hit it as it clears to a semi-open spot with a couple of nice rocks for sitting and viewing the spectacular view below you.

If you plan to hike this trail solo, you can read about how to hike alone safely here!

What To Expect While Hiking Chautauqua Mountain

Now that you know how to reach the summit, let’s chat about what you can expect while hiking this remarkable peak.

Elevation Gain

The elevation gain is pretty intense on this hike! Expect to gain around 1,000 feet over 1 mile. Trekking poles are an excellent tool, especially because the terrain is rocky.

Trail

The trail starts as a dirt path but quickly turns into a path full of loose rocks and washouts, making traversing difficult. Wear a sturdy pair of hiking boots, and consider wearing high socks to avoid getting loose pebbles in your shoes.

Pets

If you know anything about us, we usually only talk about trails where there’s dogs allowed. Unfortunately, the Chautauqua Mountain trail is not dog-friendly, nor is the neighboring Reservoir Trail.

Wildlife

Colorado is full of amazing wildlife, and you might experience some on your hike up Chautauqua Mountain! Some of the most common wildlife you’ll see include:

  • Squirrels
  • Chipmunks
  • Mule deer
  • Red fox
  • Magpies

Mule deer seen on our walk to hike Chautauqua Mountain.

Less common but still possible include black bears, moose, bobcats, coyotes, mountain lions, owls, and eagles.

Because the neighboring Reservoir Trail is so busy, you’re not likely to run into any dangerous wildlife. You can read more about what to do if you encounter a Moose, Black Bear, Grizzly Bear, Mountain Lion, Wolves, Bob Cat, Alligator, Wild Boars, Snake or Coyote! Be prepared for every encounter.

The Views

Compared with the spectacular views of Colorado’s 14ers, Chautauqua Mountain may seem lackluster. However, for a 2-mile day hike, the view at the top offers some excellent views of distant Pikes Peak and the closer Mount Herman. 

You can also view the town of Palmer Lake below, including the lake for which the town was named after. If you want to extend the hike, you can continue on the trail and complete the balanced rock loop, which takes you past some fantastic rock formations and down to the reservoirs.

Other Hikes In The Area

If you loved hiking Chautauqua Mountain, there are a few other trails to keep the adventure going!

  • Sundance Mountain
  • Palmer Lake Reservoir
  • Balanced Rock
  • Harrison Plane Crash
  • Ice Cave Trail
  • Winding Stairs

These all start at the same location as Chautauqua Mountain – at the Palmer Lake Reservoir Trailhead. Check out some of these hiking trails if you enjoyed Chautauqua Mountain!

Pack Up, Lace Up, And Venture On!

As we wrap up this adventurous article about hiking Chautauqua Mountain, let’s recap some key points we discussed.

Chautauqua Mountain is located in Palmer Lake, Colorado. It is about 2 miles long (out-and-back) with 1,000 feet of elevation gain. The terrain is steep and rocky, so a solid pair of boots paired with trekking poles is the key to bagging this peak!

While this hike shares a parking lot with the popular Reservoir Trail, you can expect to have the trail to yourself or only see a few other people as you hike. Pack plenty of water, snacks, and sunscreen to enjoy this wonderful walk up Chautauqua Mountain.

Have you done this hike? Let us know how it went in the comments below! You can help someone else out who wants to hike this gorgeous mountain.

So, gear up and get out there – the mountains are calling!

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