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Square Top Mountain: A Summit To Remember

Robyn Jarrod Gatsby at top of Square Top

Colorado is known for its beautiful scenery, fantastic hiking trails, and, of course, the alluring Rocky Mountains. This beautiful state is home to some tremendous peaks, one of which is Square Top Mountain.

Square Top Mountain may not boast a 14,000-foot peak, but the views are something to remember. Not to mention the feeling of satisfaction as you crest the final false peak and realize you’ve reached the top! I have hiked all over Colorado, and this is still one of my favorite hikes in the entire state!

Ready to conquer this 13,794-foot peak? In this guide, we’ll walk you through the Square Top Mountain hike, starting with what to pack and getting to the parking lot and finishing with how to bag this peak and find your way back down. Let’s get started!

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What To Expect On Your Square Top Mountain Hike

AllTrails describes Square Top as ‘challenging,’ while local Colorado blogs call it an ‘easy ridge hike.’ So, what should you actually expect while hiking Square Top Mountain? 

I’ve hiked Square Top Mountain twice. The first time was after recently moving to Colorado. I wasn’t used to the altitude yet, but I considered myself in good hiking shape. I was wrong and thought multiple times of turning around because it was so challenging!

The second time I hiked Square Top was after living in Colorado for two years. I knew what to expect; I was used to the altitude, and I was in excellent hiking shape. It wasn’t easy, but it was enjoyable and a moderate challenge.

Now, let’s dive into some of the specifics!

The Trail

The furbag running down square top mountain to his mother

For anyone worried about getting lost – don’t be! The Square Top Mountain hike is very well-marked from beginning to end. The trail is a dirt path with a few staircases at the beginning.

The first two miles of the hike will wind you up and down a few hills. The scrub brush provides some cover, but the area is mostly open. The last mile and a half is open, and a grueling ascent past several false peaks.

All in all, you’ll put in about 7.5 miles on this trail!

The Terrain

Square Top Mountain is located in the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains. It’s considered an alpine subarctic zone, so it can get pretty snowy and chilly in the winter.

The surrounding terrain is beautiful. As you hike towards the peak, you’ll pass by two pristine alpine lakes and be surrounded by various mountains and hills that stretch as far as the eye can see!

A furbag cooling off his paws in the lake near square top mountain.

Wildlife

In the unforgiving weather and altitude of the Rocky Mountains, only a few animals are brave enough to tough it out on the slopes.

While enjoying your Square Top Mountain hike, you may spot:

  • Mountain Goats
  • Dusky Grouse
  • Pika
  • Marmot
  • Ptarmigan
  • Bighorn Sheep

While there are black bears, mountain lions, moose, and bobcats in the area, you aren’t likely to encounter them at such high elevations as Square Top Mountain. I’ve spotted Ptarmigan and Pika several times on Square Top but was never lucky enough to spot anything else.

Wondering what to do if you spot wildlife on your Square Top Mountain hike? Check out our article here!

Weather

If you’re unfamiliar with Colorado’s weather, then it’s critical to read this section! If you plan to hike Square Top Mountain in the Spring or Summer, be prepared for afternoon thunderstorms. Plan your hike early so you are off the mountain by noon.

Lightning strikes the tallest thing, and when you’re above the tree line, you are the tallest thing!

Fall can also have thunderstorms, but it’s less likely than in the Spring and Summer. Because Square Top is at such a high altitude, by the time Fall comes around, it’s typically bringing down snow, not rain.

Square Top can be hiked in the winter by driving from the North side of Guanella Pass near Clear Creek and the Clear Lake Campground. This is the typical way you would come in if you’re coming from Denver or further west, such as Silverthorne, Breckenridge, or Vail. 

Snowshoes and microspikes are recommended in the winter, as the snow can get deep due to crosswinds. However, Guanella Pass closes seasonally from November to May and must be walked. You can check out seasonal closures for Guanella Pass on the Colorado Department of Transportation Site.

The Summit

The summit of Square Top is enormous. There is plenty of space to walk around and separate yourself from others to enjoy your victory beer in peace. Large rocks dot the summit, providing the perfect seat to view the unreal scenery before you.

Before you get to the summit, prepare yourself for some false peaks! Square Top is full of them, and if you’re not prepared, it’ll crush your soul when you realize you’re not actually at the top.

Now that we know what to expect on this epic adventure let’s chat about how to get there and give you a step-by-step guide on bagging this peak! By the way, if you’re interested in other hikes in Colorado, check out our Hiking Colorado blog!

Getting To Square Top Mountain

From Denver or Colorado Springs

Square Top Mountain is less than 60 miles from Denver. However, because of the winding mountain roads, it takes about 2 hours to get there. 

From Colorado Springs, you’ll have to drive north to Denver, as the only other way to get there is to go around Pikes Peak, which adds a few hours to the trip (it would take over 4 hours).

Here’s how to get to Square Top Mountain from Denver:

  1. Take I-70W towards Grand Junction
  2. Follow I-70W for 33 miles.
  3. Take Exit 228 Toward Georgetown
  4. Turn left onto 15th Street (you’ll pass under I-70)
  5. Enter a traffic circle and take the first right toward Argentine Street.
  6. Shortly after, at the Y, take the left road (Brownell Street) and follow for 1/10th of a mile.
  7. Turn left onto Sixth Street.
  8. Take the second right onto Rose Street and follow it for 1/4 mile.
  9. Before the dead end, make a left onto Guanella Pass Road.
  10. Follow Guanella Pass Road for 10.5 miles. After passing the Bierstadt parking lot on the left, the Square Top lot will be shortly after on the right (approximately 800 feet). 

From The West

If you’re traveling to Square Top Mountain from further west, such as Vail, Silverthorne, or Breckenridge, you will take the exact same directions, except for a few key differences:

  1. Take I-70E to exit 228 (Georgetown)
  2. Make a right towards the traffic circle.
  3. Follow the directions above starting at step 5.

Where To Park

Compared to the 14ers of Colorado, Square Top doesn’t get packed on the weekends, and it’s undoubtedly less busy during the week. You won’t have to get up at 2 a.m. to find a parking space like you would for Bierstadt. 

That said, I recommend getting to the parking lot before 8 a.m. The parking lot for Bierstadt fills up super fast, and cars eventually spill over into the Square Top parking lot.

  • On Google Maps: Type in ‘Square Top Lakes’
  • GPS Coordinates: N39.59729, W105.71266

The parking lot has a decent amount of spaces, around 40-50. I’ve always found a spot if I arrived before 8.

View of the lake and parking lot from Square Top mountain approach.

Square Top Mountain Hike: A Step-by-Step Guide

So, we know what to expect and where to park. Now, it’s time to talk about the hike. In this section, I’ll walk you through each step so you can make it to the summit and crack open a cold one to celebrate with your furry partner!

Here is a brief overview before we get into the nitty-gritty details!

  1. Start at the trailhead and follow the only trail available.
  2. At the first intersection, turn right to go down a set of wide steps.
  3. Follow the trail, passing a lake around the 1.3-mile mark.
  4. At the 2-mile mark, take a left at the fork.
  5. At the next intersection (2.1 miles in), take a right.
  6. Follow the trail to the summit.
  7. Return following the same trail to the parking lot.

Finding The Trailhead

Once you’ve found the Square Top parking lot, the trailhead is easy to spot. You’ll notice restrooms at the southwest corner of the parking lot. The trailhead is close to the restrooms, with a conspicuous sign at the beginning of the trail.

Start your adventure here!

Start To Mile One

The first mile is intimidating. You start by going downhill, which isn’t bad until you remember you have to climb back up at the end! At the beginning of the trail, you’ll come to a small intersection and need to take a right towards the prominent stairs.

Continue along the trail, trudging down two more sets of stairs around the quarter-mile mark. After this, the trail is smooth for the first mile, taking you on a clearly marked path through some scrub brush.

Mile One To Mile Two

During the second mile, you’ll notice a slight uptick in the elevation gain. However, the trail remains easy to follow, and there are no turns to get lost on. 

The 1.3-mile mark is a great place to take a short break and enjoy the alpine lake. From here, continue until you reach the two-mile mark, where you’ll face a fork in the path. The right path will take you to the second lake, but you’ll want to take the left path to get to Square Top Mountain.

Mile Two To The Summit

After taking a left at the fork, you’ll come to another intersection around the 2.1-mile mark. Hang a right and prepare for your legs and lungs to burn!

The next 1.5 miles is grueling. You’ll start around 12,300 feet of elevation, and by the time you reach the summit, you’ll be sitting at nearly 13,800 feet! 1.5 miles with 1,500 feet of elevation gain? Woof. 

Take plenty of breaks, rest when you can, and catch your breath – the airs thin up there! And when you want to turn around, remember, the view at the top is sooooo worth it, trust me!

As you reach the final summit, you’ll be surrounded by snow-capped mountains. To the east is Bierstadt. To the Northwest are Grey’s and Torrey’s Peaks. To the west, you can spot Santa Fe and Geneva Peaks. Nestled between are several smaller peaks that are just as breathtaking.

The Return Trip

After you’ve celebrated your victory and taken in all the incredible scenery, it’s time to start the return journey. Start by following the same trail back down the mountainside. This is located on the east side of the summit.

When you reach the first intersection, around 4.9 miles, hang a left. Continue to the next intersection and turn right. You’ll follow this to the first intersection and hang a left to return to the parking lot.

Unfortunately, the last quarter mile or so of the hike is uphill. Who designed that?! Congrats! Your Square Top Mountain hike is complete!

What to Bring For Your Square Top Mountain Hike

Colorado can be somewhat unforgiving with its weather and altitude. There are a few things you should definitely pack that are specific to hiking Colorado mountains:

  • Layers: In summer, the temperature in the parking lot might be 80 degrees, but the summit can be bitingly cold at 30 or 40 degrees. Pack layers so that you can add them on or take them off as needed, and be prepared for a windy summit.
  • Chapstick: If you’re not used to the dryness of the West, bring chapstick. Your lips will thank you.
  • Extra water: Similarly, the dry heat of Colorado and the increased altitudes mean you should intake more water than usual while hiking in the Rocky Mountains.
  • Snowshoes & Microspikes: Consider wearing snowshoes or microspikes if you plan to hike in the winter. 
  • Gloves & Hat: Again, the weather on the summit will be very different than in the parking lot. Pack gloves and a hat to withstand the cold at the top.
  • Sunglasses: It’s essential to protect your eyes from the sun, especially at such a high altitude. 

For a more generalized hiking list, read our article on what to pack in your hiking bag!

Hiking Square Top With Pets

Square Top is a dog-friendly hike, so go ahead and bring your pup along for the adventure! This is a fantastic opportunity for reactive dogs, as the trail is very open and not crowded, so they can enjoy the hike without being overstimulated.

We brought our reactive dog on this hike, and he was the best boy! You can read our guide to hiking with reactive dogs here!

There are ground birds like grouse and Ptarmigan on this hike, as well as small rodents like pikas, so be sure to keep your pal leashed to ensure no wildlife is injured on your hike. 

Before deciding to take Fido on this hike, ensure they can hike at least 7 miles and are used to the altitude. The worst thing you can do is take your pup on a hike they aren’t physically capable of doing.

Be sure to check out our article on hiking with your dog for all the tips and tricks to enjoying the great outdoors with your furry best bud.

Wrapping It Up

We’ve reached the summit of our post, and now it’s time to bring it back down and wrap up the journey. Hopefully, with this information, your Square Top Mountain hike will be an unforgettable journey because of the views, not because you couldn’t find the parking lot or weren’t sure which trail to take!

Remember, hiking in Colorado is different from other areas. Plan to be off the mountain by noon, watch out for afternoon thunderstorms, and pack plenty of sunscreen, water, and chapstick.

Your furry pal is also welcome on this hike, but be sure they’re up for such a challenging hike, and respect wildlife by keeping your pup under control. 

We’d love to hear about your adventures, so don’t hesitate to share your experiences in the comments below. Did you spot any grouse, Ptarmigan, or cute little pikas? How did Fido handle the altitude? Your stories inspire us and our incredible community of hikers.

So, what are you waiting for? Put on those hiking boots, pack your bag, leash up your pup, and hit the trail. Square Top Mountain is calling, and trust me, the panoramic views from the summit are worth every step. Here’s to unforgettable adventures and happy hiking!

For more information on hiking adventures, take a look at our hiking blog!

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