Mariel Megan Ross
One of the best day hikes in Colorado - just south of Sterling Ranch
Updated: Feb 12, 2018
A short drive from Sterling Ranch, the Devil's Head Trail sounds ominous, but it's a perfect family day hike, and it's just a few minutes from Sterling Ranch
When my husband first took me on a hike up Devil's Head years ago, I was admittedly nervous. The name of the mountain isn't exactly reassuring for us non-expert hikers. I was picturing a brutal slog up a rocky 14-er in full climbing gear. Fun for some, but not my idea of a quick family weekend hike. The reality of the Devil's Head Trail is far from that.
The Devil's Head Trail is 1.4 miles long and begins in the picnic area adjacent to Devil's Head Campground and ends at the Devil's Head Tower, the last of seven original U.S. Forest Service fire lookout towers in Colorado. The lookout tower is a marvel - it's over 100 years old, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and constructed on an outcropping of rocks such that it feels like it's hanging off the edge of the Earth. It's a must-see. The tower is open to the public while staffed (typically mid-May through mid-September).
The trail itself isn't particularly steep - much of the trail is comprised of switchbacks - until you reach a beautiful meadow at the top. And that's where the real fun begins, because you're not really at the top. From the meadow you ascend 143 of the scariest steps you'll ever ascend on a series of stairwells. Small children and older adults safely go up and down these stairs every day in the summer, but still it feels like you're walking on stairs on the top of a high-rise skyscraper.
Once you reach the real top, you can tour the fire lookout and meet the ranger who does, yes, periodically scan the forests below for fires, which is amazing in this day and age. And you'll quickly understand why they built a fire lookout on top of Devil's Head. We're talking about unobstructed, 360 degree views, with great sight lines to Pike's Peak in the south and all along the front range. They say you can see at least 100 miles in every direction from the lookout on a clear day.
My family has been up Devil's Head many times over the years, and it's great for out-of-town visitors who want a taste of the Colorado backcountry but don't have time to, say, provision and plan for hitting a segment of the Colorado Trail. The elevation gain is 940 feet, and the lookout station is at 9,748 feet.
Best of all, the trailhead is about a 45 minute drive from Sterling Ranch, which sounds a little far, but keep in mind most of your driving time is spent on a two-lane dirt road that takes you to the trailhead.
Needless to say, this is one of the most popular trails on the front range, so get there early in the summer - parking is limited. You can reach the trailhead by traveling approximately ten miles west of Sedalia on Highway 67 to the Rampart Range Road. Turn left (south) on the Rampart Range Road for approximately eight and one-half miles to the trailhead.
Finally, here's a wonderful Denver Post piece on Ranger Bill Ellis, with whom I had the good fortune of chatting with a few years ago during a climb up the mountain.