For a 33rd summer, Bill Ellis and his wife hiked up the Front Range hills to their cabin beside a fire lookout tower this year. At 85, Ellis might be the U.S. Forest Service’s most famous Colorado employee as he continues to march 143 steps to the century-old perch at 9,748 feet. There, he maintains the historic duty of watching for smoke. Rocky Mountain majesty spreads all around him, with Pikes Peak and Mount Evans joining the panorama on a clear day. Less than a two hour’s drive from Colorado Springs, this is a trail to cross off your list.
The area gets its name for the great rock outcrop that resembles Satan’s face. The horns can be seen from some vantage points in Sedalia and Castle Rock as well as from Woodland Park on the rock’s other side. Devil’s Head draws the Denver crowds; the Forest Service estimates 40,000 make the steep but short hike every summer. So don’t expect solitude. But do expect stellar vistas that get better and better as you ascend through the forest of pine and aspen.
Also, expect a challenge. The elevation gain is significant for the short distance. Take a breather on one of the benches conveniently placed where the trees break, revealing the sweeping views. Just before the tower, arrive at a peaceful meadow home to imposing boulders.
Be sure to start early, so you can safely visit the lookout perch without the threat of afternoon lightning. If heights aren’t your thing, don’t look down as you make your way up the staircase. Maybe Ellis will be around to hand you a card certifying you “a member of the Ancient and Honorable Order of Squirrels.”