Chautauqua Mountain and Balance Rock

Distance5.47 mi
Elevation Gain1,437 ft
My Time2 hr 47 min
DifficultyModerate
Closest TownPalmer Lake
Food NearbyO’Malley’s

Chautauqua Mountain

The Chautauqua Mountain hike is a challenging hike that features some reservoirs and a steep hike to the top of the mountain near Palmer Lake. On a snowy February day it was extra challenging with a snow cover but was very enjoyable.

Starting Out

This hike is a loop so by definition you should be able to go in either direction but I would really suggest that you start by going to the right and taking a counter clockwise approach. If you go clockwise you will have to start with a very steep climb up the mountain side that gets to over 40% grades. By starting out to the right you will take a longer, less steep path to the mountain top.

From the parking lot a majority of the hike is on a service road that takes you through a gulch and then to a couple of tiered reservoirs. The steep walls of the canyon are lined with a mixture of evergreen trees and large rock formations that take make for great views.

The view looking out of the gulch back towards the parking lot on the Chautauqua Mountain trail.

The service road to the lower reservoir can get a bit steep with a short section that even hits a 39% grade. The trail will remain a constant uphill in the 20% range until you make it to the second body of water, Palmer Lake #2. Once you make it to this second lake the trail flattens out for a mile as you walk around the lake.

There is also lake access in spots. On this frozen winter day the ice fisher’s were out and on the lake and a layer of snow covered the frozen water but it still was a pretty sight.

Palmer Lake #2 covered with snow and surrounded by tree lined hills on the Chautauqua Mountain trail.

The Climb to Chautauqua Mountain

After the gentle mile around the lake, the road starts a steady climb towards the peak. The service road will take you a half mile in which you gain about 200 feet of elevation. The road and the trail will then separate and you will want to continue up the trial to the left when the road starts to turn.

Once you separate onto more of a trail is when the real steep sections will begin. There will be a series of three hills that you will need to go up and down to finish the hike. The first hill will be about 150 feet of elevation gain in two-tenths of a mile. You will descend a bit before heading up the second hill.

The second hill isn’t as steep as it stretches out to a third of a mile. You will still gain about 140 feet of elevation. The top of this hill has some of the best views in my opinion. You can look back across the lake and see some of the large boulders. You can also see down the valley towards town.

The last hill in this series will take you to the top of Chautauqua Mountain and was the steepest with 125 of elevation gain in just one tenth of a mile to the top. This one felt like walking up a never ending staircase! The views are a bit obstructed from the top of this mountain but as you start to descend the views pick up. If you look back to the south (the way you came from) you get some nice views of Pikes Peak.

Pikes Peak towering above the trees as you descend from Chautauqua Mountain.

The Descent

Coming down this mountain is no joke. Remember at the beginning when I told you that you didn’t want to go up the steep side? Well now you have to come down it. In just one mile you will descend over 1000 feet of elevation! The trail is steep with grades consistently in the 25-30% range and even touching 40% at times. In the winter with snow on the ground it meant for slippery footing even with spikes on so be careful and take your time making it down.

Elevation and Distance

If you don’t have the AllTrails app you might want to check it out, I really love mine. It records your progress and is a great way to search for hikes that are nearby and gives you difficulty measurements. According to AllTrails today’s hike was around 5.47 miles and had a total elevation gain of about 1,437 feet including undulations. That put the high point at around 8,329 feet. I was also moving for a total of 2 hours and 47 minutes.

Effort

I was a bit surprised with the amount of elevation gain on this hike and wasn’t as prepared as I could have been. That being said it wasn’t the most difficult hike from a technical standpoint. Here is the step count from my hike to Chautauqua Mountain from my Fitbit.

The step count from the Chautauqua Mountain hike was 15,357 steps.

Terrain

For half of this trail you are on a well defined service road. The road is pretty rutted but you should be able to find good footing. Around the mountain and the peak the trail is much more narrow and mostly dirt. In winter this trail can be completely covered making it slick and the descent from the mountain can be quite a challenge. I recommend hiking shoes and traction devices depending on the weather.

Access

There is a small parking area for about 15 cars on Old Carriage Road in Palmer Lake. The trailhead that you are looking for to do the hike is the La Deux Reservoirs Trailhead. There are no restroom facilities at the parking area or on the trail.

Wrap Up of Chautauqua Mountain

This was an interesting hike for me. I did not think it would be as challenging as it was but it really had me working hard to get to the top of the mountain. The reservoirs and Palmer Lake #2 are really nice but I think they may be nicer in the summer. On the other hand I think the hike itself is better in the winter. It is mostly on service road which isn’t always the most entertaining hikes but when it was covered with snow it made for a nice winter walk.

I had wanted to go to the Palmer Lake area for awhile now and I am really glad that I made it out there and can see myself heading that way again in the future!

I have added this hike and all of my hikes to the interactive map page you can find here. If you have any suggestions for hikes or comments feel free to email me at fatmanlittletrails@gmail.com or you can follow me on any of the below social media platforms. Happy Hiking!

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