squaw mountain fire lookout colorado

Mestaa’ėhehe Mountain Fire Lookout (Formerly Squaw Mountain Fire Lookout)

followtiffsjourney affiliate disclosure
HIKE TO: Mestaaehehe Mountain Fire Lookout (aka Squaw Mountain Lookout)
TRAIL: Fire Tower Trail (Forest Service Rd 192.1)
DISTANCE: 3.52 miles out and back
TIME: 3 hours (+ overnight if you choose)
DATE I WENT: 3/10/24
DIFFICULTY: easy-moderate
ELEVATION: 11,494 ft
ELEVATION GAIN: 712 ft
HIKE PERMIT: not for day hikes, yes for overnight camping
PARKING PERMIT: no
LOCATION: Arapaho & Roosevelt National Forest

Mestaa’ėhehe Mountain Fire Lookout is one of the best fire lookouts in Colorado you can sleep in near Denver. It sits at an elevation of 11,494 ft in Arapaho & Roosevelt National Forest and is formerly named Squaw Mountain Fire Lookout.

Mestaa’ėhehe pronunciation: mess-taw-HAY

Mestaa’ėhehe Mountain is an active communication site that is open to hikers all year round but you will need a permit to sleep in the lookout tower. Recreational shooting is also allowed in this area so don’t be alarmed if you hear gunfire.

In the summer, you can actually drive up partially to the fire lookout if you have a high-clearance 4WD but it is most commonly accessed by a short and easy hike. The proximity to the city makes this a great choice for a post-work sunset hike in the summer.

In the winter, be prepared for the trail to be covered with snow and you can snowshoe to the lookout or cross-country ski/ ski tour which is what we did.

This was my first time sleeping at a fire lookout and it was an incredible and magical experience that I’d recommend everyone try at least once, whether it’s at this lookout tower or another!

mestaaehehe mountain fire lookout camping

I booked my permits to camp here 6 months in advance when it was released, with the intention of it being a beginner-friendly Colorado winter adventure. I wanted to do an easy ski tour with little-to-no avalanche risks and spend the night in a fire lookout — sleeping in a fire lookout has always been a bucket list goal of mine.

Mestaa’ėhehe Mountain Fire Lookout Directions

squaw mountain fire lookout

Mestaa’ėhehe Mountain Fire Lookout is conveniently located off Hwy 103, right across from Echo Mountain in Evergreen and less than one hour from Denver. The nearest big town is Idaho Springs.

The parking lot is an unmarked pullout on the left (if you are coming from the East) just before Chief Mountain Trailhead.

Camping at the Mestaa’ėhehe Mountain Fire Lookout

fire lookout camping colorado

This fire lookout is fully equipped for overnight visitors. I’d say it’s a good introduction to backpacking and sleeping “outdoors” because it’s more like glamping than camping.

Permit Information

  • Permits are released 6 months in advance at 8 am MST but it’s a popular site so the dates within the 6-month period are usually already reserved. 
    • Ex: I booked my on 9/10/23 for 3/10/24. Everything up until 3/9/24 was booked when I checked that morning.
    • However, peep in from time to time and see if there are any cancellations you can snag up!
  • Click here to check permit availability.
  • Permit cost is $80/ night.
  • Permits are up to 4 people, 2 cars, and no pets.
  • Check-in is at 3 pm and check-out is at noon.
  • Pack out what you pack in and clean up after yourself as no one cleans in between each visitor.

What’s Inside the Fire Lookout

The fire lookout is 2-stories with the bottom floor being a granite stone base and the top floor being the scenic cab with 360-panorama window views. It sleeps 4 total, two twin beds upstairs and a twin bunk bed downstairs. However, my group of 4 women slept 2 ladies per upstairs twin bed so we could all hang out together and enjoy the views. The “room” is 14×14 ft. and quite spacious.

The downstairs is equipped with a full-size stove, oven, refrigerator, chairs, dishes and sink, an electric plug-in water kettle, a closet, and a small space heater. 

The upstairs is equipped with a small table and chairs, and two space heaters. 

There are lights and electric outlets on both floors and spotty cell service in the tower and throughout the approach. 

Do fire lookout towers have bathrooms?

This one does. There is an outhouse toilet disconnected from the lookout tower but nearby.

What to Pack for Fire Lookout Camping

The gear you need will overall depend on the season you go and your choice of foot travel, but here are some options below.

Overnight Camping Gear

Winter Hike 

If there isn’t a lot of snow, you could get away with hiking in microspikes.

Snowshoeing 

If there is a lot of snow, snowshoes would be more appropriate as a flotation device.

Ski Tour

I’ve been using my ski tour kit for two seasons now and really love it. It’s very light which means it’s also not as insulating but for a short trip like this, it worked perfectly. We had spring skiing conditions in early March.

Mestaa’ėhehe Mountain Fire Lookout: Winter Trip Report

To reach the Mestaa’ėhehe Mountain Fire Lookout, there is a 1.8-mile one-way hike which can be done as a snowshoe adventure or beginner-friendly ski tour. While we did this as a ski tour, this adventure article will apply for hikers in any mode of foot traffic.

We started late afternoon and it took us 1.5 hrs moving at a comfortable pace. It was one of my friend’s first time ski touring and while she did great, our pace was slower. The trail is very straightforward, simply stay on the obvious path in the winter. The only junction to beware of is the first big trail junction — make sure to keep right/ straight to stay on the main trail.

The fire tower trail starts very mellow for most of the first mile. There are some longer switchbacks closer to the end and a steep section just before the tower where most of the elevation gain is.

When we arrived at the fire lookout, there was a lockbox for us to retrieve our key to the tower. Upon entering the upper cab around 6:10 pm, the room was very toasty as the sun had been baking it and warming it up. This was very nice to come in to as the temps were starting to drop outside in the shade and I was getting a little cool.

Golden hour up there was gorgeous — do not miss it if you can. I’d even recommend hiking up here just to see Golden Hour.

We slept two people to a tiny bed since we’re all relatively small and I found it to be more than enough space, for my friend and me at least. The beds have a pillow, small throw blanket, and sheets on them, but I don’t know how clean they are so I laid my sleeping bag over it. 

It was supposed to be a low of 17º in the morning so I packed my 10º sleeping bag, but because we had the heaters in there, it was pretty warm comfortable all night; I even got a little warm and I think a 30º quilt would have sufficed, even for the winter.

The sun set at 7 pm, just as our 4th girl was skiing in. We spent the evening just catching up and it was the perfect girls night in.

Going out to the restroom was a bit sketchy, mostly because the steps going down were icy and the position of the rails were a bit of a stretch at first. It didn’t help that we were all in our camp shoes by then which offered little traction.

The wind was howling violently all night which kept us all up, but luckily it calmed down by morning.

The morning light started to appear just before 7 am and we woke up to the most breathtaking sunrise at 7:26 am.

A nice surprise, which I did not expect, was you could literally see the sun rise over downtown Denver.

squaw mountain fire lookout camping first light

By 8 am, we were prepared to ski out as half the group had to get to work on a Monday morning. The ski out was very icy this time of year but it was still fun and short.

Booking travel soon?
Please consider using my affiliate links below. It costs nothing additional for you but helps me maintain the ever-increasing costs of running a travel blog:

General travel through Tripadvisor here.

Book your flights here.
Book your accommodations here on Expedia, Booking.com, Hotels.com, and VRBO.
Book your car rentals here.
Book your tours here.

Book your travel insurance here.

Nearby Colorado Adventures You Might Like

Subscribe to Tiff’s Newsletter

    We respect your privacy and won’t spam you. Unsubscribe at anytime.

    Leave a Comment

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

    Scroll to Top