Hike Bob: Devils Head Lookout is a hike through history; Who wants to be a state park ranger? | Food & Culture

Historically significant and visually compelling, Devils Tower Lookout should be on every Front Range hiker’s bucket list.

Originally a cabin built on “Hells Half Acre” just nine years after the US Forest Service was established, a fire watchtower sits atop Devils Head. In the more than 100 years since the cabin was built, the site is not only important for forest fire detection, but it is also a popular recreation destination.

The first building on the site was a one-room cabin built in 1914, 200 feet below the current gazebo. In 1919, a small building was built at the top on the same site as the current belvedere. In 1951 the original gazebo was dismantled and a new one was built. It is the same building used today, but with some modernizations over the years. It is the last active fire watchtower along Colorado’s Front Range.

Access to the recreation area surrounding and including Devils Head was closed in mid-2020 due to the COVID pandemic, then closed again in July 2021 for construction. It recently reopened to the public.

The hike to the tower on Devils Head Trail #611 is fairly straightforward, gaining about 900 feet during the approximately 1.5 mile hike (one way) to the summit, including climbing the 143 steps leading to the gazebo. There are interpretive signs on the trail and plenty of views to the east and west. Despite the steady climb, no part of the trail is particularly difficult, with plenty of switchbacks and steps to make the hike easier.

Zinn Trail

About 2 miles from the trailhead, the Zinn Memorial Trail intersects the Devils Head Trail.

At about 1.25 miles, Zinn Memorial Trail #815 cuts to the left. It’s easy to miss, as the sign is nailed to a tree and isn’t really close to the trail intersection. Just stay here to continue the short distance to the lookout.

Residence of caretakers

The warden’s residence at the end of the Devils Head trail. Treat it like any other private residence and respect the privacy of the resident caretaker.

The trail ends at the lookout keeper’s private residence, so respect it as such. There is a large interpretive panel with a history of the lookout.

history sign

This sign at the end of the trail details the history of Devils Head.

Next to the sign is the staircase – 143 steps – leading to the top. Although the stairs don’t seem to be any steeper than any other stairs, there are a few landings along the way to catch your breath, if needed. At the top, walk a short distance to the lookout.

Lookout stairs

Beginning of the stairs to the belvedere

Once there, you can take the walkway around the perimeter, but visitors are no longer allowed inside. When I visited, the tower was unoccupied. When staff are present and not busy, they are happy to chat with visitors.

Devils Head Lookout

Devils Head Lookout. Pikes Peak is visible on the left.

Gateway view

One of the views from the bridge. Pikes Peak is visible in the distance.

Once you’ve admired the view, head back down the stairs, which can be tricky going down. If you’ve ever watched the Alfred Hitchcock classic vertigosome of these items may be familiar to you, although most people probably won’t have a problem.

At the bottom of the stairs

Looking down the lower part of the stairs to the gazebo.

On the way back, take a few minutes to detour on Zinn Memorial Trail #815. The short hike ends at a lookout with a nice view of Pikes Peak and is well worth the trek since you’re that far. The lookout is named after US Navy Commander Ralph Zinn.

Zinn's point of view

View of the Zinn Memorial

The way back is pretty quick and easy, but remember to stop and enjoy the view.

GPS track

GPS track of this hike, including the Zinn trail

Things you need to know: I created a custom route for this hike, including the Zinn Memorial Trail on COTREX. The gazebo is usually open from late May to early September. When closed, there is no access to the tower itself, although the trail is open. Leashed dogs are permitted on the trail, but not on the steps leading up to the tower or the tower itself. The parking lot at the trailhead is small and fills up quickly on weekends. There is additional parking approximately half a mile away on Forest Road 300 (Rampart Range Road). Restrooms are located near the trailhead, but there is no water available. Rampart Range Road closes for the season on December 1 and reopens when conditions permit summer recreation, which could be as late as mid-June. This hike, including the Zinn Memorial trail and the stairs to the lookout, is 3.62 miles round trip with just over 1,000 feet of elevation gain.

To succeed: There are several ways to access the trail, but the quickest is via I-25 via Castle Rock. From Colorado Springs, take I-25 North to Exit 184 (Founders Parkway), turn left and get into the right lane. Once past the outlets, turn right onto US 85 and head north just over 5 miles to Sedalia. Turn left (west) on CO Hwy. 67 for almost 10 miles to Rampart Range Road (FSR 300) and turn left (south). Take Rampart Range Road approximately 9 miles to Forest Service Road 300 and turn left. Follow it for half a mile to the trailhead. Rampart Range Road is passable by all vehicles, but is very washable. Be prepared to shake, rattle, but hopefully not roll while driving.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife actively recruits district wildlife managers and state park rangers. The application period is open until September 30. They progress quickly through the hiring process and a written test will be required shortly after the application period closes, followed by a round of interviews in late October and final interviews in early November. For more information, including job descriptions and links to applications, see the CPW press release.

Be wise. Do good things. Leave no traces.