Mesa County's Highest Point: Leon Peak
Originally published in the Summer 2019 issue of SPOKE+BLOSSOM
At an elevation of 11,236 feet, Leon Peak is the highest point in Mesa County, and is just 91 feet shy of being the highest point on the Grand Mesa. Crater Peak in Delta County holds this distinction.
At Leon Peak’s pinnacle are remnants of one of the earliest fire lookouts in Colorado. Clay Withersteen built the lookout in 1911 with the help of Roscoe Bloss, a local seasonal Forest Service employee. Logs and sheet metal were carried to the summit by backpack. Constant lightning strikes forced abandonment after the summer of 1915. The superior mortise and tenon log frame construction has withstood decades of snow and brutal winds. For the sake of history and public safety, the Forest Service requests you do not climb on it.
Leon Peak is a moderate to difficult 5.9 mile round-trip low-traffic trail primarily used for access to bird watching, fishing, hiking and wildlife viewing. It is best used from July until October during clear weather conditions.
The majority of the 1,250-foot elevation gain follows the initial easy hiking, where it is gradually dominated by a jumble of large volcanic boulders. Adults and older kids enjoy the challenging scramble to the peak. Dogs are allowed, but beware of surfaces which may be undesirable for their paws.
From I-70, take Exit 49 and follow Highway 65 to the Collbran turnoff, Highway 330. At Collbran, turn right on Country Road 58-1/2, jog left on NE Road, then right on County Road 59 for eight miles where it becomes Forest Service 121 for another eight miles. Turn left on FR126 for three miles to the Weir and Johnson Campground for parking.
Take the Leon Lake Trail 717 and continue around Sissy Lake, ascending and following the rocky ridge to the peak. Picking your way across the large boulders, you’ll make your own trailand eventually see the peak and fire lookout.Allow at least a half day, as the bouldering slows you down even though the elevation gain is gradual. Bring plenty of food and water.
Your efforts will be rewarded at the top with 360-degree views encompassing the Grand Mesa’s expanse of forest and lakes in both Mesa and Delta counties.