By Cameron Duval

I am peering over a boulder, roughly 1,200 feet above the earth, when I notice Long’s Peak off in the distance. As I take a step back from the edge, I catch my breath for a moment. It is not a feeling of fatigue that has taken my breath, or even the thin air at such a high elevation, but the panoramic views that surround me. These views are the kind you see in movies, painted in pictures and envision in dreams.

Just a 15-minute drive from downtown Fort Collins, the Horsetooth Mountain Open Space Trailhead is home to the Horsetooth Falls and Horsetooth Rock trails, which are among Northern Colorado’s finest hikes. These trails offer something for everyone, including a chance to enjoy an excellent vantage point of one of Fort Collins’ most recognizable landmarks. For those looking to embark on a family adventure, the Horsetooth Falls trail offers an easy grade and only requires a few hours out of your day. And for those who prefer higher elevations and steeper grades, the Horsetooth Rock trail delivers a scenic starting point to several other trails that weave and wander the entire open space boundary.

After traveling about a quarter-mile through a meadow and tall grass, hikers encounter a sign that marks a fork in the trail.

Dogs frequently accompany their owners on the Horsetooth trails.

To the left is Horsetooth Rock trail. This portion of the hike stretches about 5 miles round-trip. At its maximum height, it reaches more than 7,000 feet above sea level in elevation. Considered to be a moderate hike, it takes on a steeper incline for most of the way. For those who are not avid hikers, it offers an empowering challenge that rewards trailblazers with a sense of accomplishment at the end—one that can be enjoyed when scanning the entire park.

On the right is the path of Horsetooth Falls. It is a shorter hike, spanning 2.35 miles round-trip, but one in which some special wildlife can be spotted, from mule deer to hummingbirds, to hawks and eagles that soar above the mountain tops. Even wild turkeys make an appearance from time to time. In addition to the wildlife that can be observed, the park permits dogs to accompany their owners, as long as they are on a leash. The rule is enforced to protect the safety of dogs, people and wildlife.

Both hikes offer a nice balance between solitude and friendly encounters. As the population continues to grow in surrounding areas, so does word-of-mouth. There are moments throughout where one can truly embrace the beauties of nature, as if they had their own private view. While other times, groups can converse about different paths or sights before continuing on. Foot traffic fluctuates depending upon all sorts of factors, says Larimer County volunteer park assistant, Steve Robinson.

There is never a wrong time to make the trek, says Robinson. “In fact, in the winter, you have a chance of seeing more wildlife, and there are not as many people,” he says.

Wildlife such as mule deer can be seen at the trails of Horsetooth Mountain Open Space.

Beginning in April and later into June and July, the vegetation and plant life display their most vibrant colors, says Robinson. This is also the time of year when the signature part of the Horsetooth Falls hike, the natural waterfall, tends to be the most active. However, the seasons that follow, have their appeal, as well. In fact, it can be preferable to go during these times because of the ideal weather that is more consistent throughout the day. And even if the flow of water is more of a trickle, there is something peaceful about the sound of the water seeping through the crevasses and gently splashing on the ground. Now you know why this hike is so popular.

Robinson has a good idea why people are drawn to hike Horsetooth’s trails.

“It has to be the exceptional views,” he says. “It is pretty amazing when you can look out and see from the plains to Long’s Peak.”

For more information about Horsetooth Mountain Open Space Park, visit the Colorado Welcome Center or check out www.larimer.org/naturalresources/parks/horsetooth-mountain.

IF YOU GO

The Horsetooth Mountain Trailhead typically fills on weekends and holidays when the weather is warm—and even during occasional weekdays. Soderberg Trailhead at the eastern end of the open space can also fill on busy weekends and holidays. Larimer County Natural Resources recommends visiting Horsetooth Mountain on weekdays, or before 10 a.m. or after 4 p.m. on weekends and holidays. Trail conditions are posted on www.NoCoTrailReport.org and at Larimer County Natural Resources Facebook and Twitter pages when the trailheads fill.

Map courtesy of Larimer County Natural Resources.

Freelance writer Cameron Duval is an agent care consultant at Zillow Group by day and a sports enthusiast by night. To comment on this article, send an email to letters@nocostyle.com.