The 14ers are calling. Do you hear them?
We know 14ers aren’t for everyone. But maybe this is the year you want to try one. Or maybe it’s the year you go for an all-day hike, or trek part of the Colorado Trail, or bounce along a backpacking trip.
Regardless, we have five Northern Colorado hikes to get you ready for your summer goal.
Signature Bluffs Natural Area
Strava (the running app) has something called the “Poop Loop” on this route, and I’ve been the local legend a couple times. Before you raise both your eyebrows at that, all it means is I’ve run this route more times than anyone in a month, at least among those on Strava. There’s a good reason for that: It’s a great, scenic run on soft trails.
This was exactly the kind of run, or hike (whichever you prefer), that Greeley lacked before the city created some soft trails around the so-called Red Barn trailhead that serves the Poudre Trail off 71st Avenue just north of Northridge High School. Loveland or Fort Collins is awash in these kinds of trips that feature a short drive, easy parking and great scenery. But now Greeley has one, and I spend at least a couple hours a week in this area training for my trail races. Pepper, my dog, loves them as well.
Once you park in the lot, head east on the paved Poudre Trail and watch for a turnoff about a half-mile away. There’s a poop bag dispenser and trash can at the start. Take a right and in just a couple minutes, you’ll be treated to some wide-open prairie and a soft trail that winds around its edge. The trail is flat and a mile-and-a-half, with signs that point out the wildlife nearby. It’s not a wild experience, as I’ve seen cattle grazing, but it’s quiet and beautiful, especially for a piece of land less than a quarter mile from the hustle and bustle of 59th Avenue.
Work your way back to the parking lot, and you’ve done 2.5 miles. You can add another mile by taking the second soft trail to your right (the parking lot will be on your left) as you cross 71st Avenue from the paved Poudre Trail. This gives you closer views of the river and usually a raptor or two: I’d see at least one bald eagle every time I ran this winter. This trail dumps you on the paved Poudre Trail, which you can take east back to the parking lot or west to the Poudre Learning Center and a loop around a lake on more soft trail. This total loop—part of the Poop Loop—is 7 miles, but I like how you can break it up into sections so you can go as far or as short as you like.
Eagle’s Nest Open Space via the Three Bar Trail
This 3-mile loop near Livermore offers access to the Poudre River—a treat for anglers—and allows dogs on leash. It doesn’t allow bikers, so you can relax. Golden eagles have nested here for more than 100 years. I have seen the eagles in action and it’s pretty cool to watch even if you’re not in the mood for a hike. But if you are, the trail avoids intrusions so you can hike this area while other parts might be closed. This area has no entrance fee and is located northwest of Fort Collins.
The Morey Wildlife Reserve
This hike offers a pedestrian trail with no dogs, bikes or golf carts for nearly a mile, which allows you a terrific chance to see wildlife and the Big Thompson River just west of Mariana Butte Golf Course. It is a birding hotspot and fishing is permitted in the river at the north end of the trail.
Hermit Park Open Space
This 7-mile hike (one way) starts at the Homestead Meadow trail and follows the Limber Pine trail to the Kruger Rock trail, where you can climb to reach the summit of the rock. Spring wildflowers should be abundant in the meadow and will lead to a dense forest environment on the Limber Pine. This hike is challenging but the views are worth it. The 1,350 acres of Hermit Park is located two miles southeast of Estes Park.
Red Mountain Open Space
I have run out here a few times, and it’s a wonderful place to train, but it’s a great place to meander as well. There are many trails listed on Larimer County’s site for the area 25 miles north of Fort Collins. You’ll see beautiful flowers out here at all months of the year and there’s trails from a quarter mile to 13 miles long.
Bring water. Many of these places are rustic and won’t have drinking water available. Many are also in wide-open areas so bring sunscreen and a hat and prepare for hot weather in the summer.
Can you bring Fido? Some allow dogs and some don’t. Research the area before you go.
Leave No Trace. Many of these places are wild. Use Leave No Trace practices and be respectful of the land and the wildlife.
Bring a map. Tell people where you’re going. Don’t count on cell phone service. It would be easy to get lost in these areas.
Footwear. These trails can be muddy in the spring. Cities usually post information on conditions on their websites and will close areas because of muddy conditions, but you may also want to call. Don’t assume it’s dry on the trail because it’s dry at your house.
Dan England is NOCO Style’s assistant editor, and a freelance journalist based in Greeley.