You know the Scouts motto: Always Be Prepared. It’s something to remember for every mountain outing. Although, it took on new meaning for me last weekend while I was up ...
Colorado wildflower viewing is one of the most beautiful aspects of trail time in the Rocky Mountains. Chances are when you see a Colorado postcard, it’s going to feature a photo of a mountain covered in wildflowers. They are like the sprinkles of the mountains. Everyone loves sprinkles.
I’ve been wildflower hunting for about a year now, starting mid-summer in 2014 and picking back up again when the blooms started this spring. Wildflower hunting on hikes has added a really fun twist to my already lovely hikes around Northern Colorado. They have become my Pokemon, where I feel like I have to collect them all. I get the biggest ear-to-ear grin when I spot one that I haven’t photographed yet. It’s nearing ridiculous.
I think the appeal for me is that it’s just another way for me to slow down on the trail and really enjoy all that there is in the outdoors. I previously had a personal trainer mindset on hikes, trying to keep up a fast pace and higher heart rate (with 10 years of being a personal trainer, it’s a hard habit to break). By slowing my pace a bit and stopping to, well, smell the flowers, my outdoor experiences have become exponentially more enjoyable. Now they are much more than just a way to burn calories.
So, what’s wildflower hunting? It’s all about photography and not picking wildflowers. That’s rule #1 when it comes to wildflowers. By picking them and taking them home, not only are they not going to last, but it damages the surrounding ecosystem. So don’t pick, just take a pic.
Some people enjoy marking off a check list from a wildflower field guide, similar to birding, but I’ve been taking photos and attempting to identify them when I get home. Larimer County Natural Resources has a wildflower guide available to purchase at their office. There are a variety of resources available to help you out. I use Wildflowers of Colorado most, and then when I can’t find a flower in the gallery, I’ll try to utilize other websites. There are identification apps for your phone too (I might suck it up and spend the $10 on this).
Wildflowers bloom all year long throughout various elevations, even though there’s a peak season mid-spring. After a 39-year bloom count study, scientists have found that climate change has impacted wildflower bloom seasons, creating a shift in earlier blooms and a longer blooming season over all, running from late April to late September.
If you follow Fresh Air Fort Collins on Instagram, then you’ve been seeing all of the different wildflowers I’ve found on hikes, both in the city Natural Areas and in the mountains. I’ll be writing a multi-part series to help guide you to where the most and best wildflowers are blooming throughout the year!
Right now we’re noticing blooms in the lower elevations and prairies. The drier climates warm up a little faster, and the flowers produce the tiniest blossoms. Keep your eyes peeled and slow your roll, because they can be easy to miss!
These featured trails are the areas with the most wildflowers or the most variety, although they certainly aren’t the only places with wildflower blooms. Soapstone Prairie, Bobcat Ridge and various Natural Areas within city limits all currently have wildflowers for you to look for.
This is an easy trail for adults and kids alike. You’ll see a variety of wildlife, and if you come down the trail at sunset, you will hear coyotes howl! It’s a very popular spot for trail runners and mountain bikers, so be sure to be aware when stopping to photograph flowers. Right now there are a multitude of blooms. On my last hike, I counted at least 14 different types of flowers. This natural Area includes a rare plant sanctuary.
This is one of the first trailheads you drive by on your way to Red Feather Lakes. It’s a light useage trail mostly visited by residents of Red Feather Lakes. The main trail is about a mile long and goes right through the middle of a wide open meadow that is covered in thousands upon thousands of wildflowers right now. It’s incredible.
Be aware that there is no Lady Moon Meadow Loop, even though the trail map at the trailhead indicates that there is. It’s not finished yet. The area is full of stock and game trails, and also surrounded by private property. Your best bet is to stay on the main trail here if you’re not familiar with National Forest boundaries.
It’s that time of the year again when outdoor writers push out their “Best Hikes” lists for publication. More and more people are starting to hit the trails on the weekend with warmer weather (usually) gracing us. So, that means you’re going to see articles about the best hikes in Poudre Canyon or within Fort Collins ad nauseum. And every year they are the same damn hikes. The recycled content is posted like clockwork.
If you’ve lived in Fort Collins for five years or more, then you know how many “Best Of” lists Fort Collins lands on (we just landed on another list at the time of writing this). We’re frequently recognised as a great place to live and work with a quality of life that makes people in other cities green with envy.
Then they move here.
We’re seeing the result of always being the best with an explosive population growth that is causing an affordable housing crisis, an overburdening of traffic on our streets, and some of our most popular trails have essentially turned into tourist traps. They have become the Disneyland of local outdoor experiences, which completely ruins what an outdoor adventure should be.
Recently there were (out of context) reports of Rocky Mountain National Park closing certain parts of the park due to overcrowding. While the park is not going to close certain roads and trails, they are trying to figure out how to manage overcrowding when they have 13,295 people in the park at one time, like they did on September 27, 2014, and 3.4 million visitors a year.
If you pay attention to social media updates from Larimer County Natural Resources, every weekend you’ll see them posting updates about Horsetooth Mountain, Devil’s Backbone, Soderberg, and Blue Sky lots being full and urging people to visit other underutilized Open Spaces, like Eagle’s Nest and Red Mountain. This is every single weekend.
Trail overcrowding like this causes not only headaches for rangers and organizations to manage people, despite updated management plans that increase parking lot space, but it also causes rapid eroding of trails and damage to the surrounding ecosystem. While you and I may be responsible hikers – packing out our trash, staying on the trail, not bothering wildlife, and practicing Leave No Trace principles, not every person visiting a Natural Area, Open Space, State Forest, or National Park will do the same. It’s so bad in some of our Fort Collins Natural Areas, like Maxwell behind Hughes Stadium, that there are huge signs about picking up after your dog. That doesn’t really influence some dog owners as I saw piles of dog shit in bags littered along the trail. So, they might pick up, but then toss the whole bag in the brush. WHAT’S THE POINT OF THAT?!
I began to realise how bad this is getting after hiking different trails three to four times a week and seeing the type of traffic that goes through some areas. And then I found myself alone in 25,521 acres at Arapaho National Wildlife Refuge on a gorgeous spring Saturday. Because nobody was there, I was able to see rare sights like a North American River Otter honking/squawking and splashing around in the river.
Outdoor folks in Northern Colorado – we need to spread out.
We need to find the trails that aren’t listed in “best of” articles. We need to climb mountains that people don’t have a million photos of on Instagram. We need to seek the corners of the forest that aren’t already filled with thousands of people. We need to try new and different outdoor sports. My goal is to help spread the word on some of these places as best as I can here on Fresh Air Fort Collins, despite my affinity for being alone on the trail.
So, the next outdoor writer that tells you that any of these trails are the best in Fort Collins, I’m officially thinking of them as a douchebag. They are only making things worse. These are the WORST hikes in Northern Colorado because of overcrowding and wear and tear from overuse.
One of the first things people do when they move here is hike Horsetooth. Horsetooth rock is such an icon in Fort Collins that it’s incorporated in countless business logos – including Fresh Air Fort Collins. But, being an icon means that it becomes the go-to hiking trail for the entire city. Larimer County Natural Resources has to constantly remind people about full parking lots and that parking on the side of the street is illegal. It’s beyond overcrowded.
If you really want to hike this trail, do it in the winter or at night. Better yet, do it in the winter at night.
This is another trail that is overcrowded and worn down. The boundaries are also lined with mansions and massively expensive houses, but there’s not much we can do about that. It’s even busy during the week as a good number of people in Northern Colorado don’t work typical 9-5 office jobs.
If you want to hike this trail, avoid the weekend at all costs and try to hike through the backside on Blue Sky trail through the Rimrock Open Space connection.
This is the trail you take to hike to the iconic “A” on the side of the hill by Horsetooth Reservoir. It’s just as popular for trail photos as Horsetooth rock. It’s also a very popular place for trail running and mountain biking.
Despite being adopted by volunteers, this is the trashiest Natural Area I’ve ever hiked in town. I’m sure the adopters cannot keep up with the amount of dog poop-filled bags that litter the whole bottom half of the trail by the parking lot. By the parking lot, no less!!!
If you honestly need to hike here, do it once and officially mark it off your bucket list. There’s no need to come back. Find a different trail system outside of the Horsetooth area. You can find a list of Natural Areas on the City of Fort Collins Natural Areas map.
Greyrock is one of, if not the most popular trail in lower Poudre Canyon. The parking lot is frequently full, cars line the side of the highway, and inexperienced hikers get lost and call 911 for search and rescue. It’s such a high use area that the forest service has special regulations to help protect the environment. But, that doesn’t seem to help, because Poudre Wilderness Volunteers frequently discover illegal fire rings and other facets of trail system destruction.
This is another trail that you can do once and check off your hiking bucket list. One of the appealing draws is the wildflowers blooming in the meadow. Hold off on that, I’ll have a variety of wildflower posts to share with you if you’re not already catching them on Fresh Air Fort Collins Instagram. I’ll show you where to go without being shoulder-to-shoulder with other hikers and tramping flowers along the way.
If you want to hike in Poudre Canyon, find a trail higher up the road.
Get out there and explore the unknown parts of Colorado. Expand your horizons. There’s so much that our wilderness offers. Don’t limit yourself to crowded trails.
Since taking on Fresh Air Fort Collins eight months ago, I’ve amassed more outdoor gear than ever before. I was never a gear junkie…until we started prepping for our elk hunt last fall. Now we’re always looking at new gear to get us out more often or to make us more comfortable. I’ve also been looking at gear for outdoor adventures I’ve never attempted before 2014/2015, like snowshoeing, spring snow hiking, and backpacking.
As I’ve been gathering items and reading gear reviews – which I find incredibly helpful – I’ve decided to add gear reviews to Fresh Air Fort Collins. It’s not so much of a stretch considering my 6 years of experience as a restaurant critic on Feasting Fort Collins. Gear is different than food, but protocols are pretty similar – tested it out more than once, test it at length, and be honest.
I also have years of experience in biophysics and personal training. So I know when certain gear is going to jack your joints up.
First, we don’t spend a lot of money on gear. In fact, we will almost never pay retail on anything we buy. So you won’t find me reviewing god awful expensive gear that you won’t be able to afford. We buy most everything that I review out of our own pocket if the blog doesn’t have advertising sponsors (which it doesn’t, but I’d love to change that!). Somehow I’ve also been added to PR pitch lists and I receive a shocking amount of gear review requests. 99% of them get trashed, but there are those 1% that are worthwhile. Either way, I’ll alway let you know where we got gear that’s being reviewed.
Spring snow hiking as been a new endeavor for me this season as I’ve previous avoided the snow like the plague before this winter, thus there was a need for some new gear as I soon discovered on some hikes. Here’s an item that I’ve found to be essential in this transitional spring season.
If you catch the twitter updates from Rocky Mountain National Park, you’ll noticed spring trail reports will often relay that it’s icy up there and you need traction devices. On Valentine’s Day I attempted to hike Fern Lake with just boots and had to call it quits at The Pool as the snow got deeper and I started postholing. While the trail was alright up to that point, some traction devices would have been nice. That same week I hiked Arthur’s Rock in Lory State Park and nearly busted my ass on some thick ice that covered the whole bottom half of the trail (there was a warning sign from the rangers – I ignored it).
Between these two events, I was starting to realize I needed spikes of some sort.
When I was snowshoeing on the Gould Loop, my snowshoes were giving me blisters and the trail was hard-packed, so Becky let me borrow a pair or her Kathoola microspikes. I liked them as they were easy to put on and I felt nice and stable on the trail. I was about to pick up a pair for myself when I received an email to review the Hillsound Trail Crampon Ultra.
These crampons were intriguing because they’re a little more hardcore. They aren’t mountaineering crampons (which is way above my skill level at this point), but they are good for trail running, and backcountry snow hiking. They have longer, more durable stainless steel spikes, a top strap to keep them more secure on your boot, and a carry case to store them in. I especially liked the ultralight aspect.
I took them up to Pingree on Tom Bennet road for an initial test drive. The road wasn’t in any condition to drive on as I saw tire tracks from people getting stuck in their attempts. Great place to try out the spikes! They were perfect for keeping me stable, but I found that you have to make sure they are on evenly. It’s easy to get excited, throw on the crampons and start going gung-ho on the trail. That’s exactly what I did. And when I did, my left set wasn’t on evenly causing some weird gait issues and muscle pulling. It was only a short hike, but I was getting sore spots at the end when I shouldn’t have.
I tested them out again on a hike up to Odessa Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park. This time I made sure to secure them evenly and didn’t have any issues at all. In fact, this is where I fell in love with them.
The trail was hard-packed from Bear Lake all the way up the mountain. As usual, there were plenty of underprepared tourists slipping and sliding around in tennis shoes, not expecting that much snow at that elevation in the spring (surprise! It’s going to be there for possibly another 2 months). It felt pretty kick-ass to strap on the crampons and go without worry of injury.
The Hillsound Trail Crampon Ultra’s were like suction cups underneath my feet. I felt very solid on the trail and confident in every step (plus, I felt like a badass with spikes on my boots, but I would have felt that way with any crampon). I passed an older couple on snowshoes and asked them about the trail conditions above. They didn’t go all the way, saying that they turned around on the narrow sections that seemed a little sketchy.
I was SO HAPPY to be wearing crampons (and carrying trekking poles – but that’s a different review in the works). I was able to get across the narrow section just fine, but I might not have been able to so easily with snowshoes. Because of the combination of crampons and poles, I felt like I was hiking at a faster pace too. It was AWESOME and one of the best hikes I’ve had in a while.
On a different adventure, I brought them with me on my hike up Sandbeach Lake trail on the Wild Basin side of Rocky Mountain National Park. Most of the trail was dry until the halfway point. Once I saw that the whole trail was covered in snow, I sat down, easily strapped them on and got ready to continue up. But, the snow wasn’t hard packed because people hardly hike this side in the winter, thus I postholed for a bit before calling it quits. I needed snowshoes from that point up. So, I’m not exactly sure how these are supposed to help you on backcountry snow hikes when nothing is going to be hard packed off trail. Maybe for bridge crossing? Maybe people posthole often and I’m just not that into it? Seriously, doing that all the way up Zimmerman Lake in Cameron Pass last summer was enough for me.
Either way, I’ve found that you either need crampons or you need snowshoes – or both – for spring hiking at 10,000 feet elevation and above. Crampons are damn handy to have in your pack when the icy occasion arises. I’ve enjoyed my hikes with the Hillsound crampons and haven’t had any problems (when I put them on correctly – imagine that).
Now that I’ve been hiking with them, traction devices are on the necessity list for Colorado spring hikes.
Feel free to share your experiences with your spikes and crampons for Fresh Air Fort Collins readers to consider!
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received the Trail Crampon Ultra for free from Hillsound as coordinated by Groundswell PR in consideration for review. I was not compensated for this review. All opinions are my own.