Fort Collins has a lot going for it in the way of outdoor recreation. Not only do we have mountains and reservoirs mere minutes away, but the City Of Fort Collins puts forth a lot of effort to preserve, maintain, and grow Natural Areas around us. This gives everyone an opportunity to enjoy some space in nature, no matter where they live, no matter their economic status, or their physical abilities.
The Natural Areas Department’s mission is to conserve and enhance lands with natural resource, agricultural and scenic values, while providing education and recreation opportunities. Citizen-initiated city and county sales taxes fund the Natural Areas Department, including land conservation, trails and educational programs. Funds from these taxes, by law, are dedicated to the Natural Areas Department and may not be used for other parts of the city government. Thanks to those taxes, the City’s Natural Areas Department manages 44 sites, more than 110 miles of trails, and over 36,000 acres.
Natural Areas are a big part of living here. I absolutely love that I can hike, fish, or ride the trails so close to my home.
I’ve been to nearly all of the Natural Areas in the city and will write about each one here on Fresh Air Fort Collins. I hope to give you some insight on what you can expect, some interesting things to look for, and maybe guide you to a Natural Area that fits your needs because each one is unique in its own way!
Coyote Ridge Natural Area is a transitional area between the prairies and the mountains on the south-west side of Fort Collins on Taft just south of Trilby. It opened to the public in 2000, so it’s one of the newer Natural Areas (considering some of the others were purchased in the 70s). It’s an important corridor for wildlife and helps keep a separation between Fort Collins and Loveland. Here’s the PDF trail map that includes directions.
With 2.3 miles of trail, it’s one of the Natural Areas that offers a short but sweet trail for hiking, trail running, horseback riding, and mountain biking, although dogs are not allowed here. For longer adventures, the trail connects to Rimrock Open Space at the top of the ridge through Blue Skies Trail, and then connects to Devil’s Backbone Open Space from there. In fact, if you want to hike Devil’s Backbone, I suggest coming from this side to ease congestion from the main entrance.
You can find a variety of wildflowers and wildlife throughout the year. You can’t miss the prairie dogs and rabbits. I’ve also seen herds of mule deer and came off the ridge to the sound of howling coyotes at dusk! This is an ideal rattlesnake habitat, so keep your eyes peeled to avoid conflict. Here’s the Red Mountain Open Space post that goes into detail about rattlesnakes and what you should do if you find one on the trail. Apparently there are also badgers, burrowing owls, bear, and mountain lion, but I haven’t seen them at all.
Once you hike up the the first hill and the trail flattens out ot the view of the hogbacks, you’ll notice interpretive signs that mention the fossil-rich rock beds. It made me want to look into fossil hunting for future posts (you can’t do that here).
Hiking and Biking
This trail is a very popular spot for mountain biking and trail running. I’ve seen more people participating in those activities than I’ve seen hiking. It is a family-friendly trail since it’s so short, and includes a small nature trail loop and educational cabin. There’s also a side spur off the main trail where you can take a seat, enjoy the view, and watch for wildlife. I saw a herd of mullies chowing down on dinner one night!
Coyote Ridge Natural Area is a great place to go if you’re looking for something close to town that has fewer crowds than Horse Tooth and Devil’s Backbone, while still offering interesting views and an elevation gain that makes you sweat a little bit (600 feet). It’s an absolutely lovely place to watch a prairie sunset!