I would often drive by the Big South trailhead in upper Poudre Canyon and think to myself, “I will hike that trail this summer.” But, for some reason or another, I never got to it. I missed hiking this trail for a good three years, thus landing it on my Colorado hiking bucket list.
Upper Poudre Canyon is my favorite part of the canyon to hike in. The subalpine forests are absolutely gorgeous with thick green conifer trees and crystal clear creeks. If I were a pioneer settler coming to live in Colorado in the 1800s, I would have lived up there. I think this made skipping Big South that much more painful every year.
Well, this was the year I checked it off the list, and I have to say that this is probably my favorite trail in Poudre Canyon (so far). It is absolutely beautiful following the Poudre River into the Comanche Peak Wilderness, through a lush forest with stunning canyon views.
When you get to the trailhead you’ll notice an unsettling sign about children getting lost in the wilderness next to the map.
On October 2, 1999, 3-year old Jaryd Atadero disappeared while hiking with a group of 11 people from a Christian Singles Network group his family belonged to. Jaryd had been running ahead of the group on the trail to play games and startle group members as they came around the trail corners. After a few times, he completely disappeared.
They searched for him for months via helicopter and search and rescue teams without a single trace. His father, Allyn Atadero, was adamant that his son had been kidnapped from the trail. It wasn’t until June 10, 2003 that remnants of his clothing were found in a precarious location that required search and rescue to access by climbing on their hands and knees. There are still no answers as to what happened. There were rumors of it being a mountain lion attack, but there is no solid evidence to support the theory.
On Oct. 6, 2001, the Big South Trailhead was dedicated to the memory of Jaryd. Whistles were distributed to children as a safety precaution should they ever get separated from an adult. Jaryd’s disappearance persuaded Atadero and his daughter, Josallyn, to lobby in Colorado for the Amber Alert. The dedication sign serves as a reminder to all hikers and families that there are inherent risks on the trail and how to best be prepared for them.
I can’t tell you how much this put me into extreme awareness on the trail since I was solo hiking. It’s also moose country, so I was on high alert. It’s difficult to listen to your surroundings because you’re hiking right next to the river which drowns out any sound. When you’re relaxed and comfortable, it provides some amazing hypnotic white noise. When you’re solo, you can get jumpy when hikers come up behind you without warning. Or at least, that’s how I was. It was almost ridiculous how startled I got at times.
Big South is about 50 miles up highway 14 from Ted’s Place, and right around the base of Cameron Pass. It’s a popular trail for hikers and backpackers alike, with 19 designated campsites along the trail available on a first come, first serve basis. It’s a designated travel zone, so no campfire rings are allowed – just your backpacking stoves.
At that point, a river run through the trail.
There used to be a bridge, but it was washed out years ago and the Forest Service had no plans to rebuild. The only way to cross to the upper part of the trail is to wade through, which is difficult to near impossible during most parts of the year. So, this is technically the end of the trail now. You can access the upper section of Big South through Corral Creek Trail on Long Draw Road (which is currently still closed).
It’s a good stopping point with spectacular seating on a cliff overlooking the namesake. Big South Trail is named for the Big South Fork of the Poudre River. I loved hanging out, eating some snacks, and soaking up the sun. At that point there weren’t many people on the trail, so I had the whole area to myself. IT WAS AWESOME, and definitely bucket-list worthy.
On the way back there was a tree that had fallen across the trail that wasn’t there on the way up. Friendly reminder! Falling trees really are a wilderness danger to be aware of!
At the end of the day, 14 miles under my belt, plenty of contemplative time, and absolutely stunning scenery made Big South trail one that I’ll love for years to come.
One Way Length: 7 miles to the washed out bridge
Beginning Elevation: 8,497 ft
Peak Elevation: 9,553 ft
Rating: Moderate to Strenuous