While parking lots fill up on the weekend and trails in town are packed with hikers, there are trails in the wilderness where only the moose may roam that day.
Gould Loop in State Forest State Park is one of them.
I’ve written about snowshoeing the Gould Loop before, highlighting the full moon glow stick potluck events the Moose Visitor Center hosts twice each winter. Keep that event in mind for this winter, because it is a BLAST, and one of my all-time favorite outdoor events of the year. People flock to snowshoe and cross country ski from miles around to attend this annual tradition. It’s busy, but it is so much fun with that many people. That’s something you rarely hear me say about packed trails.
However, in the warmer months the Gould Loop tends to see fewer hikers. On some sections of the trail you may run into fishermen fly fishing in the Michigan river that parallels the route, and you’ll pass through the Ranger Lakes campground with possibly a few people roaming around. But generally, you may find yourself alone for the majority of the hike.
As long-time readers know, I cherish those solo trail moments. It’s precious quiet time to reflect and brainstorm on life. Boots in the dirt tends to accelerate the ruminating process. And, as I’ve mentioned before in previous articles about fear during solo hiking, you usually don’t have much to worry about.
On the Gould Loop? That might be different.
Worry is the wrong word, though. You have to be prepared, because the likelihood of coming across a moose on the trail is very high here. So high that they have warning signs about how to deal with aggressive moose right there at the trailhead. It is the heart of the mosse capital of Colorado, and we have more moose than Colorado Parks and Wildlife really want to see in the population at the moment.
People freak out about bears and have irrational paranoia about mountain lions. Moose are the wildlife that people truly need to be wary of. They are no joke and do not mess around with people. I’ve been chased by two moose before at Trap Lake. And the Gould Loop is where I most recently navigated the warning signs from two particularly stubborn and slightly aggressive moose on the trail.
As a solo hiker it’s difficult to make enough noise on my own. So, I’m cautious about blind corners and my surroundings, always keeping my eyes peeled for wildlife. On the early autumn day I was hiking the loop, I came around a bend and two moose were chowing down in an open field right next to the trail. There was plenty of distance between us to be safe.
Me: *clapping* “Hey moose!”
Moose: *looks up* Yeah. We see you. Go away.
Me: I’m just letting you know I’m here.
Moose: You’re annoying. Just go away.
Me: Well, I’ll just hang back here and wait for you to move.
Moose: Psh, we’re not moving. YOU are. *proceeds to slowly walk toward me*
Me: What? Are you really trying to push me off the trail?! This is dumb. I’ve only been hiking for 30 minutes. I’m not quitting.
Moose: *still walking toward me – the first warning signs of an attack*
Me: Jesus Christ, you stubborn jerk. Ugh. Fine. I’ll go off trail and get a tree buffer between us. Happy now?!
Moose: *glaring* Yeah, that’s right. We do what we WANT.
Me: *eye roll* Yeah. I know.
I’ve been around more moose than I can count these days. I know exactly when one is about to get persnickety, and what to do about it (get out of the god damn way, that’s what you do). So, I wasn’t terrified to see the initial warning signs of aggression from this particular moose when she started to push me off the trail. It was unnerving to hike off trail into the dense forest because it would have been more difficult to see a well-camouflaged moose, but at least there were plenty of trees to use as shields. It was a little heart rate elevating, but that was it. Not terrifying.
Aside from moose, this trail is easy, breezy, and a super relaxing stroll through some beautiful Colorado scenery in one of my favorite state parks. There are some historical remnants from when the sawmill operations from the 1940’s were running, if you’re a fellow history geek.
If you hike at a slower pace, you may be lucky enough to see lodgpole pine tipi’s, mule deer running through the forest, and fuzzy catepillars on the trail. This is one of the reasons why I like lowkey hikes – you get the opportunity to notice the simple things you’d typically miss with a higher paced more focused hike.
At a little over 6 miles, it may be too long for small kids, but it’s perfect for beginners who’ve just moved to Colorado and need to get used to our elevation. Or perfect for those outdoor experts who just want a chill hike instead of an outright climbing expedition with the possibility of a wildlife encounter.
One Way Length: 6.5 miles round trip in the loop
Beginning Elevation: 9,400 ft
Peak Elevation: 9,650 ft