I have a confession. In the nine years that I’ve lived in Fort Collins, I’ve never hiked Horsetooth.
I have always hated the idea of it. It’s the busiest Open Space in the entire area. It’s like the Disneyland of trails for Fort Collins – the NoCo bucket list, the thing you must do if you spend any amount of time in the area. The parking lot is always full, and I loathe the idea of being shoulder-to-shoulder on a trail. Hell, there are countless business logos that feature Horsetooth Rock since it’s such a prominent landmark for our city. It is that ingrained in our lives here.
So, without hiking Horsetooth, I can tell you I hate it. I cannot think of a more miserable trail experience.
Call me a mountain snob. Call me an antisocial hiker (admittedly, I am). I’ve never enjoyed the “most popular (insert lake, trail, river, or whatever activity here).” I’m all about exploring the unknown, treading where fewer are dedicated enough to journey. I love doing things differently.
My friend Patti made a goal to hike Horsetooth 100 times this year, an idea encouraged by one of her kiddos. This week she sent me a message asking if I wanted to join her and some other ladies on a night hike to the top. Not one to pass up an invitation from a friend, I marked my calendar and thought it would at least get my ass out of the house in good company. Then, it snowed. The city was on accident alert. People bailed on the hike. Patti messaged me to make sure I was still up for it.
“I’m totally not bailing on you! I think this will be an amazing adventure!” I replied.
A fresh layer of snow, a full moon night hike, and everyone staying home instead of being anywhere near Horsetooth? SOUNDS PERFECT TO ME.
When we got to the trailhead we were the only car in the lot. We started walking up the trail as the sun dropped down behind the mountain range, covered by a thick blanket of clouds. The sky glowed a cool grey tone, the trail was illuminated by the reflection on the snow.
There wasn’t a soul on the trail except one guy on his way down. Patti and I had the whole mountain to ourselves.
There were some icy spots that I could feel when my heel dug into the fluffy snow. On the wide straightaways it seemed that there was a sheet of ice underneath the whole trail, so we hiked on the edges. We didn’t bring microspikes with us, and it was OK if we stepped cautiously.
We’d stop to take off layers and enjoy the view of the city below us. Not once did we have to pull out our headlamp. The snow was bright, almost looking like the mountain had been sprayed with shaving cream- soft, fluffy mounds of bright white with tinges of purple and blue highlights. It was gorgeous.
In the stillness of the night, in the peacefulness of winter, we inched our way up the dark trail, scrambling over icy patches until we got to the top. It was the most bitter cold I’ve felt in a long time up there with the wind, our fingers stinging as we shared a sip of coconut rum. We quickly high-fived and made our way down.
I love how different you feel between ascent and descent on a trail. Going up gives you the challenge, making you work up a sweat, making yourself dig deep for determination in some cases. While the descent is light and almost carefree. We decided to glissade down a few parts (which wasn’t really glissading, but just sliding down on our butts on the icy sections). It was hilariously fun, turning the hike into an adventure park.
We’d make sure to stop every now and then to take a deep breath and fill our lungs with forest air. Each time I’d get goosebumps, getting that mountain high from a burst of oxygen hitting my bloodstream. It was bliss.
And just as we were almost back to the trailhead, the full moon would finally peek out from behind the clouds, casting a luminescent light over the valley.
This is how to have the best hike at Horsetooth.
One Way Length: 2.5 miles, 5 miles round trip
Beginning Elevation: 5,430 ft
Peak Elevation: 7,225 ft