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.