Hiking Bob: Longwater Trail is a testament to fire recovery 

click to enlarge BOB FALCONE
  • Bob Falcone
Eighteen years ago this coming Monday, June 8, the Hayman Fire, the largest wildfire in Colorado's recorded history, started near Lake George. For 10 days, the fire burned its way north and east through the Pike National Forest, destroying more than 138,000 acres of forest land. The fire was a slow-burning, hot and intense fire, which scrubbed the earth clean of all vegetation, making the soil hydrophobic, preventing  it from absorbing water. As a result, subsequent rainfall washed over the burn scar, creating flooding, severe erosion and preventing vegetation from taking root for a number of years. If you travel anywhere into the burn scar, you'll see a landscape that is still largely barren, with new growth aspen only 10 or 12 feet tall, sparse areas of grass, and sporadic areas of wildflowers. 

By contrast, the Waldo Canyon Fire that occurred 10 years later, was a faster-moving fire, and its long-term effects on the soil and vegetation in the burn scar are less pronounced, with natural recovery occurring at a much faster rate. If one didn't know better, one would understandably believe the Hayman Fire was the more recent of the two events, based on the amount of devastation that still exists in the burn scars.

The Longwater Trail,
U.S. Forest Service trail 619, on the edge of the Hayman Fire burn scar, is a visual testament to fire recovery. But, it's also more than just that. It's a tough, secluded hike with great views, that winds it's way through beautiful stands of new-growth aspens and wildflowers of almost every variety known to live in this area, before ending at the confluence of the Tarryall Creek and the South Platte River.

View Slideshow for Details
How to Get There: From U.S. Highway 24 just west of Lake George, turn north on Park County Road 77. Follow it for almost 5 miles to Forest Service Road 210 and turn right. Follow FS 210 for about 1.75 miles until it ends at the trailhead.  FS 210 is not marked where it intersects with CR77. See slideshow for visual cues.

Things You Need to Know: This is a difficult hike. There is almost 2,700 feet of  descent from the trailhead to the river, which is about 4 miles each way. Much of the descent is after the first 1.3 miles, meaning that the steepest descent, and subsequent ascent, occurs in less than 3 miles. Total distance of this hike is around 8 miles. The trail is easy to follow, on, at times, soft turf, rocks and lots of slippery Pikes Peak granite skree. You will at times have to go around or over downed trees.

There are no water or restroom facilities at the trailhead, and cell phone service is sketchy at the trailhead and non-existent after that. The use of hiking poles is highly recommended. Bring plenty of water and snacks. Expect the return trip up to take as much as twice as long as the hike down.

Be aware of the possibility of flash flooding when near the river, and watch weather conditions and the weather forecast closely before doing this hike. Storms you may not be aware of or even see can cause flash flooding. You are exposed to the elements for the majority of this hike.

This hike is featured in the Colorado Parks and Wildlife COTREX app and website, but they do not reflect changes to the trail, which occur about 3 miles down from the trailhead. See slideshow for details. Dogs, bikes and horses are allowed on the trail; use caution around free-ranging cattle that may be grazing near the trailhead. Motorized vehicles are not allowed.

As always, be cognizant of any COVID-19 restrictions and guidance. You may have to keep this hike in your back pocket, so to speak, until you're able to do it without restrictions.

Be Good. Do Good Things.

Bob Falcone is a retired firefighter, photographer, hiker, business owner and author of Hiking Bob's Tips, Tricks and Trails, available via his website. He has lived in Colorado Springs for almost 28 years. Follow him on Twitter (@hikingbob), Facebook (@hikingguide), Instagram (@HikingBob_CO) or visit his website (Hikingbob.com). E-mail questions, comments, suggestions, etc. to Bob: info@hikingbob.com.


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