One of the things I aim to do with this column is to highlight places to go that you might not be aware of. While most of us who engage in outdoor recreation are familiar with the Colorado State Parks in the Pikes Peak Region (Cheyenne Mountain, Mueller, Castlewood Canyon and Lake Pueblo, for starters) we, by way of limited travel time, or lack of awareness, don’t have the opportunity to visit some of our state's other parks. And that's a shame, because each park that I’ve visited so far (admittedly a small percentage of the state's 41 parks) have been a gem, and each with a distinctive personality.
I recently spent some time in the Fort Collins area, a part of the state that for some reason - probably the aforementioned time availability - I haven’t spent much time exploring. On this trip, one of the places I made a point of visiting is Lory State Park, about 20 minutes west of Fort Collins. The park has 26 miles of trails and is also directly adjacent to Larimer County’s Horsetooth Mountain Open Space and Horsetooth Reservoir, both providing more recreation options for visitors. Most of the trails in the park are open to hikers, cyclists and equestrians (there are some exceptions), and leashed dogs are allowed on trails. While the park does not have a campground, it does have some backcountry campsites, a nice amenity for any state park.
As I was only going to be in the area for a few days, and with several different places on my "to-visit" list for this short trip, I had one day I could devote to taking a hike in the park. If I was going to have one shot at doing a hike there, I wanted to make it: a) of a fairly decent length; b) more than just an easy and flat hike; and c) something with decent views. After poring over maps and the Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s online COTREX resource, I put together a loop hike that met all those parameters.
The loop I created started at the south end of the main road through the park at the Arthur's Rock trailhead. While the website for the park says that few trails there have grades of more than 12 percent, I can attest that the Arthur's Rock trail is more than that over most of its length of just under 2 miles. In fact, some parts of the trail exceed 30 percent! The hike from the trailhead to Arthur's Rock is a strenuous hike of under 2 miles with more than 1,100 feet of elevation gain, including a rock scramble off to the namesake rock. The payoff - and there has to be one to make the workout justifiable - are great views of both the park and of Horsetooth Reservoir.
From Arthur's Rock, I climbed back down. Here there is an intersection of the Arthur's Rock, Howard and Timber trails. The Howard Trail, a difficult trail for cyclists and equestrians, will eventually return you to the trailhead. Instead, I followed the Timber Trail, which climbed for about 1/10th of a mile before descending into rolling hills, past a few backcountry campsites. This heavily wooded part of the trail had a plethora of colorful wildflowers, and a few Abert squirrels were seen scampering about.
About a 3/4 mile after leaving the Arthur's Rock Trail, the Timber Trail turns right and goes downhill to the main part of the park. Instead of taking that route, I turned left onto the Westridge Trail. This trail had great views to the west, including the bare tops of 14ers. The first 4/10 of a mile were pretty gentle until the trail started a steep, straight climb for about the next 6/10 of a mile until reaching the high point of this hike at a little over 7,000 feet. From here, the trail descended for the next 3/4 of a mile until it reached the other end of the Howard Trail.
I turned right on the Howard Trail, which continued a steep, long downhill route, which included some tight switchbacks for about 1.5 miles, until it met the Mill Creek Link Trail. Along the way, I could see the Arthur's Rock Trail across a narrow canyon, and from this vantage point I could see the switchbacks on that trail and could appreciate why the trek to Arthur's Rock was as difficult as it was. Although the Howard Trail is all downhill, the steep, rocky trail was not always easy and often required careful foot placement.
When the Howard Trail met the Mill Creek Link Trail I turned left. I followed this trail for about 4/10s of a mile until it met the South Valley Loop Trail, and followed it for about 2/10s of a mile until returning to the trailhead.
Things you need to know: This is a mostly difficult hike of just under 7 miles, as measured with my GPS. Much of it is in the open, and when I did this hike in early July, the temperatures were reaching the mid-90s by 10:30 a.m. If you bring your dog along, it must be leashed, and keep the temperatures and length into consideration. It may be advisable to not bring your dog on this hike in the heat of the summer. There is a pit toilet at the trailhead, but no water, and there is no water along the hike, so bring plenty. The park opens at 5 a.m. and the gates are closed and locked at 9 p.m. Entry fees do apply. Motorized vehicles are not allowed on the trails.
As always, when traveling, check your destination for any COVID-19 restrictions. Don't become an unwanted burden, especially on small towns.
El Paso County's Pineries Open Space has seen so much usage in the short time that it has been opened, that the county is adding "overflow" parking to accommodate users. According to county park planner Ross Williams, increased parking is one of the scheduled improvements for "Phase 2" of the project, scheduled for 2023. In the meantime, however, additional parking for equestrian trailers will be added to the west of the current parking area, along the exit road. The additional 450 feet of trailer parking will also convert the parking lot and driveway into a one-way route, and signs and fencing will be added to guide drivers in the proper direction.
Be Good. Do Good Things. Explore.
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: firstname.lastname@example.org.