Next time you drive through Loveland on U.S. Highway 34 on your way to Rocky Mountain National
Park, put aside a couple of hours to hike or ride the Devil's Backbone Open Space.
An approximately 5-mile-long swath of land between U.S. 34 just west of Loveland and north to the Rimrock Open Space, the Devil's Backbone is most notable for the mile-or-so line of ancient rock fins that jut out of the ground.
The impressive line of fins — picture the Garden of the Gods, but much longer and maybe not as red-hued — serve as not only as a backdrop for some great photo opportunities, but as a destination for hikers, cyclists and equestrians.
What makes hiking in this open space particularly enjoyable are the trail options, especially in terms of distance, available to the visitor. The open space features a series of "stacked" loops, joined by a single common trail. Hikers who wish to visit the Backbone's rock formations can do a fairly easy loop of just under 2.5 miles by hiking the Wild Loop Trail. Hikers wanting to a little more challenge and distance can take the Wild Loop until it reaches the Hunter Loop Trail and then loop back to the Wild Loop and complete that circle and return to the trailhead for a hike of about 4.5 miles.
Want to go further? Then after doing one side of the Hunter Loop, continue on to the Laughing Horse Loop, circle around and finish the opposite sides of the Hunter Loop and Wild Loop trails. On my visit there, this is how I routed my hike, taking the east side of each loop on the way out and the west side on the way back. On the west side of the Wild Loop, I took the short side trail to the Keyhole, which as you can imagine is a hole in one of the rock formations. This loop was about 6 miles round trip, most of it fairly easy, although the Laughing Horse Loop was pretty rocky.
If you want even more, the Blue Sky Trail goes from the top of the Laughing Horse Loop and eventually into the Rimrock Open Space. The Indian Summer Trail forms a large loop with the Blue Sky Trail, and a hike from the trailhead that incorporates the Blue Sky/Indian Summer Trail loop is about 12 miles round-trip. Or, you can continue through the Rimrock Open Space to the Horsetooth Mountain Open Space, for a hike or ride of about 9 miles one way.
To Get There: Take Highway 34 west of Loveland to just past mile marker 88. Turn right (north) onto Hidden Valley Drive just east of the old water tank. The trailhead is on your left.
Things you need to know: This area is wide open, with zero shade. On my hike in early July, even with an early start, it got hot quickly. Dogs are allowed and must be leashed, but I did not bring my dog out of concerns about the heat. There are bathroom facilities and a water refill station at the trailhead. Equestrians are not allowed on the Wild Loop Trail. The Hidden Valley Trail, which starts near the trailhead and loops back to the south end of the Hunter Loop Trail is open to bikes, equestrians and trail runners, but not hikers. The hike is mostly moderate in difficulty, but some areas are rocky and may require expert equestrian or mountain-biking skills. There are no entry fees.
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.