Now that summer is here — at least judging by the temperature — more and more of us will be out hiking, cycling and camping. Sure, any real Coloradan enjoys the outdoors year-round, but summertime allows us to go further away and to explore places that we may not have been able to get to during the winter. Increased interest and participation in outdoor recreation has contributed to busy trails, crowded parks and campgrounds and full parking lots at trailheads. Reservations are required just to visit places such as Rocky Mountain National Park and Hanging Lake, or to stay at a dispersed campsite in the U.S. Forest Service's South Platte Ranger District. Even places without required reservations may still get crowded, and you could conceivably travel a long distance only to discover there is no room for you.
Colorado's summer weather is usually well suited for outdoor recreation, but with some caveats. Summer days can start out hot and sunny and end with drenching thunderstorms that bring not only cold rain, but also hail and lightning. Lots of lighting. In addition, our typically low humidity can contribute to dehydration, and being at higher elevations can cause altitude sickness. A hot day in the mountains is often followed by a chilly — even cold — nighttime, often surprising those not familiar with the Colorado climate.
Forest fires are always a threat, and while the east side of the Continental Divide has had plenty of rain and snow, the west side of the state is in the grips of a severe drought, resulting in low water levels and dry forests. If you start one, make sure your campfire is completely out — you should be able to touch the ashes with your bare hand — before leaving. It's against the law in Colorado to leave a hot campfire unattended.
The best way to make sure you have the most fun with the least disappointment is to plan ahead and to be prepared. Call ahead to the park you plan to visit and check on reservation requirements. Ask what their busiest hours are, or what trails or attractions are the most popular. If your first choice falls through, have some other options at the ready. Plan ahead to get any permits or passes that might be necessary. And be flexible.
Also, make sure you're properly equipped with the "Ten Essentials," at a minimum, and pay attention to the weather, but understand that in Colorado, storms can pop up no matter the forecast.
Don't forget: If you pack it in, you have to pack it out, and Leave No Trace. And finally, make sure your vehicle is suitable for whatever roads you're going to be on and... if if there's one place you shouldn't depend on Google for directions, it's Colorado's backcountry.
Most of all HAVE FUN.
By the way: In last week's column I suggested the Dixon Trail in Cheyenne Mountain State Park if you were looking for an "epic" day hike. This week — something a little easier. Grayback Peak, southwest of Cheyenne Mountain and overlooking Emerald Valley Ranch, is a moderate 4-mile (round trip) hike, with great views from the north and south ends of the small summit. A relatively new re-route near the beginning of the trail makes the start of the hike a bit easier by avoiding a heavily eroded section of loose granite.
To get there: Take Old Stage Road for about 5.3 miles from the start of the dirt road. Turn left onto US Forest Service Road 371 (look for the sign for Emerald Valley Ranch), and follow it for .25 miles. Look for the small parking area on the left side of the road at the crest of a small hill. A horse trail crosses the parking area for the Grayback Peak trail. And please, do not block the horse trail.
Be Good. Do Good Things.