Two trails in Roosevelt National Forest to the west of Fort Collins provide not only enjoyable hikes, but also a demonstration of the resilience of nature and its ability to recover from wildfire.
In June 2012, the High Park and Hewlett Gulch fires in Larimer County burned more than 87,000 acres while also destroying 259 homes and taking a life. Additionally, the fires destroyed hiking trails in Hewlett Gulch and Young Gulch, and the following year, heavy rains caused significant flooding along the burn scars, including in Young and Hewlett gulches. Both trails have since been rebuilt and new trail routes and bridges have been added.
The Hewlett Gulch Trail/Trail #954 is a pleasant "lariat" hike of about 8.3 miles, starting with an easy 2-mile trek along (and often crossing) Gordon Creek, which feeds into the Cache La Poudre River. The views are open and spectacular and, in mid-June, bursting with a variety of wildflowers. The ruins of an old building are located along the trail, at about .7 miles from the trailhead. At 2 miles, the trail forks. My suggestion is to bear right, hiking counterclockwise for an easier trip.
The trail crosses the creek a few more times before climbing out of the gulch, and while the creek crossings from the trailhead to the fork are constructed bridges, others crossings farther along may be nothing more than a (narrow) log. You will likely get your feet wet at some point. Once the trail climbs out of the gulch, the views expand, are breathtaking, and seem to go on forever. There aren't any trees on this part of the trail and it can get hot, so bring plenty of water and watch out for your pooch.
The loop is about 4 miles and it's fairly easy, while the last mile or so is made up of a series of switchbacks descending to the creek, thus my suggestion to the loop counterclockwise. Once you close the loop, follow the trail back to the trailhead.
The Young Gulch Trail/Trail #999 is a bit west of Hewlett Gulch and on the opposite side of the Cache La Poudre River. This out-and-back hike crosses a creek numerous times and starts off with a number of nicely constructed, wide bridges. The first 1.75 or so miles is in deep forest with plenty of shade before breaking out into the burn scar, about another 2 miles. At around 3.75 miles, hikers reenter the dense forest until the well-marked end of the trail (private property boundary) after about 5.25 miles. From here, turn around and return to the trailhead. This trail was also filled with wildflowers and quite beautiful.
The tall green grasses and abundant wildflowers on both trails, especially in the burn scars, are a testament to nature's ability to recover from disaster, although it will take generations for trees to return to their previous majesty.
To Get There: From Fort Collins, take US 287 north to Colorado Highway 14, where it enters Poudre Canyon at Johnson's Corner. Take CO 14 10.5 miles to Hewlett Gulch, and Young Gulch is about 13 miles. Both trailheads are well marked.
Things You Need to Know: Water is not available at either trailhead. There are restrooms (pit toilets) at Hewlett Gulch, but no facilities at Young Gulch. Creek water is available on both trails, however do not drink unfiltered or unpurified water. Both trails are open to hikers, cyclists and horses, but motorized vehicles aren't allowed. Horse trailer parking is somewhat limited at Hewlett Gulch, and horses are not recommended after the first 1.7 miles on Young Gulch.
The High Park and Hewlett fires occurred in the same month as the Waldo Canyon fire, just west of Colorado Springs. While the Waldo Canyon burn scar is open, trail development was put on hold as concerns regarding year-round access to the property were addressed. The Colorado Department of Transportation indicated the original trailhead, precariously located on a blind curve on Highway 24, would not reopen. The recent Colorado Springs TOPS purchase of the Pikeview and Black Canyon quarries was intended, in part, to provide future access to Waldo Canyon. According to Ranger Oscar Martinez, U.S. Forest Service's Pikes Peak District, the process of developing trails in Waldo Canyon can move forward now that there is access into the canyon. According to Martinez, his office is preparing to apply for a "Great America Outdoors Act" grant to develop and build trails in Waldo Canyon. Martinez said the "Re-imagine Waldo Canyon" process, conducted from 2018 to 2020, gathered stakeholder and public input regarding recreating in the area. That input will act as the backbone for the grant request. If approved, GAOA funds will be available in 2023.
Be Good. Do Good Things. Leave No Trace.