Away from the Grind

Coyote Ridge in Ft. Collins Open Space

by Roger Ludwig

Itching to get out and stretch your legs? Restless? A warm breeze, a few daffodils, robins hopping about the yard will do that to a person.

But here on these high plains all our favorite tramping grounds are bound in snow or slippery with mud. What’s a person to do? 

Drop about a thousand feet. It always surprises me how much warmer it is, how spring comes a few weeks earlier in Ft. Collins, Colorado. And they’ve got a vast spread of foothill ground preserved for hikers, runners, mountain bikers and horsemen.

Coyote Ridge Trail makes a pleasant spring walk, especially for young kids with their folks or grandparents. It’s also a gateway to a bodacious run of gear grinding single-track for mountain bikers.

Prairie dogs surround the first mile of trail as it makes a straight, broad path through their colony. Accustomed to people, they pop in and out of their burrows, raise tails in alarm and pipe out a good squeal just to keep in practice. Some of the kids I watched were squealing back in delight.

An easy mile in brings a bathroom and nearby cabin with a shaded deck for resting and viewing. Interesting and informative signs point out things to look for in the flora, fauna to spy out and the story of the geology that rises before you.

These foothills begin with parallel hogbacks, long ridges that lift in ever larger crescendos, separated by flat valleys. They look like gargantuan ocean waves rising to the point of breaking. It’s as if a voice called “stop” and froze them into rock, each a different color, a different texture.

The truth seems even stranger. They do come from water, the sediments of ancient sea floors. When the great granite of the Rockies rose in its effort to reach the sky it lifted these covering sediments into an incredible dome. The waters that made them now removed them, slowly washing the softer rock down to the sea, letting the granite breathe. What remains are these hogbacks.

Coyote Ridge is the first big one, rising about 300 feet from the cabin.
For those looking for a little exercise the trail makes a steady switchback to the top. It’s worth the view.

In spring deer are plentiful, and even in the afternoon the ridge’s namesakes were calling, hidden down below. Large hawks soar the thermals, riding waves of air above these waves of rock.

From the ridge top the trail, now in Larimer County’s Rimrock Open Space, leads down into the next valley, through another prairie dog town and up the next wave, this one not quite so steep and of more scenic red rock. 

Just over this hogback is the “T” junction with Blue Sky Trail, a long track that leads south to the Devil’s Backbone and Highway 34 or north to Horsetooth Reservoir and Lory State Park. Or to the west there is the next ridge to explore, a much bigger one, opened by the Indian Summer Trail.

There is no major loop to be made, it’s up and back, stopping and turning around wherever you like. And back is mostly down hill. For hikers it’s a pleasant early spring or late fall place to work out some kinks, enjoy the wildlife and expand into some open sky. 

Is the hike alone worth the drive? I suppose most would combine the trip with some other business or pleasure, spending an hour to three walking here. But for mountain bikers, this trail alone is worth it. Good track, nice views and enough room to pedal until you drop.

No fees. Free maps at the trailhead. Restrooms a mile in. No drinking water. Note that dogs are not allowed on this section. I don’t suppose they would mix well with the prairie dog colony.

I wondered how all of this open space came to be preserved. In 1992 Ft. Collins’ voters passed a small sales tax for open space. In 1995 citizens made it county wide. This ¼-cent sales tax has set aside more than 75,000 acres, through both purchase and conservation easements, for wildlife, recreation and agriculture. Some parcels are managed by the city, others by Larimer County.

They’ll send you a free color map showing all of the areas if you ask, emailing [email protected] or calling (970) 416-2815. The Ft. Collins open space website is at www.fcgov.com/naturalareas. Larimer County’s is www.larimer.org/naturalresources. 

Getting there

Take I-25 south from Cheyenne, Wyoming to Ft. Collins, exiting at Harmony Road. Follow Harmony to the west. It will curve to the north and then west again where it intersects Taft-Hill Road. Go south on Taft-Hill a mile or two. The Coyote Ridge parking lot is on the west and is well marked.

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