Highlights: A short, pleasant, early season jaunt to the top “tooth” of this Front Range hogback, giving generous 360 degree views of mighty peaks, great plains and deep blue waters.
Location: Just west of Ft. Collins, Colorado.
Elevations: Trailhead at 5765`, Horsetooth Rock, 7256`.
Distance: Approximately 5 miles round trip, about a 3 hour walk.
Guides: Larimer County’s “Horsetooth Mountain Open Space” brochure; Caryn & Peter Boddie’s Hiking Colorado II.
Getting There: From Cheyenne, WY, take I-25 south to Harmony Road exit (#265), then west on Harmony. Past the intersection with Taft Hill Road follow the signs to “Horsetooth Mountain Park“. Harmony becomes CR 38E, climbing up to the Horsetooth Dam and then around the south end of the reservoir. A large, well marked and well appointed parking area is on the right, about 58.5 miles from Cheyenne. Daily permit is $6. Toilets, water, picnic tables and free maps can be found there.
The Hike: Two trails begin at the north side of the parking lot. Take the one on the right, signed to Horsetooth Rock. There are what at first appears to be a bewildering number of trails in this 2,711 acre preserve. Thankfully they are very well marked with steel posts.
The trail climbs up a grassy switchback then turns into a delicious grove of ponderosas, shading the trail. Rose granite boulders and formations begin and continue to the big teeth themselves. The rock is liberally spiced with quartz and mica. Scattered blooms color the floor, including purple pasque flowers
For a short section the trail is shared with mountain bikes but it’s wide and your shouldn’t have a problem.
The trail climbs to parallel the great jaw bone with its granite teeth. It was named by early trappers. But where trappers saw a jaw, Native Americans saw a heart, the heart of the Great Red Warrior who, after a long battle, was killed by the Great Black Warrior. Toward the north end of the rocks the trail turns west into a gap. From there it’s hand and toe crawl and scramble up to the high point. Some may feel safer taking the view from the gap but the route up isn’t too bad.
The view is magnificent. The white peaks of Rocky Mountain National Park are to the west. On a clear day Pikes Peak is visible far to the south. And to the east is the deep blue water of Horsetooth Reservoir, the city of Ft. Collins and the endless expanse of the prairie.
There are several options for the hike back. Studying the map will show a loop on the Audra Culver trail, or the longer loop taking the Wathen trail to Spring Creek to Horsetooth Falls. The Falls trail is popular but don’t expect much water this late in the season. Depending on time and energy there are many trails here, 29 miles to be exact, and then there is adjacent Lory State Park with its 20 trail miles.
Pointers: I should comment on the wildlife. There are many primates here, homo sapiens, of all shapes and sizes. Young of the species enjoy taking parents. Couples saunter. Some jog. Many young beautiful women and men take to the paths. Dogs, too, are prevalent, little and big, leading their people, little and big, on leashes. A sign warned of snakes and bears but sadly I didn’t see any.
This is a friendly, sociable place to stretch legs and expand lungs with many fine restaurants to quench a thirst and satisfy an appetite on the way home. Keep in mind that it may be considerably warmer than Cheyenne.