Sunday, August 5, 2012

Spruce Mountain

A walk in the woods to me is an exploration of myself because no matter how busy the world seems, when I take the time to walk in the woods I reconnect with who I truly am.  I take the time to appreciate the beauty that the natural world holds for me & I understand the glory of watching a hawk soar & I know that through nature we are all connected.  Each journey I’ve embarked on is unique in its own way & I hope  that the joy I find in each hike inspires you to get out & enjoy everything the natural world has to explore. 

This month’s hike is Spruce Mountain.

Getting there: Spruce Mountain is south of the Denver metro area, go south on I-25 to the Greenland exit (167), turn right (west) at the end of the ramp, you’ll snake around & cross a couple railroad tracks before coming to a stop sign at Spruce Mountain road, turn left (South) & travel about ¼ of a mile parking & the trailhead are on your right.  This is a popular place to go, to get a parking spot I would suggest arriving before 10:00am. 

The Details: The hike is approximately 5.5 miles in a nice loop, the hike begins at approximately 7,100 feet, the highest point is approximately 7,500 feet for a total elevation gain of 400 feet.  This hike will take you 2.5 to 3 hours at a comfortable pace.  Dogs are allowed on a leash. 

The journey:  The trailhead is at the end of the parking lot, we headed due west along a well defined trail for approximately 1/3 of a mile then we turned left & began the ascent to the top of Spruce Mountain.  Within a few hundred feet of the turn you are welcomed by a forest full of pine trees. This hike is a perfect place if you enjoy the smell of pine trees, the entire hike weaves in & out of the pines forest.
The trail up to the top is easy to follow & there are several switchbacks to make the climb even easier.  Along the way you have beautiful views of the Front Range & there are many places to pull off the trail & take in the valley & mountains around you.

Once you’ve reached the top (approximately 1.5 miles) you are on a wonderful flattop mountain.  The next 2.5 miles is just a magnificent stroll along this large flattop mountain.  The views on every side are incredible & the walk along this path is easy & enjoyable. 
To the South you have views of Pike’s Peak.

  To the south a beautiful valley & the foothills

& to the north more views of the Front Range

This experience was one of my favorite hikes so far, overall it’s a hike that anyone can do even though it’s 5.5 miles.  I would suggest to pack a picnic lunch & sit up top halfway through your hike & enjoy the views.
At the end of the loop you’ll need to take a sharp left to head back down the mountain.  There is a trail sign at this point but it points to the right for those coming up the mountain.  As you continue back down the mountain you’ll come across a point about halfway where you can go to the left or to the right.  The left trail will lead you back to where you came up the mountain, the right trail is an easy decent back to the parking lot. 

Till next time,


Deer Creek Canyon

The journey I take when I walk through the woods is more to me than just the discovery of the beauty of nature, it is truly the discovery of myself.  For when I walk amongst the natural world I find a quiet & peace within me that I know nowhere else.
This month’s journey is to a beautiful place in Jefferson County , Deer Creek Canyon.  To get there take C-470 to Wadsworth Avenue South, turn right at South Deer Creek Canyon Road go approximately 4 miles to Grizzly Drive turn left and wind your way for ¼ to a ½ of mile to the parking (on your right).
The trails we took again created our own loop the total hike is approximately 2.7 miles, it begins at an elevation of 5,950 & peaks at a height of 6,450.  The total elevation gain is 500 feet & it’s a glorious romp through the foothills that gives you amazing views of the Front Range, Denver & the surrounding Deer Creek Canyon area.  I would consider this hike an urban hike as it’s nestled in a neighborhood but rarely do you see the homes, businesses or any reference to the neighborhood.
On this trail you are allowed to bring your dogs as long as they are leashed.  We began on the Meadowlark Trial which starts right from the parking area & heads west into the foothills. The trail winds through the hills & in & out of pines & gamble oaks.  The elevation gain begins after about ½ a mile but because of the switchbacks & winding trail in general you don’t really feel the elevation gain like so many other trails. The red rocks on the walls of the canyon around this area are beautiful anytime of the year but I love the way the white snow sets off the colors all around you.
The Meadowlark trail is only open to hikers so there’s no concern on this part of the trail for bikers or people on horseback.  After continuing for about a mile you reach the highest point of this hike the views all around you are amazing as you can see most of the Front Range as well as Denver.

Once you’ve taken in the views from the top you begin to slowly move back down.  You’ll leave any thought of being in an urban neighborhood behind as you wind between two hills & into an alpine forest.  At the end of the Meadowlark trail you’ll cross a bridge & turn to your left.  The evergreen trees envelop you as you start back towards the parking lot. In addition to the evergreens you have sections of the trail that have large boulders.  You follow this section of the trail for approximately ½ a mile once you leave the forest behind.  You’ll have a hard turn to your left.  This section of the trail isn’t well marked ahead is Plymouth Creek Trail which Meadowlark trail runs right into if you continue straight you’ll  continue back up a steep climb. 
Instead, follow the Plymouth Creek trail back to your left & you’ll wind your way back to the parking lot in just over a mile.

This hike was a lovely way to spend a couple of hours.  We enjoyed the views & the topography of this hike a lot.  I encourage you to check it out when you have a chance.

Till next time,


Sunday, July 29, 2012

Castlewood Canyon State Park

The moments we share with the ones we love are priceless & for me sharing the beauty of the natural world with family & friends can’t be beat.  Part of our family are two wonderful dogs, Sydney & Adelaide.  They are Australian Cattle Dogs & we love being able to take them on adventures with us.
This month we visited Castlewood Canyon State Park in Franktown.  To get there take I-25 south to Founders Parkway/ CO-86, go east about 12 miles & turn south onto Castlewood Canyon Road.  This is the west entrance to the park & there is no visitors center here.  You’ll need $7 cash for the entrance fee that you’ll put into an envelope at the entrance.  Park in the Westside trailhead parking lot.
The trail we took was a combination trail that when put together becomes a perfect loop of this lovely canyon.  The total length was 4 ¾ miles & took us approximately 2.5 hours.  Starting from the parking lot you walk  for about .2 miles on the Falls Spur trail, when you reach the end of this trail we turned left onto the Creek Bottom trail.  This trail begins at approximately 6,400 feet & continues slowly downward into the canyon.
The views from this trail are truly breathtaking as you walk along Cherry creek.  After continuing for about 1 mile you’ll come to the next trail on this journey, it’s called Rimrock trail.  This trail will lead you up to the sheer cliffs of the canyon.  The trail moves down at first & then back up to the top of the canyon, an elevation gain of approximately 300-400 feet.

After you catch your breath from the climb you walk right to the end of the canyon & you can then see the entire front range.  The trail at this point is over the flat rocks of the canyon top & a fairly easy journey with incredible views.  This trail continues for about 2 miles till you reach the Dam trail.

This trail brings you back down to the bottom of the canyon with a fairly steep descent.  The total length of this trail is only a bit more than a ¼ of a  mile but we found this part of the hike difficult because of the steepness of the descent.
Once you reach the bottom you connect again with the Creek Bottom trail & continue right along Cherry creek until you find your way back to the Falls Spur trail & back to the parking lot.  The great thing about doing the hike the way we did it was on this last spur of the Creek Bottom trail we could see where we were at the top of the canyon.
We did this hike on a beautiful day in January but I advise you to bring clip-on’s or something else for your boots to deal with the ice.  Since the Canyon looms over much of the trail in the winter,  it is a bit treacherous at times.  The dogs never had an issue but we were walking very carefully in many places.  Dogs are allowed in the park & on this trail as long as they are leashed.  I encourage you to enjoy this wonderful & very different place.
Till next time,

The Bluffs

Often in my life trying to find time to get away & enjoy the outdoors is a challenge, since I’ve moved to Colorado that challenge has grown because I long to be out in the beauty we have around us every day.  I have enjoyed exploring this state & look forward to continuing to find the best places to go & be a part of nature.  I thank all of you for your comments & suggestions & hope over the coming years I can see all the places that you each hold so dear.

Even though the mountains are close for many of us, when I don’t have the time to run away to even the foothills, I’ve found a place that warms my heart & allows me to see the front range in all its glory!  This place is called Bluffs Regional Park, it’s located off of I-25 south of Denver.  The easiest way to get there is to get off at Lincoln Avenue go west to Yosemite turn left (South) there’s a sign approximately ¼ of a mile on your right side to turn & go to the end of the road.  The park is free & accessible with dogs or by bike if you prefer.
The hike itself allows you to see panoramic views of Denver, the Denver Tech Center & much of the front range.  There’s plenty of parking most days & the path is fairly easy.  The total hike is approximately 2 ¾ miles with an elevation gain of only 250ft or so.  The trail is well marked & there are two separate side trails you can take to overlooks that are amazing.
When leaving the parking lot the trail splits to the right & left (this is a loop trail), I have always gone to the right by doing this you avoid the greatest elevation gain till about halfway through the hike.  If you choose to go to the left the elevation gain is immediate.
The trail is very winding & moves through an urban area that is surrounded by many houses.  The rolling hills that make up The Bluffs hide & reveal these houses at various points throughout the hike.  After walking for 1/3 of a mile or so, you get your first look at the City of Denver off to your right.  As you continue on the path the front range opens up in front of you & all the glory of mountains can be seen.

The path continues to meander through these rolling hills as you reach the halfway point you make a turn back towards the parking lot, this is when the hike can become a bit difficult as within approximately ¼ of a mile you walk up the highest of the Bluff’s hills.  Once you reach the top there’s a path to your left that leads to one of the two lookouts, I encourage you to checkout both of these view points as you can see for miles in all directions.  If you choose to continue to the right in a few hundred feet there’s a trail that goes to the left to the second lookout.  I enjoy this spot the best as you can see the trail below.

After leaving the last lookout you work your way back to the parking lot.  The total hike should take you between 1 – 1.5 hours & is lovely in any kind of weather.  In the summer months you’ll want to pay more attention to the bikers but overall for an urban hike this one can’t be beat.

Till next time,


Mills Lake

The fall has always been my favorite time of the year.  I love the cool mornings, crisp evenings, the blue of the sky & the colors that abound this time of the year.  I believe that knowing the winter is coming makes this time even more precious to me.  The days get shorter but I always enjoy being out in nature to enjoy the changes that happen all around me.  There is beauty in each season & I appreciate every season for what it brings to my life but the fall will always be my favorite. 

The journey I’ll take you on this month is one of my favorite hikes; Mills Lake, in Rocky Mountain National Park.  If you’ve never been on this hike, I encourage you to go & enjoy the place that was chosen as the picture of Colorado, the back of the state quarter. 

In the summer I encourage you to park at the park & ride & take the shuttle to Glacier Gorge.  There is very limited parking here so the shuttle is always the best option.  You can park at Bear Lake & add approximately ¾ of a mile to this hike.  The hike itself starts at an elevation of 9,240 feet & gains approximately 750 feet along the way.  Mills Lake is at 9,990 feet is the altitude alone makes this hike a bit difficult for the beginner.  From the trailhead at Glacier Gorge the roundtrip distance is approximately 5.6 miles.  I would give myself at least 3 hours for this hike, although the three times I’ve done it I’ve taken closer to 4 because I love to sit at the lake & take in the mountains that surround it. 

Starting from Glacier Gorge the hike begins with a stroll through a wonderful Aspen forest.  You feel completely surrounded by the Aspens & it’s a wonderful way to begin this hike.  The path ahead is fairly rocky so I hope to encourage you to wear a good pair of hiking boots.  As with most trials in RMNP, the trail is well marked & easy to follow. 

After leaving the Aspen forest you slowly begin your trek up to Mills Lake.  The first amazing view along the way (& place that many families hike to & then return) is Alberta Falls.  There is several great viewing places along the trail to see this lovely waterfall.  From the start of the hike it’s only approximately ¾ of a mile to Alberta Falls so it is an easy place to stop & enjoy the view.  In the summer months you’ll leave the crowds behind once you pass by the falls.

The trail ahead continues upward & the views along the way can be breathtaking.  There are many places to ‘pull off’ the trail & take a look that the vast expanses of the park because of the height of this trail on clear days you can see for miles & miles.  In the fall you can see the mountainsides speckled with the color of the Aspens & the green of the pines. 

You’ll  come to a fork in the trail at approximately 2.2 miles into the hike.  You have a choice at this point to turn to your left & finish the Mills Lake trail or go to your right & head up to The Loch.  I’ve done both of these hikes & they are both well worth your journey.  The Loch finishes with a large elevation gain right at the end so be aware of this if you choose this path.

As you continue on to Mills Lake you’ll move through a pine forest & then into a very rocky part of the hike.  You’ll traverse a few boulders as you make your way up to the lake.  The approach to the lake is well hidden & you won’t discover the full glory of this gem until you actually get to the banks of the lake. 

Once you’ve made it across the boulders you’re almost there!  There are many places to sit & take in the beauty around you once you reach the lake.  I love to just sit on the bank & enjoy the mountains & the crystal clear lake.      

The return is the same way you came, although it always seems a bit easier to me because you are going downhill.  I do caution you that if you are returning to Glacier Gorge you’ll need to watch for the right hand turn near the end of the trail.  The natural trail goes forward to Bear Lake & although there is a sign it’s easy to miss.

I hope you enjoyed the journey I’ve taken you on this month

Till next time,


Emerald Lake

In my life, the time I’m able to spend outdoors in the inspiring panorama that is Colorado, fills me up to deal with my daily life.  Without this time, I believe, I would feel empty inside & my life would become dull & unfulfilled. I began this column to share with you the passion I have for the outdoors & to bring you along on some of the hikes I’ve been fortunate enough to enjoy in my short time in the state.  If you have a favorite hike that you think I’d enjoy going on, please feel free to contact me. My information will be at the end of the article.  Regardless of what your passion is for nature I hope I can inspire you to spend more time enjoying the beauty around you. 

Emerald Lake is one of the many trails in Rocky Mountain National Park.  The trailhead is in the Bear Lake area of the park.  During the busiest times of the year I would suggest parking at the park & ride to take the free National Park shuttle to the Bear Lake trailheads.  There is ample parking at Bear Lake on most mornings but as the day goes on even this lot becomes quite filled, save yourself the hassle during the summer months & enjoy the ride on the shuttle. 

The trail begins at the end of the parking lot & Bear Lake is just ahead of you to the right.  I suggest a short walk to Bear Lake before you begin; there are many interesting things around the lake but for me, I just love to stand & take in the beauty of the lake before I begin my hike. 

The trail to Emerald Lake begins just to the left of Bear Lake & is at a starting altitude of 9,475ft.  The trail is only 3.6 miles round trip & gains approximately 600ft on your ascend to Emerald Lake.  This altitude gain is fairly moderate except for the fact that you are starting so high to begin with.  The trail itself is easy to follow & most people will find it an easy hike. 

As you begin the trail is shrouded in a beautiful Alpine forest.  You are drawn into this forest as you move along the path, you’ll discover many wonderful places to pause & enjoy the scenery.  As you journey upward you’ll pass a couple of other lakes on your way.  The first is Nymph Lake & the second is Dream Lake.  Each of these lakes has their own special qualities.  We paused at each to take in & enjoy the view.  

The lakes are fed by a wide variety of streams, some very small & some bigger & faster moving.  We liked the sound of the water along most of our journey & occasionally we’re surprised by a beautiful waterfall. 

The view through the tress can be breath taking at times as the mountains around you are almost framed perfectly by the pines in front of you.  These are the moments when I become completely swept away & the thing I loved about this hike was that there was so much diversity to look at all around you as you walked. 

When you reach Dream Lake the path shifts to right to go around the lake.  At this point you only have approximately 7/10’s of a mile to go.  You also have the choice at this point to head to Lake Haiyaha which is approximately 1.1 miles away.  You can create a loop from Lake Haiyaha back to Bear Lake but your total hike will nearly double.  The total mileage for this journey would be approximately 6.5 miles. 

When you reach Emerald Lake you’re rewarded with an amazing view of the mountains all around the lake.  We sat for a good 30 minutes to take in the beauty around us.  While we were relaxing we were joined by a yellow-bellied marmot on the rock next to us. 

The journey back to Bear Lake is fairly easy as you continue downward the whole way.  I would give yourself 2.5 to 3.0 hours to complete this hike so you have plenty of time to take in all the scenery.  Also worth note; the Bear Lake region is a popular place to snowshoe in the winter & many of the trails are open year round for your enjoyment.

Thanks for taking the time to go along with me on this hike.

Till next time,


Cub Lake

Too often in my life I forget how important it is to get out into nature, relax & enjoy the splendor of the land that surrounds me.  My life gets way to busy between work, home, friends & family.  I believe I’m doing fine because I keep moving forward but I forget that without my deep connection to nature & the outdoors, I am never as complete as I can be.  I have made a promise to myself that I will try to get out into the mountains at least every other week.  As my knowledge of the area grows & I begin to find different places to go, my heart fills with the discovery of these new places.  I hope as I write this column that I can give you a small sense of the wonder that I find in the simplest things & I hope if nothing else through my writing & pictures I compel you to venture out into the great expanses of Colorado.
Cub Lake:

In the short time that I’ve been here one of my favorite places to go on a regular basis is Rocky Mountain National Park.  As I continue to write here I’m sure that I will share many of the trails that I’ve had the opportunity to explore in this beautiful place.   Today I want to bring you along to Cub Lake.
Cub Lake can be a fairly easy hike, the trail length from the Cub lake trailhead to the lake itself is only 2.3 miles (or 4.6 miles roundtrip).  My wife Heidi & I decided on this day to make the hike a little more difficult by creating our own loop back to the Cub Lake trailhead.  We did this by adding a second hike to the Cub Lake trail, the Pool.  The pool hike is 1.7 miles one way & this trail ends about 1.2 miles from Cub Lake.  By adding this trial & the transition from Cub Lake to the pool & from the Fern Lake Trail head back to the Cub Lake trail head we hiked approximately 6 miles.
The hike begins at an elevation of 8,080 feet, if you’re going to drive yourself to the trail head you need to get there early.  There is very limited parking at both the Cub Lake & Fern Lake trail heads.  The national Park Service during the summer months has a free shuttle that will take you to Cub Lake.  This shuttle runs approximately every hour from  the park & ride location.


The trail begins in a beautiful meadow.  You walk for a ways across this meadow with lovely views of the surrounding peaks everywhere you look.  There are some aspen trees interspersed with the meadow but for the most part you are just walking through a vast wide open meadow.  Within ½ mile or so we came across a herd of Elk. 

These Elk were so close to us we could have reached out & touched them.  We allowed them to move as they wished & slowly continued on the path forward.
 Cub Lake, according to the National Park service, is a moderate hike that gains 540 feet in elevation as you move up to the actual lake. The views you are able to enjoy on this hike make it well worth your time & energy.                                                           

The trail ahead can be rocky, I always suggest wearing a good pair of hiking boots even in the warmer weather.  This gives you plenty of support as you walk along the rocky trail.

The hardest part of this hike is that all of the elevation gain (540 feet) is in the last ½ mile or so. The first 2 miles are relatively easy as you cross the meadow & move through the valley between the soaring peaks of the Rockies.

Cub Lake from this approach isn’t the easiest to see right away, as you move along the upper backs of the lake you’ll be rewarded with a magnificent view. 

We sat & enjoyed the lake for quite some time before we began our journey across to the pool trail.

The walk from Cub Lake to The Pool is through a forest.The trees truly surround you along this path.I imagine I’ll need to re-visit this hike in the fall to take in all the beautiful colors on this segment.

  Besides the trees the path is dotted with wonderful waterfalls & the sounds of the Big Thompson river.
The pool is an interesting place where you can enjoy the Big Thompson river up close.  The true power of this river shows as it churns into the backwater that creates the pool.  This is a very crowded area & thus can be difficult to find a place to sit & enjoy the pool.  We only stayed for a brief period of time but we’ll always remember the power of the water.
The final return back to the Fern Lake trail head is again through mostly an open meadow that runs parallel with the Big Thompson most of the way back.  Again this portion is fairly easy.  Once you get to the Fern lake trail head you’ll have to walk back approximately ¾ of a mile to reach your beginning point at the Cub Lake trail head.  If you took the shuttle you can pick up the shuttle at Fern Lake as well.
This hike will take you between 3-4 hours depending on your pace & how much time you spend that the various outlooks along the way.  Heidi & I took about 5 hours to complete this hike.

Till next time,