Hall Ranch and Button Rock Preserve

In a busy world with constant distractions, finding peace and solitude is of utmost importance in order to live a healthy lifestyle. And I certainly did find a lot of peace and solitude this past Sunday while out exploring Hall Ranch Open Space outside of Lyons, Colorado. It is also part of the Boulder County trail system which is also really easy to find too as the main trailhead is just over a mile from town off of Colorado Highway 7. If you’re worried about parking, they have well over 60 parking spots. Here are some more quick details about this hike:

Where: Hall Ranch North Foothills Open Space and Button Rock Preserve

When: January 27th, 2019

Trails Hiked: Nighthawk Trail, Button Rock Trail and Sleepy Lion Trail

Total Distance: 15.8 Miles

Towards the beginning of the Nighthawk Trail.
A little further up the Nighthawk Trail.

To start, I took the Nighthawk Trail which is 4.7 miles one way. The beginning of this hike was through some relatively chill terrain and featured some unique geology. Over the course of this trail, the elevation increases 1,282 feet and features some switchbacks as well as some pretty forested areas further on. The amount of snow and ice on the trail was minimal early on thanks to the trail being in direct sunlight. However, that soon changed once I reached certain parts of the trail that went directly through the woods.

The snow covered trail with several deer off to the right out of view.
It was a truly peaceful Sunday morning.
A nice herd of deer that spent the whole day on this hillside.

After walking through a mixture of woods and open fields for awhile longer, I reached a clearing at the top of a hill that gave way to some remarkable views of Longs Peak and Mount Meeker off to the west. Right at this point, the wind started to dramatically pick up and was beginning to blow snow all over the place. Shortly after I took some photos of the mountains, they quickly disappeared behind clouds and snow as a snow storm was beginning to move in the area. The very next day, this same snow storm would cause a major headache for people living in the Denver metro area too.

Looking towards Longs Peak and Mount Meeker from the Nighthawk Trail.
Another similar view.

Not bothered by this at all, I continued onto the Button Rock Trail which is located within the perimeter of the Button Rock Preserve. The Sleepy Lion trail can also be found here as well. Furthermore, the trail itself continues to weave in and out of trees and open fields until you reach a rocky area which provides you with views of the Ralph Price Reservoir.

Nothing but an endless sight of trees and snow!
The sign while entering the Button Rock Preserve.
View of the Ralph Price Reservoir. Longs Peak and Mount Meeker are obscured due to the snowstorm.

Considering that it was still only late morning, I decided that I wanted to continue hiking. After reaching this awesome overlook area, the wind picked up even more. It was so strong that I could not even put my coat hood up. Therefore, I decided that I wanted to hike down to the edge of the reservoir and have a snack while taking in the surrounding views. To reach the dam, I was going to have to take the Sleepy Lion Trail which was quite scenic and featured numerous switchbacks that were somewhat icy. After a short time, I finally reached the dam and the winds were so strong that I had to carefully watch how I was walking in order to not get swept off my feet.

The helpful signs leading the way.
I took this from where the dam and the woods meet in order to avoid the gusty winds!

After taking some more pictures, it was soon time to head back the way that I came while fighting against both the wind as well as the mud on the trails thanks to the recently melting snow. In addition to that, some parts of the trail that I had previously hiked through had so much snow blown over them that there was no sign that I had even been there earlier in the morning. The drifts were quite significant in some spots too!

Views of Lyons and Longmont from the Nighthawk Trail.
Amazing view on the return trip!

Overall, this hike was a lot of fun. It seemed as if the views were continually getting better throughout the day too. The only thing that was somewhat bad was the amount of mud on the trail due to the melting snow. However, this was definitely expected given that it is currently winter time. Last but not least, I would recommend visiting this open space as it seemed out of the way and quite tranquil. I think the next time I head back to this area I will explore more of the Button Rock Preserve.

Mount Elbert

The highest point in Colorado just happens to also be my very first 14er that I’ve ever hiked. Rising up to 14,433 feet in the Sawatch Range, Mount Elbert is not only the highest point in Colorado, but is also the second highest point in elevation in the contiguous United States. This hike was truly an experience unlike any other. I completed this hike alongside my girlfriend back in July of 2018 while I was still working two jobs and not really sleeping a whole lot every night. With that being said, I fully recommend that you get a legitimate amount of sleep before you attempt a rigorous hike such as a 14er and properly hydrate yourself.

After driving for several hours from Denver to just outside of Leadville and Twin Lakes, we finally reached the parking lot for Mount Elbert which was already completely full around 7am. Something else worth mentioning is that the trailhead for nearby Mount Massive is in close proximity to the Mount Elbert trailhead as well. Furthermore, the starting elevation is located just above 10,000 feet and also has a bathroom area too. The trail to the summit is very well worn out and is easy to follow. Because their is no route finding involved, this is an easy class 1 hike that is family friendly as well. Before too long, we were on our way up the mountain via the North Mount Elbert Trail.

Beginning up the North Mount Elbert Trail.
Heading up the trail amongst the trees and basking in the morning sunshine!
At the junction of the North Mount Elbert Trail with my girlfriend, Danielle.

For the first several miles and up to the area around 12,000 feet, the hike is through heavily wooded areas and switchbacks that get relatively steep in certain spots. We took numerous breaks to not only take pictures but to also drink water and eat some foods with high amounts of protein. Once we reached the tree line, some excellent views of a false summit come straight into view. Looking back towards the east, we also noticed that the valley below was pretty hazy even around nine or ten in the morning. During the time that we did this hike, the 416 fire was burning out of control further to the southwest outside of Durango which we believe played a significant role in the hazy conditions in the area. As the morning continued on, the haze started to wear off leading to some incredible views of the surrounding mountain peaks and valleys.

At the edge of the treeline looking towards the false summit.
Looking east towards the hazy valley below and mountains further off to the east.

The further up we went, the views of the surrounding mountains became absolutely remarkable. The trail itself gets steep in certain areas and I would recommend taking trekking poles due to the fact that they really help you keep your balance. Another reason I strongly recommend them also involves the change in elevation. Specifically, for each mile the elevation goes up over 1000 feet for every mile you hike with the total elevation gain for this entire hike being around 4700 feet.

Looking towards the east from further up the trail.
Closer view of the false summit.
Another view of the surrounding mountains.
A steeper section of the trail with people in the distance.

Another hour of both taking pictures and several short rest breaks passed quickly by, and before long we had completed our goal and reached the summit of Mount Elbert. Although the views were incredible, it did not take long for us to realize that a thunderstorm was quickly building directly to the west of us. With that in mind, we briefly took some more photos at the summit and found the USGS marker that marks the summit. After about 10 to 15 minutes at the summit, we soon found ourselves descending as fast as we could but inevitably were not fast enough.

The USGS marker at the summit of Mount Elbert.
Storms beginning to build around noon.
The storm quickly approaching us that we later got caught in below treeline.

Our way down the mountain proved to be a true test. Shortly after descending, Danielle suffered a knee injury to the point that she could not extend it hardly at all. Although it slowed us on, I was still confident that we would be alright and make it back without further incident. However, that was simply not the case. Within five minutes after we reached the tree line, the thunderstorm that we witnessed at the summit finally caught up to us and it proved to be quite scary. In fact, the lightning strikes were so close to us that we only saw flashes of light directly in front of us and then heard the thunder a few short seconds later. With the rain pouring down endlessly coupled with the relentless lightning strikes nearby, we had both accepted the fact that we might indeed die that day. Slowly but surely, we made it back to the trail head and were so thankful to have made it in one peace!

So happy to have made it back to the trailhead safely!
The Mount Elbert experience was 2 thumbs up!

Overall, our hike up the North Mount Elbert Trail was both memorable and surely one that we will never forget. Despite being a strenuous workout, the views of the surrounding mountains and the lakes down below were worth all of the hard work. I would definitely recommend this hike and wouldn’t mind doing it again simply for the views of the endless mountain ranges at the summit.

Lory State Park

Located just west of Fort Collins, Colorado, Lory State Park provides its visitors with some spectacular scenery and remarkable views. On January 12th, I arrived around 10:30 to find the trails and mountains snow covered thanks to the snowstorm that came through the previous day.

Upon parking at the Homestead Picnic Area, I briefly planned out my hike which would later turn out to be a little bit over 6 miles round trip. Nonetheless, it was late enough in the morning that the snow was beginning to melt in the open areas revealing a significant layer of mud. Before long, I was on my way up the Well Gulch Nature Trail taking in the views of both the mountains and the reservoir. I wasn’t exactly sure how nice the weather was going to be, but it actually turned out to be a peaceful afternoon with some sun and scattered clouds.

Horsetooth Reservoir is on the other side of the ridge.
Towards the beginning of the Well Gulch Nature Trail.

With the birds starting to chirp more and more, I reached the intersection of the Overlook Trail and began to get some better views of the Horsetooth Reservoir. I enjoyed this part of my hike because it had a mixture of both open spaces and wooded areas that looked like they would have some enjoyable stream crossings during the spring and early summer months.

In addition to that, the elevation was pretty easy going and featured only some small up and down hill sections. Something else to keep in mind is that if you go during the warmer months out of the year is to watch for both mountain bikers and those who are riding horseback as well and to yield accordingly. I didn’t have to worry about that this time around because the trails were only open for hiking due to the muddy conditions.

The intersection of the Well Gulch Nature Trail and the Overlook Trail.
The snow covered Overlook Trail.
The higher up you go the better the views of Horsetooth Reservoir become!

The end of the Overlook Trail leads right into a trail leading you to the summit of Arthur’s Rock. Specifically, you will find yourself embarking on the Arthur’s Rock Trail which seemed surprisingly short to me as being a mere 1.7 miles to the top if you start at the actual trailhead. For me, it was even shorter than that as I came onto the trail about three tenths of a mile in. However, the switchbacks provide you with a great workout and I definitely felt it the next day.

Aside from the beautiful views, this might have easily been the most slippery trail that I’ve hiked in a long time. But the scenery and breathtaking views at the top always make the struggle seem worthwhile. Regarding the most difficult part of this hike, I would have to say that it was the part right before the summit of Arthur’s Rock. It was pretty much like walking up steep and slippery steps with pretty much nothing to grab onto in case you fall. With that being said, it would be wise to have great traction if you plan on doing this hike in the winter months.

Arthur’s Rock coming into view.
Not too far from the summit at this point.

Despite going up less than a thousand feet in total elevation, it feels like you are much higher than the 6,780 foot summit of Arthur’s Rock. The views at the top were truly remarkable because you see both dramatic views of the reservoir as well as snow drifts that are several feet deep as well. For even better views, you can even climb the rocks a little bit higher up. Although I was only up there for several minutes, it was really humbling and reminded me why I love hiking and all of the amazing things you can experience while out exploring nature.

Because I only saw a smaller portion of this park, I do plan to revisit at a later time to potentially camp at one of the backcountry campgrounds and explore some of the other trails.

Other Important Information

The entrance fee for Lory State Park is $8 for a day pass that expires at noon the following day. With 26 miles of trails in the park, you can also find plenty more options for hiking at nearby Horsetooth Mountain Open Space as well as the trails that are located in close proximity to the reservoir itself.

Cheyenne Mountain State Park

To start off 2019, I made an excellent decision to hike to the top of Cheyenne Mountain via the Dixon Trail located within Cheyenne Mountain State Park in Colorado Springs, Colorado. It was quite a physically demanding 17 plus mile hike that lived up to all the warnings that are posted about it.

For being the very beginning of January, the weather was quite warm and for about 90 percent of this hike I didn’t even need to wear a winter coat as it was at least 60 degrees. With that in mind, it pretty much took me over seven hours to complete this hike but I was up to the challenge and was determined to complete it before sunset and to capture some remarkable photos throughout the day.

This Buck crossed the trail within ten feet in front of me!

At the beginning of the trail, you’re encouraged to sign in on a clipboard to let the park staff know what trail or trails that you plan on hiking in the event of an emergency. After briefly filling in that information, I then proceeded onto the Sundance Trail to begin my journey. After only maybe ten or fifteen minutes into the hike, I encountered a huge white tail deer that I definitely did not expect to see up close that morning. It was so close to me I could have reached out and touched. Additionally, I was even close enough to count all ten of the points it had on its antlers. Shortly after that, I came upon two more deer laying down among some trees.

It was definitely a perfect day for an adventure!

After stumbling upon several more deer, I turned onto the Talon Trail. This particular part had a decent amount of ice and snow packed on it. However, most of the snow was in the areas that were shaded and had a significant amount of tree coverage. A little bit later, I took a short side trail to find an overlook area that allows you to get a good glimpse of Cheyenne Mountain more up close.

Cheyenne Mountain from a scenic overlook area.

Upon completing portions of the Talon and North Talon Trails, I came to the junction of the Dixon Trail on a small hill. Although it definitely did not seem like it, I had already hiked 3.3 miles at this point. A big warning sign is posted at the very beginning of this trail warning you about what to expect and to be prepared for the conditions of the trail. Take this stuff seriously because you do not want to be without an adequate supply of water and food because this hike is extremely demanding. Always watch the sky for possible changes in the weather too.

Something that I really liked about the Dixon Trail was that it was well marked and easy to follow. The trail is marked in half mile increments in both directions to let you know how much further that you have to go. The first several miles are primarily switchbacks that were snow covered with several areas that were somewhat rocky. At this point, really notice that you are starting to go up in elevation. Once you reach the 2.5 mile mark of the trail, you will come to a huge turnaround area designed for bikes and people riding horses to turnaround. You will notice yet another warning sign that alerts you to the steepness of the remaining two miles of the Dixon Trail before you finish your ascent and continue onto the Mountain Loop Trail.

Some of the scenery heading up the Dixon Trail.
The warning sign at the 2.5 mile mark.

Continuing on, the trail does get much steeper as previously mentioned by the warning sign. However, this did not seem to phase me at all because the scenery just kept getting more amazing with every step. With it being a clear morning, I could see the large snow capped peaks to the southwest that looked absolutely breathtaking. I was so amazed by the scenery that I simply had to stop and have lunch for about twenty minutes and just take it all in. It’s really difficult to capture just how beautiful places are because sometimes pictures just simply are not enough. You have to be there to experience it all firsthand to truly understand. After lunch, I continued up the trail and started to run into some much deeper snow as well as some wreckage from a small plane crash that happened quite some time ago.

The view of the surrounding mountains.
The snow was starting to get deeper with each step.
The plane wreckage right next to the trail!

After a short time, I reached the end of the Dixon Trail. However, I ultimately made the decision to keep going and add on the Mountain Loop Trail because I wanted to see just how deep the snow was at the top of Cheyenne Mountain. And I was not at all disappointed! With no footprints to follow, I pretty much relied on looking for the little trail markers and flags used to mark the trails at the top. I did fall several times due to it being both very slippery and also muddy in certain areas. Before long, I found myself going through snow drifts and areas that had knee high snow. Despite the conditions of the trail, the views of both the surrounding mountains and Colorado Springs down below really made me glad that I completed this long hike.

View from the Mountain Loop Trail looking south.
Beautiful picture of the snow and the drifts atop Cheyenne Mountain.
The Mountain Loop Trail going through the snow and trees.
Looking down towards Colorado Springs.

As the day progressed, it started to get cloudy and so I started to descend back towards the trailhead. When all was said and done, I made it back probably about fifteen minutes before it started to get dark. Overall, I’m very glad that I took advantage of the warm weather for January to get out and hike this trail.

Other Important Information

The cost for a day pass to enter the park is $8 and is valid until noon the following day. You might hear artillery fire on this hike as Fort Carson is located right across the street from the park entrance. On the Mountain Loop Trail, you will also notice various no trespassing signs due to the fact that the land nearby is owned by the United States Government. You can find more interesting information about the Cheyenne Mountain Complex by clicking here.

Roxborough State Park

If you’re looking for a cool and unique hike near Denver, then look no further than Roxborough State Park. I have always enjoyed this park because it is one of those places that is both beautiful year round and also makes you realize just how amazing nature truly is. And the red tilted sandstone formations are just an added bonus too!

Carpenter Peak Trail

One of the first hikes that I can remember doing in this park was the Carpenter Peak trail back in July 2016. Since the park is located at the edge of the foothills, the hike to the summit is relatively moderate with a steady elevation gain. From the parking lot to the summit, the elevation gain is a little over a thousand feet.

View from the parking lot.
Towards the beginning of the trail.
Looking back towards the sandstone rock formations.
View from the summit looking east out over the plains.
From the summit, looking west towards the mountains and the sight of the endless wilderness.
Looking towards Denver.
Heading back through the trees.

And once you get to the summit, the views are quite remarkable. Off to the northeast and the east, you can get a pretty good view of Denver as well as the surrounding plains. Although the summit is only 7,160 feet, it still feels like you are much higher up considering that the skyscrapers in Denver look so tiny and insignificant.

Meanwhile, off to the west you have nothing but an endless view of trees and mountains that is just so comforting to see and it really makes this hike a rewarding one. Something else worth mentioning is that this trail connects to several other trails nearby including the Waterton Canyon trail which is the beginning of the 486 mile Colorado Trail which runs from Denver to Durango.

Although the views are magnificent, there are also several other things to keep in mind. Depending on the time of year, it’s important to keep an eye out for rattlesnakes as I’ve had an encounter with them nearly  every time that I’ve been on this trail. Mountain lion sightings are also somewhat common and their is even a sign on the trail to give you a heads up about them as well. The amount of wildlife is definitely plentiful here as I’ve also seen herds of deer and coyotes too. Aside from the wildlife aspect, the park also has several signs posted in various spots to let you know what time the park will be closing for the day so you can plan your hike accordingly.   

Fountain Valley Trail

Another unique hike is the Fountain Valley Trail. This trail is a relatively easy loop that is family friendly and is just a little over two miles long. It also has the Fountain Valley overlook and the Lyons overlook which are so breathtaking to the point that the state park allows you to have your wedding ceremony held at either one of them for a fee. Both are amazing but I personally liked the Lyons overlook the best because it just kind of comes up out of nowhere and provides you with a spectacular view of the entire valley. 

View from the beginning of the trail.
Looking south from the Fountain Valley Overlook.
Putting in perspective the size of the rock formations!
The view further down the trail.
And yes an old homestead of sorts can be found on this hike too!

Things to Remember

As a part of the state park system in Colorado, a day use fee must be paid prior to entering the park which currently sits at $7 but will soon be raised to $8 beginning in 2019. The best times to go are during the week or early in the mornings on weekends because parking definitely goes fast! Lastly, you always want to make sure that you are properly prepared for the weather conditions and any wildlife that you may encounter.