Happy Trails – Red Mountain Open Space

By Suzanne Webel

Wow! Wonderful! Wyoming!

I had been waiting for years for the much-rumored Red Mountain Open Space to open to the public. Our equestrian colleagues to the north, the Larimer County Horseman’s Association, had been invited by their County on a private guided ride there (gasp!) to get equestrians’ input on trail matters, and in appreciation of the trail work they did elsewhere – and they had written up their adventure in their newsletter.

This property is the first of several huge acquisitions in the Laramie Foothills: Mountains to Plains project involving conservation of approximately 140,000 acres, Larimer County, Ft Collins, the City of Cheyenne, the Nature Conservancy and the Legacy Land Trust. Red Mountain consists of 13,500 acres in Colorado that were purchased in 2004 at a cost $9.6 million.   Another 1,500 acres in Wyoming adjacent to Red Mountain were purchased by the Nature Conservancy.

It’s worth the drive, folks (about an hour and a half north of Longmont). From Boulder County, take 287 north through Fort Collins. Turn north on Hwy 1/Terry Lake Road north, then turn left onto County Rd 15 (look sharp here; actually, you go straight north where 15 bends east). Proceed north to CR 78, go left and follow the signs to Red Mountain Open Space.

While I try not to let much grass grow under my feet in my trail explorations, I had a scheduling conflict and couldn’t make it to the grand opening ceremony of Larimer County’s brand new Red Mountain Open Space. So, several weeks later, I carved out a day and headed up north to do it on my own…. only to find that the opening had been delayed due to bad weather and I was actually ahead of them. In fact, the trail crew was still putting the finishing touches on the trail near the enormous parking lot (P-1, room for probably 25 horse trailers – yep, you read that right) as we pulled in.

We chose to take the large loop trail clockwise. You’ll go up a rise that offers a glimpse of canyons to come, then drops down into the Big Hole Wash. Turn right for a rollicking adventure in the bottom of Ruby Wash, with soaring red rock cliffs and intimate slot canyons on both sides that are reminiscent of Utah. A series of switchbacks will then take you up on the rimrock of Wyoming, a broad grassland with spectacular views down into the Big Hole – it is a really, really BIG hole – that you just came up through. Drop back down off the rimrock into the valley below, and take the Sinking Sun Trail back to your trailer.

I guarantee you’ll be exhilarated and will want to come back.

Total distance: Approximately 9.4 miles
Total time:     Approximately 4 hours
Difficulty:       Moderate
Dogs:             No
Jurisdiction: Larimer County Parks and Open Lands; City of Cheyenne
Open Space; City of Ft Collins Natural Areas
County: Larimer
USGS Topo:      (use these maps or theirs)