By Suzanne Webel
Thank you, Fort Collins!!!
… for yet another miracle. Bobcat Ridge is the latest in a series of large open space acquisitions north of the border – more than 2,600 acres of mixed grassland, shrubland, ponderosa forest, red rock cliffs and granite outcrops, homesteads and meadows, that were purchased in 2006 and opened to the public in – gasp! — less than a year!
The property opened in 2007 with about 17.6 miles of trail, and they’re still building more. In fact, during our ride at Bobcat Ridge in the fall of 2008, we followed a Sweco trailbuilding machine as it carved a new trail across a meadow. Our horses left the first hoofprints.
Highway 34 is the main route from Loveland to Estes Park. Follow it west (past the new trailhead for Devil’s Backbone) to its intersection with CR 27, just before a hogback causes the road to make a bobble. Turn north and proceed past sandstone quarries on the left and fruit orchards on the right, until you reach a small “Bobcat Ridge” sign pointing left at West CR32C. Duck west through a notch in the large hogback and you’ll arrive at the surprising and secret valley that is Bobcat Ridge Natural Area.
Proceed past the old homestead barns and corrals, past the new vehicle parking lot and restrooms, to the expansive trailer parking area. There is space for six trailers to pull through, and even a spigot for horse water! The first time I went, in August 2008, I had the park to myself, but by October 2008 the entire parking lot was full, even on a weekday, so beware – word is spreading fast that this is one of the best new open space trail systems around.
The equestrian trail starts out separately from the hiker/biker trail, but they merge about a hundred yards along just past a kiosk and shelter. We chose to go straight west across the meadow at this point, letting a whole busload of 50 small schoolchildren take the flat trail north. A short distance along there’s a four-way junction. The Eden Valley Spur Trail leads south to a dead-end – maybe another day. The Ginny Trail goes west up through a large burned area and is not currently open to horses – maybe some day. Proceed northwesterly on the Valley Loop Trail to its intersection with the Power Line Trail, stopping to visit a couple of tepee rings that offer poignant proof of the earliest inhabitants of the area. We chose to turn west, up the Power Line Trail, after debating the implications of a sign warning of steep grades ahead. In fact, this old road was an easy walk in the park – up to Mahoney Park, a favorite destination of the previous owners of the property and currently a wide open bowl in the middle of some unusual lumpy granite outcrops. Turn right onto the DR Trail, which was built specifically with equestrians in mind, and no bikes are allowed. It’s heaven! Eventually this trail descends to rejoin the Valley Loop Trail, which crosses the wide meadow. Take a short detour to check out the beautifully-restored log cabin nestled at the foot of the red cliffs, before returning to your trailer.
Total Distance: Total mileage 17.6 miles; Valley Loop 4 miles, Eden Valley Spur 1.3 miles, Power Line 2.3 miles, DR 3.2 miles
Difficulty: Easy – moderate
Jurisdiction: City of Ft Collins Natural Areas Program
Maps: USGS topo’s Masonville, Drake (use this map or the park’s); be aware that the elevation gain is about 1400’ from the parking lot to Mahoney Park.