Happy Trails – Devil’s Backbone

By Suzanne Webel

One of the newest and most exciting properties of the Larimer County Parks and Open Lands system opened to the equestrian public during the spring of 2002: the Devil’s Backbone. Although the trail within the park is only about 3.5 miles long, the scenery is forever. It’s absolutely worth the drive.

Take Highway 34 west of Loveland. About four and a half miles west of Hwy 287, turn right at the sign for this park. (The former access, from Wild Lane just past the convenience store, has been eliminated). Restroom facilities and water (a drinking fountain and a hydrant for horse water buckets) are available here. The horse trail leads from the southwest corner of the trailer parking area (P-1) around a small meadow and then to the main trail.

The trail will then cross the Louden Ditch, a large old irrigation canal built in 1878 to irrigate 12,000 acres of fields including a large hops farm. Other cultural features include several gypsum quarries, a plaster mill, and kilns in which fire clay was made into bricks. The trail passes gracefully from an easement across private lands to the public property at the south end of the cliffs.

The Devil’s Backbone itself is a nearly vertical outcrop of 100 million year old Cretaceous Dakota Sandstone. Other, older rock units in the park include the Triassic Lykins Formation (red siltstone, pink limestone and white gypsum) and the Jurassic Morrison Formation (dinosaur-bearing mudstones). During the gypsum mining process several Cenozoic (much younger) mammal fossils were discovered, including a prehistoric elephant with 5 foot long tusks, and some equine and bison bones. The Keyhole, a unique hole in the cliff, was formed by the erosion of coarse-grained rocks that were weaker than the harder rocks around the hole.

Two loop trails will take you northward to the current edge of the park. Look northeast and you will see part of the new Coyote Ridge/Rimrock park system, but you can’t quite get there yet. Eventually Larimer County hopes to connect Devil’s Backbone park with several other “pearls in the necklace” to make a regional foothills trail extending all the way north to Horsetooth Reservoir and even (gasp!) south to Rabbit Mountain in Boulder County. Meanwhile, take this opportunity to observe how nicely Larimer County has integrated a trail on both private and public land, and how well it utilizes natural features to maximize public appreciation of their open space. Where there is a will, there is a way!


From time to time, enough changes to a trail warrant an update from our original trail log. Devil’s Backbone in Larimer County is such an example.

The good news is that the kind, caring Larimer County Open Lands people have recently built a gorgeous new trailhead for this spectacular park. You used to have to park a mile away and ride on a road through a mixed-use neighborhood before finding the trail. Now there is a well-designed and spacious area designated for horse trailer parking, with restrooms and water (!) as well as a separate passenger-vehicle parking area. The trail remains the same, a combination of old ranch roads and scenic singletrack trail loops, with a couple of narrow rocky sections.

The less-than-good news is that a large upscale subdivision is springing up right next to this formerly-remote-feeling trail system. So now the wide valley offers mansions instead of meadows. Presumably, allowing this development was one of the tradeoffs Larimer County had to make in order to preserve the wonderful park next door, but I was disappointed. I guess that’s what happens when you make a deal with the devil.

Devil's Backbone Map
























Total Distance: Approximately 3.5 miles of loop trails.

Total Time:         Variable; can take an entire day.

Difficulty:           Easy

Dogs:                 On leash only

Jurisdiction:     Larimer County Parks and Open Lands

Maps:                 Masonville Topo Map; park map may be available at TH