Lower Fish Creek Falls (7,420′), Park Range

Lower Fish Creek Falls (7,420′), Park Range

Lower Fish Creek Falls (7,420′), Park Range

Lower Fish Creek Falls is a 283′ waterfall located about 5 miles to the east of Steamboat Springs, Colorado. There are two trails which provide great views of the falls. First is the Fish Creek Falls Overlook, a 1/4 mile handicapped-friendly accessible trail, which is relatively flat. The second trail, Fish Creek Falls National Recreation Trail ​, is also 1/4 mile long but drops 100′ down to a foot bridge at the base of the falls.

Juat a 1/2 hour south of Steamboat Springs is the town of Yampa, the eastern end of the Flat Top Scenic Byway. The Flat Tops Trail Scenic Byway (County Road 8), runs through the northern portion of the Flat Tops Wilderness.

Elevation Map Pancake Rocks

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Trail Directions

There are two hiking trails from the parking lot at the end of Fish Creek Fall Road.

Fish Creek Falls Overlook: 1/4 of a mile (400 m) of paved trail which is handicap accesible and relatively flat.  It ends at a viewing station where the entirety of the falls can be seen.

Fish Creek Falls: the 1/4 mile trail goes down into the U-shaped valley formed by glaciers. At the bottom of the valley is a foot bridge over Fish Creek with a close up view of the falls. The trail continues on to Upper Fish Creek Falls and then to the Wyoming Trail, a long trail running the northwestern mountains of Colorado to Wyoming.

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Potato Lake (9,800′), San Juan Range

Potato Lake (9,800′), San Juan Range

Potato Lake (9,800′), San Juan Range

Spud Lake Trail #661 to Potato Lake is beautiful and short, with minimal elevation gain, making this an extremely popular hike. Passing through aspen glades, it offers excellent views of Engineer Mountain, Grayrock Peak, and Spud Mountain, along with good views of the Needle Mountains to the east. The natural lake has excellent fishing and a pleasant place to relax. This is a great summer hike for all ages, and the aspen leaves during the fall can be spectacular. Spud Lake has excellent fishing for brook trout and cutthroat trout.

Elevation Map Pancake Rocks

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Trail Directions

Drive approximately 28.5 miles north on U.S. 550. Just past the bridge over Cascade Creek, turn right onto Lime Creek Road, #591. Follow road for about 3 miles. High clearance vehicles recommended for last part of road. Trailhead is on the north (left) side of road across the street from a beautiful pond full of lilies. 

The trailhead is unmarked but the trail itself is well defined. There are no trail junctions, so just follow the trail to the lake, passing beside beaver ponds until you reach Potato Lake.

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Arikaree River (3,317′), Eastern Plains

Arikaree River (3,317′), Eastern Plains

Arikaree River (3,317′), Eastern Plains

The point where the Arikaree River flows out of Colorado and into Kansas is the lowest point in Colorado, at an elevation of 3,317 feet (1,011 m).

It holds the distinction of being the highest low point of any U.S. state, and higher than the highest points of 18 states and the District of Columbia.

The Arikaree River has been made one of the designated areas under the Colorado Natural Areas Program because it is “part of the largest and best remaining example of a naturally functioning Great Plains river system in Colorado.” It has several species of reptiles, fish, and amphibians that are native and uncommon. The area is a sanctuary for many bird species, including burrowing owls, ferruginous hawks, and greater prairie chickens. The habitat is near-pristine and there are high-quality riparian and native prairie plants.

Elevation Map Pancake Rocks

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GPS Route with Elevation

All the elevation maps indicate the lowest point is approximately 3,317′. My GPS on the hike recorded elevations in the 3,200′ range. This may be because I was able to walk on the river bottom or possibly a calibration issue with my GPS device, I’m not sure.

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Trail Directions

I was unable to find the recommended route to the Arikaree River basin near the Kansas border from resources online. I initially tried to access the basin from the south, but the area was fenced and looked like I had to cross private property. 

I then approached the basin from the north and found an unfenced area along the border. This is the route I took. I cannot recommend any route as I am not sure of the status of the area I crossed to get to the river. 

The river itself did not have water flowing when I visited in early May. I was able to walk along the river bottom with only a few pools of water scattered along the route.

The approach from the north also provides access to the Tri-Corners area, where the Colorado, Kansas, and Nebraska borders meet. There is a road leading to the point and a plaque describing the area for visitors.

 

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Trappers Lake (9,627′), Flat Tops

Trappers Lake (9,627′), Flat Tops

Trappers Lake (9,627′), Flat Tops

Roughly a mile and a half long and half a mile wide, reaching depths of 180 feet, Trappers Lake is the second largest natural lake in Colorado after Grand Lake. You reach the lake by taking the Flat Tops Scenic Byway from Yampa or Meeker.

The area is as wild today as it was when it was first discovered. In 1891 White River, which includes the Flat Tops, became one of the first two National Forests in the U.S.

The trail around the lake is named for Arthur Carhart, whose survey near the lake in 1919 inspired him to recommend preserving the area without development for future generations to enjoy. Arthur Carhart’s efforts set the stage for the Wilderness Act of 1964 and the National Wilderness Preservation System which includes Trappers Lake and the rest of the Flat Tops Wilderness.

The trailhead is adjacent to the beautiful Trappers Lake Overlook.

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Trail Directions

From the end of Trappers Lake road, take the Arthur H Carhart Trail in either direction around the lake. The trailhead is next to the Trappers Lake Overlook. The trail is easy to follow in summer conditions.

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Garden of the Gods (6,400′)          Front Range

Garden of the Gods (6,400′) Front Range

Garden of the Gods (6,400′) Front Range

Garden of the Gods is a geologically unique 480 acre park, having one of the most complete and complex exposures of earth’s history anywhere in the country. On the outskirts of Colorado Springs, it is popular for hiking, technical rock climbing, biking, and horseback riding. There are more than 15 miles of trails, with a 1.1-mile trail running through the heart of the park, that is paved and wheelchair accessible. The park is a registered National Natural Landmark, with dramatic views of 300′ towering sandstone rock formations against a backdrop of snow-capped Pikes Peak.

Ro​xborough State Park to the north also has stunning red rock geological features within easy access of the parking lot.

The main trail in the park, Perkins Central Garden Trail, is a paved, wheelchair-accessible 1.1-mile trail. It travels through the heart of the park’s largest and most scenic red rocks! The trail begins at the North Parking lot.

Dedication Plaque reads “Garden of the Gods is given to The City of Colorado Springs in 1909 by the children of Charles Elliott Perkins in fulfillment of his wish that it be kept forever free to the public.”

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Almagre Mountain (12,360′), Front Range

Almagre Mountain (12,360′), Front Range

Almagre Mountain (12,360′), Front Range

Almagre Mountain (Mt Baldy) is the only other peak, besides Pikes Peak, above treeline when viewed from Colorado Springs. Located in the Pike National Forest just south of Pikes Peak, this hike is rated easy, but getting there can be a challenge. In order to drive to the closed gate on FSR 379A you will need to navigate a moderate 4X4 shelf road. The reward is unobstructed views from the summit area, with exceptional views of Pikes Peak and the cog railroad.

Nearby Mt Rosa and Cheyenne Mountain are also excellent hikes in the area.

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Trail Directions

From Old Stage Road, turn onto Forest Service Road 379, which goes to Frosty’s Park. You should have a high clearance vehicle to proceed the last 1.5 miles up the road to Frosty’s Park as of this writing. FSR 379A will be to the right further up and immediately begins climbing more steeply than FSR 379. If you do not have a 4X4 high clearance vehicle you will want to park at the intersection.

Trailhead Directions

Mt Evans (14,264′), Front Range

Mt Evans (14,264′), Front Range

Mt Evans (14,264′), Front Range

Mt Evans can be accessed via the highest paved road in North America, reaching an elevation of 14,130′. The Mount Evans Scenic Byway, maintained by the Forest Service, offers easy access to Colorado’s inspiring high mountain environment. A drive up, and short walk to the top of Mt Evans, will take your breath away in more ways than one. On the 15-mile one-way drive, there are stops at Mount Goliath Nature Center, Summit Lake Park and the Summit Interpretive area of Mount Evans.

From the summit you will see another 14,000′ peak in close proximity, Mt Bierstadt (14,160′)

Mount Evans, along with Echo Lake, was designated as a historic site by the American Physical Society in 2017, commemorating the many cosmic-ray physics experiments conducted on the mountain between 1935 and 1960.

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Trail Directions

Follow the only paved road, Hwy 5,  14 miles to summit parking lot. Once there, take a short 1/4 mile hike and you will be standing on the summit!

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Zapata Falls (9,250′), Sangre de Cristo Range

Zapata Falls (9,250′), Sangre de Cristo Range

Zapata Falls (9,250′), Sangre de Cristo Range

This popular short hike to Zapata Falls is located 3 miles south of the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, off of Highway 150. Simply driving to the trailhead provides an excellent view of the entire dune field and San Luis Valley. Drive (east) onto a rough dirt road marked by a large sign, and drive 3.5 miles to the trailhead. To view the falls, hike 1/2 mile, and wade into a crevasse where the 30 ft. high falls cascade onto a ledge. Even in winter, water can still be heard flowing deep underneath the ice.

Directions

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Trail Directions

From the Great Sand Dunes Visitor Center, drive south about 8 miles, then turn left (east) onto a dirt road. Drive the remaining 3.5 miles to the trailhead.

To view the falls, hike about 1/2 mile, cross the creek, then scramble up the rocks and stream into a crevasse where the 30 ft. high falls cascade down.

Trailhead Directions

Paint Mines Park (6,791′), Eastern Plains

Paint Mines Park (6,791′), Eastern Plains

Paint Mines Park (6,791′), Eastern Plains

Paint Mines Park is located on the eastern plains near Calhan, Colorado. The 750 acre park features geological formations including spires, chasms, overhangs, and carved walls. These formations were created through erosion, creating gullies and exposed layers of clay and jasper. Oxidization of iron deposits created the colorful clays, which range from light yellow to deep red.

Another interesting geological site on the eastern plains is the Picket Wire Canyonlands Tracksite. Further south on the eastern plains, it is home to the largest dinosaur track site in North America.

Elevation Map (select to enlarge)

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Trail Directions

From either trailhead the best approach is to head for the west side of the park as this is where 90% of the rock formations are located that make this park distinct.

Taking the loop from Paint Mines Rd trailhead, the trail initially heads east and curves to the south. Once heading south you’ll have views into the valley and a bench to soak it all in. The trail then descends into valley with white carved walls and spires immediately to the west.

Shortly after the white spires you’ll approach a trail junction. Take the trail to the right (south), which leads deeper into the gully area. There are many beautiful dead-end spurs that take you closer to the formations. This is a great place to take your time and explore all of these side trails. The canyons here range in color from deep reds, to yellows, to white.

The main trail continues east and gradually climbs out of the gully. There are more formations to the north before leveling out on grasslands. From here the trail continues east to a junction with a second trailhead. Take the left trail northwest over vast rolling grasslands to continue the loop. The trail widens here and provides views of Pikes Peak far off to the west along with a bench on top of a slight rise.

There are a couple of smaller formations to the south as you continue to the southwest. Eventually you’ll come back to the original trail junction. Head straight (west) to get back to the trailhead.

Trailhead Directions

Spruce Mountain (7,635′), Front Range

Spruce Mountain (7,635′), Front Range

Spruce Mountain (7,635′), Front Range

Spruce Mountain is located on the Palmer Divide, on the eastern fringe of the Front Range. The top of the mesa offers great views of the Palmer Divide, with interesting sandstone formations along the trail. Hiking to the upper loop is a quick climb through shady forests to a well maintained trail that circles the top of the mesa.

There are abundant outdoor opportunities in the area, including Mt Herman and Devils Head Lookout.

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Trail Directions

The Spruce Mountain Trail switchbacks 400 feet up the north side of the mesa. Once you reach the Upper Loop Junction, you’ll be hiking on a fairly flat 1.7 mile loop.

Along the top, be sure to take in the views from several rocky overlooks. The first lookout offers views of the Greenland Trail and Greenland Open Space below. You also have great views of Pikes Peak and the Palmer Divide. Douglas County provides a brochure for trail maps and additional information.

Trailhead Directions

Alberta Falls (9,400′), Front Range

Alberta Falls (9,400′), Front Range

Alberta Falls (9,400′), Front Range

Alberta Falls, located in Glacier Gorge, is one of the more popular hiking destinations in Rocky Mountain National Park. The scenic 30-foot waterfall thunders down a small gorge along Glacier Creek, with the short trail following Glacier Creek to the falls. The falls are fed by snow melt year around, being most dramatic in the late spring and early summer. The water from the falls feeds Bear Lake, the most popular lake in Rocky Mountain National Park.

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Trail Directions

The trail starts at Glacier Gorge trailhead and heads south, paralleling the creek. At about 0.3 miles, the trail intersects with two others, one branching back toward the north to Sprague Lake. Continue on to the Bear Lake junction turning left.

The trail passes several aspen groves, and into a pine forest. The trail parallels Glacier Creek to the falls, a short .6 mile walk on an excellent path. On arrival you will see Alberta Falls roar through a granite chute just off the trail.

Trailhead Directions

Mesa Verde National Park (7,500′), Chapin Mesa

Mesa Verde National Park (7,500′), Chapin Mesa

Mesa Verde National Park (7,500′), Chapin Mesa

Mesa Verde National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The park protects some of the best-preserved Ancestral Puebloan archaeological sites in the United States. With more than 5,000 sites, including 600 cliff dwellings, it is the largest archaeological preserve in the United States.

The Mesa Verdeans survived using a combination of hunting, gathering, and subsistence farming of crops such as corn, beans, and squash. They built the mesa’s first pueblos sometime after 650, and by the end of the 12th century, they began to construct the massive cliff dwellings for which the park is best known. By 1285, following a period of social and environmental instability driven by a series of severe and prolonged droughts, they abandoned the area and moved south to locations in Arizona and New Mexico.

Mesa Verde Map

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Cliff Palace

Cliff Palace is a multi-storied ruin. It is the best-known cliff dwelling in Mesa Verde, is located in the largest alcove in the center of the Great Mesa. It was south and southwest-facing, providing greater warmth from the sun in the winter. Dating back more than 700 years, the dwelling is constructed of sandstone, wooden beams, and mortar. Many of the rooms were brightly painted. Cliff Palace was home to approximately 125 people, but was likely an important part of a larger community of sixty nearby pueblos, which housed a combined six hundred or more people. With 23 kivas and 150 rooms, Cliff Palace is the largest cliff dwelling in Mesa Verde National Park.

Trailhead Directions