Why we love it: Seclusion, sandstone scenery, and abundant wildlife in one of the Front Range’s most remote open space parcels.
When to go: Spring or fall, when temperatures are moderate. The area is open March 1 through the end of November.
This relatively flat, 5.5-mile loop explores the southern portion of Larimer County’s Red Mountain Open Space. This parcel, along with the adjacent Soapstone Prairie Natural Area, preserves more than 55,000 acres of the Laramie Foothills, a striking landscape where the foothills of the Rocky Mountains meet the Central Shortgrass Prairie, creating an important ecological transition zone.
Grab a trail map at the parking area at the end of the road. Start your hike by following the Sinking Sun Trail through rolling grasslands dissected by small washes. Gusty winds and wide-open vistas emphasize the seclusion of this open space parcel, which is part of an even larger conservation effort to create an intact, mountains-to-plains wildlife corridor to benefit species that need large territories to roam, including mule and white-tail deer, mountain lions, and pronghorn.
After 1.3 miles, head west (left) at the junction with the Big Hole Wash Trail. Descend into this big, sandy wash and follow it 0.8 miles downstream to its junction with Ruby Wash, which may still have some water flowing in it. Both washes are crucial parts of the region’s narrow riparian system upon which much of the region’s wildlife depends.
At the next junction (marked as point ‘D’ on the stake and on the map), cross to the far side of Ruby Wash, then head south (left). After a short 0.4 miles, with spectacular views of layers of crimson-colored sandstone and mudstone so tightly folded that they’re nearly standing vertically, you’ll reach point ‘C’. Instead of continuing to follow the smooth, wide road here, walk through the gate on the left that’s marked with a hiking sign. After 0.3 miles, this path brings you to point ‘B’, which is the junction with the Bent Rock loop.
Here you’re faced with a tough choice. You can continue straight into the beautiful canyon carved through the heart of the folded rocks. Or, if you’d rather hike this entire loop, turn right at this junction to wrap around the outside of the fold. After 2 miles, when you reach the junction with the shortcut through the canyon, you always have the option of exploring it from the eastern side. From this final junction on the Bent Rock Trail, it’s barely another half mile back to your vehicle and the picnic shelters, the perfect place to pull out a cooler and reward yourself for a hike well done.
Getting there: From Denver, take I-25 North to Exit 281, Owl Canyon Road/CR70. Follow the signs to Red Mountain Open Space by turning west on CR70, then north (right) on CR15. Next turn west (left) on CR78, north (right) on CR17, west (left) on CR80, north (right) on CR19, and then left on CR21. Follow this good dirt road 7.5 miles to the open space boundary, then an additional 2.5 miles to the trailhead.
Logistics: There is no entry fee. Dogs are not allowed in Red Mountain Open Space, and bikes are not allowed on the Bent Rock Trail. No water is available at the trailhead.