Length: 2.4 miles roundtrip
Why we love it: This short-and-sweet trail is ideal for a quick outing or a leisurely picnic with family and friends
When to go: In spring, when the falls are gushing
Pre-hike buzz: On the way, stop by the Loco Artisan Coffee House in Loveland for locally roasted espresso and B Sweet cupcakes
Restrooms: Outhouse at the trailhead
Dogs: Must be leashed at all times
Just a few miles west of Fort Collins, Larimer County’s Horsetooth Mountain Open Space protects more than 2,800 acres of beautiful foothills terrain. One of the most popular destinations in this parcel is Horsetooth Falls, which typically flows throughout most of the spring. Getting there is an easy and enjoyable hike, with only about 425 feet of total elevation gain.
From the main parking lot, head northeast on the easy-to-navigate Horsetooth Rock Trail, which begins behind and just slightly to the east of the water fountains. The smooth trail climbs gradually to a nice viewpoint of the foothills. After 0.3 miles, the trail forks: Horsetooth Falls Trail veers right here, crossing a ridge and then dropping through open grasslands where cacti and yucca thrive alongside tall grasses. There is a chance of spotting coyote, deer, rabbits, and snakes here, as well as foxes, which are most frequently seen at dawn, when the area is bathed in the golden, early-morning light.
Next, the trail bends north to follow the course of Spring Creek Canyon, then gently descends to cross the small creek. After climbing a short distance up the other side, you’ll soon encounter another fork. Turn left here to reach the falls (or turn right to follow the longer Spring Creek Trail, which loops back to the Horsetooth Rock Trail and the parking lot via the Soderberg Trail).
Nestled in a bowl of ancient granite and metamorphic rocks, the falls tumble through a narrow cleft to splash into the clear, cool pool at their base. You can carefully descend a short slope to the pool or enjoy the coolness from the convenient bench up above. Both the park and the falls are named for Horsetooth Rock, a well-known, toothy foothills landmark clearly visible from the Eastern Plains. According to local lore, the rock is all that remains of a fierce giant’s heart after the organ was sliced in half by a powerful Native American chief (hence the mountain’s jagged and broken summits). You can ponder this story, and appreciate how this land has been preserved for current and future enjoyment, as you retrace your steps back to the car.
Getting there: From Denver take I-25 North to Exit 257, where you merge onto US 34 West in Loveland. Follow US 34 west for 9 miles, then turn right onto Glade Road. Follow this about 6.5 miles to the junction with West County Road 38. Turn right here and follow this east for 2.5 miles, then turn left onto Red Cliff Road. Turn right into the large (and often crowded) parking lot for Horsetooth Mountain Park, where you must pay a $6 parking fee.