Why we love it: Tranquility: a casual stroll along a gurgling stream to a sparkling reservoir.
When to go: On a hot summer day.
This gentle trail along a well-graded service road is ideal for families, fishing, trail running, snow shoeing, and out-of-town visitors not yet acclimated to Front Range elevations. It is located in Button Rock Preserve, a scenic parcel of open space set aside to protect the City of Longmont’s primary watershed.
From the gate at the end of the access road, the trail to Ralph Price Reservoir follows the smooth road and gradually rises along beautiful North St. Vrain Creek, which lazily cascades over smooth blocks of ancient pink granite shaded by lush stands of pinion, juniper, and fir forest.
The shortest route to the reservoir passes the signed Sleepy Lion Trail junction at 0.75 miles, and continues straight on the road to the second junction (1.5 miles from the car), where you turn right. Climb a short, steep section to a third junction, where you should bear left up a second incline to the sparkling blue waters of Ralph Price Reservoir, Longmont’s main source of water. This is an ideal spot for stretching out in the sun, munching on a picnic, and relaxing while you search the skies for glimpses of Golden and Bald eagles, osprey, mountain bluebirds, Stellar’s Jays, and great blue heron. The lake is stocked with rainbow and brown trout as well as hybrid splake, and the shorelines teem with wildlife, including dark Abert’s squirrels, twitchy cottontails, mule deer, coyotes, and, occasionally, sleek mountain lions.
Retrace your steps to the car or consider adding a couple more miles by returning to the signed junction at the bottom of the steep grades and turning right towards Button Rock Reservoir. Circle around the dam outlets to the other end of the more challenging Sleepy Lion Trail, which will return you in about 2.75 miles to the junction you passed on the way up. If you go for it, keep an eye out for distant views of Mount Meeker and Longs Peak in Rocky Mountain National Park as well as bighorn sheep re-introduced to this area a few decades ago.
Getting there: From Denver, head north on I-25 to the junction with U.S. 36. Follow it west through Boulder and Lyons. Four miles west of Lyons, turn left onto Country Road 80 and follow this good dirt road 2.8 miles to the gate at the end.
Logistics: In addition to a Colorado fishing license, anglers must also obtain a special City of Longmont permit, which allows fishing from the shoreline with artificial flies and lures from May through October.
Bonus: Tack on the quiet Button Rock Trail (about 4.0 miles round trip) if you really want to avoid getting back to work.