SubscribeAvailable Now
Photo by Jason J. Hatfield

Backcountry Must-Do: Liberty Cap

Chronicling the pleasures—and pain—of an overnight backpacking trip along the Liberty Cap Trail, a trek that offers gorgeous canyon and valley views and none of the crowds.

 •  

Trailhead: Upper Liberty Cap
Distance: 11 miles, out and back
Elevation Loss/Gain: 650 feet
Solitude-O-Meter: 1

3 p.m. My husband and I stop by the visitor center to get our required-but-free backcountry camping permit and ask for trail recommendations. When the ranger mentions bear sightings on Ute Canyon Trail, we opt for the 11-mile out-and-back Liberty Cap Trail; we’re not keen on close encounters of the ursine kind.

9:30 a.m. The next morning, en route to the Upper Liberty Cap trailhead, a bighorn sheep struts across the horizon on a rock wall like he owns the place. He kind of does.

10 a.m. We heave on packs loaded with a gallon of water each—since there are no water sources on Liberty Cap—sign the logbook, and head down a meandering path through piñon and juniper.

10:04 a.m. We stop to complain about the weight of our packs.

11:30 a.m. After gradually descending about three miles through meadows of Indian ricegrass, we find a spot to set up camp.

12:30 p.m. Unburdened by our packs, we practically dance the remaining 2.5 miles to the edge of the mesa above Liberty Cap.

1:30 p.m. We pick our way down a trail better suited to bighorns than humans to get a closer look at the rocky dome that is Liberty Cap. Rungs once led up the 50-foot-tall mound but have been removed. We try scaling it anyway—and quickly decide we are insane.

3 p.m. A sock change and a snack refresh us before we set off to explore more. Our wanderings reveal novel vantages on the canyons we thought we’d already seen from every possible angle.

6:30 p.m. We make it back to the tent in time to watch the sunset light up the Book Cliffs in pink
and yellow sepia tones no Instagram filter could ever imitate.

7:30 p.m. Dinner made and bear canister hung, we settle in for the night. I can see my breath in the glow of my headlamp; it’s supposed to drop to near freezing tonight. We’ve got three uphill miles to retrace tomorrow, so I click off the light and listen to an orchestra of frogs and bats. Planes flicker like night lights overhead. Most of them are headed west. In the morning, so are we.

What We're Reading

Newsletters

Keep me up to date on the latest trends and happenings around Denver. 5280 has a newsletter for everyone.

Sign Up