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Length: 7.8 miles round-trip (with options to extend)
Difficulty: Easy to moderate
Why we love it: Aspens flank the trail from the get-go, so leaf-peepers can score early, while more ambitious hikers can climb into the clouds on a backdoor-trip into Rocky Mountain National Park or the Indian Peaks Wilderness.
When to go: Summer through late fall or year-round with traction devices or snowshoes
Pre-hike fuel: Down a four-egg omelet with home fries and homemade toast or buttermilk pancakes from quaint Meadow Mountain Café in Allenspark.
Post-hike buzz: On your way home, pass through Ferncliff before regaining CO 7 to hit Cliff Side Tacos for $3 tacos and Mexican sodas.
Dogs: Allowed, but be wary of national park regulations if you cross the Rocky Mountain boundary near mile 3.3.
No doubt this national forest hike isn’t at the top of your bucket list. But with a trail that tunnels through aspen stands before breaching timberline at a wildflower-filled meadow with long-range views toward the Continental Divide, it should be. Leverage its anonymity into a fall-perfect day hike that doesn’t necessitate any of the main thoroughfares—or an ungodly wake-up call.
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To do it, begin at the eponymous trailhead at the end of Forest Road 1161 and duck into a lodgepole pine forest that gives way almost immediately to an aspen grove. Parallel the drainage—an unnamed fork of Rock Creek—and follow the singletrack through the mixed woods, crossing into the Indian Peaks Wilderness about 0.75 miles in. Peak foliage varies, but you can expect bright-yellow aspens from about the fourth week of September through mid-October.
Near mile 3, burst above the timberline—or point where trees stop growing—into a high-country meadow where deer, elk, and moose often loiter. From here, it’s a classic Colorado high-country ramble across tundra to the saddle below 12,162-foot St. Vrain Mountain and the turnaround point at mile 3.9. Note: You zigzag in and out of the national park boundary near mile 3.3.
See more: Good conditions? Bag St. Vrain Mountain on a 0.75-mile spur from the turnaround point. It’s a quick climb, but it gains nearly 900 feet in elevation, making the social path less a trail than a StairMaster. Or, if you’d like to venture deeper into the Indian Peaks, continue on the Buchanan Pass Trail.
Getting there: From Denver, navigate to Lyons, either by way of I-25 North and CO 7 west or U.S. 36 west via Boulder. From Lyons, follow CO 7 west 18.5 miles to Allenspark. Turn left onto CO 7 Bus east, an easy-to-spot exit with a dedicated left-turn lane. Follow CO 7 Bus east briefly as it wraps back toward the way you came and immediately turn right onto Ski Road, a packed dirt road that’s manageable for sedans. Take Ski Road 1.6 miles (it turns into Forest Road 1161 near mile 1.4), then dogleg onto the right-hand split and drive another 0.5 miles to the trailhead parking lot.