Why we love it: Choices, choices—enjoy the climb up the hogback and return to your car, or continue onward through adjacent open space for a challenging long-distance route.

When to go: Any time you want a good workout with amazing views.

The only route into the City of Fort Collins’ Coyote Ridge Natural Area is the Coyote Ridge Trail. Its gentle first mile is ideal for families, while runners, hikers, and bikers will enjoy the steeper second mile, which climbs 600 feet to the top of a resistant hogback.

This abrupt ridge is made of Dakota sandstone, the remnants of an ancient beach along which the ankylosaurus and duck-billed dinosaurs—and their fearsome predators—once roamed. As you’ll see along the trail, this hogback is one of many layers of sedimentary rock that were raised from sea level and tilted eastward by tremendous forces during the uplift of the Rocky Mountains about 65 million years ago.

From the parking lot, the Coyote Ridge Trail begins along a straight, flat path. After half a mile, it climbs up and over a subtle hill created by a small limestone layer. Then, at the first 90-degree bend, just past a geology interpretive sign, the trail turns northward and runs along the crest of another limestone hogback.

All this limestone was deposited on the floor of a seaway that once flooded interior North America. The Dakota sands were deposited along its shoreline when that lay here 100 million years ago. As sea level rose over the next 10 million years, this area was inundated by a shallow sea where the limestone accumulated. During times when sea level fluctuated, softer layers of shale were laid down, which today—after the layers were tilted and eroded—form the valleys you see between the resistant ridges.

After a second 90-degree bend, the trail crosses one such valley, formed in a layer of soft, black shale, which you can see in the mounds of dirt excavated by the local prairie dog community near the cabin. After executing another 90-degree bend by the toilet, the trail follows the base of the Dakota hogback, then bends westward, following the edge of a water gap, to climb a steep, rocky path up the Dakota sandstone. After entering a valley—the hallmark of another soft shale layer—the trail ascends the final slope to the Dakota crest, where you are treated to fantastic, 360-degree views from the peaks to the plains.

From here you can either retrace your steps to your car or continue westward through the Rimrock Open Space, crossing more valleys and ridges of ancient sedimentary rocks en route to the Blue Sky Trail, which you can follow long distances to the north or south.

Getting there: From Denver head north on I-25 to Exit 257, the junction with US 34 (near Loveland). Head west on US 34, past the intersection with US 287, for 6 miles to North Wilson Avenue. Turn right (north) here and follow this avenue, which turns into Taft Hill Road, for 5.4 miles to the prominent sign and large parking lot on the left.

Logistics: Coyote Ridge is open daily from 5:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. Dogs are not allowed on this trail.

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Terri Cook
Terri Cook
Terri Cook is an award-winning freelance writer based in Boulder. More of her work can be found at down2earthscience.com.