Why we love it: Easy-to-follow trails with bird’s-eye views of the sparkling Horsetooth Reservoir and the surrounding foothills.

When to go: Any time of year, although you may want to avoid the midday heat during the summer.

This 3.8-mile loop explores the northern section of Lory State Park. The nearly 2,600-acre parcel is located on the northwest side of Horsetooth Reservoir, a 6.5-mile lake that stores water diverted from the Colorado River Basin for use along the Front Range. The state purchased this former ranch in 1967 and named it in honor of Dr. Charles Lory, who served as the president of Colorado State University in neighboring Fort Collins from 1909 until 1940.

This loop begins at the trailhead on the south side of the group picnic parking lot. At the first branch, just steps from your car, I recommend taking a right to first follow the Timber Trail, which winds steadily upward through shrubby hillsides. During the spring these slopes are dotted with wildflowers, including delicate white sand lilies and purplish-blue pasqueflower.

As you climb, the trail twists and turns, providing excellent views of both the pine-clad ridge to the west and the deep, blue Horsetooth Reservoir to the east. Once the trail levels out and heads south, it’s easy to see that the lake is nestled between two prominent rock ridges, called hogbacks, that are some of the many layers of sedimentary rock that were raised and tilted eastward during the uplift of the Rocky Mountains.

After 1.8 miles you intersect the Kimmons Trail, which offers more great views of the reservoir as well as the plains to the east. As you descend, keep an eye out for some of the 10 species of snakes found in the park, including western terrestrial, plains, and common garter snakes as well as western rattlesnakes, which are active during the warmer months. Lory State Park is also home to many mammals, including Virginia opossum, three species of cottontail rabbits, and plenty of rodents like chipmunks, squirrels, mice, and woodrats.

After another 1.2 miles, you’ll reach the junction with the Valley Trail. Turn left (north) and return along this gentle, flat trail to your vehicle. If you have a few extra minutes, it’s worth following the 0.1-mile-long Waterfall Trail, which leaves from the west side of the same parking lot, to enjoy the shady gorge and, if there’s been enough precipitation, a view of the park’s modest waterfall.

Getting there: From I-25 North, take exit 265 and follow CO-68 (Harmony Road) west through its intersection with Taft Hill Road. After zigzagging up to the reservoir, turn right onto Centennial Drive (Road 23) and follow this 1.6 miles to a T-junction, where you should turn left. After 4.6 miles turn left onto Lodgepole Drive, then turn left again after another 1.7 miles to enter the state park. The Timber Trail begins at the group picnic area located on the right, 0.6 miles past the visitor center.

Logistics: This loop is open to hikers, mountain bikers, and equestrians. A $7-per-car entry fee (or $70 annual pass) is collected at the visitor center.

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.