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Devil's Backbone Open Space hiking: Wild Loop, Hunter Loop, Laughing Horse Loop

Some of the arches at Devil's Backbone Open Space
Some of the arches at Devil's Backbone Open Space
Deb Stanley

The Devil's Backbone Open Space may be best known for its "keyhole," a 20+-foot high arch in a wall of Dakota Sandstone. But for many, the park is becoming known as a place to hike for mile.

Hiking at Devil's Backbone Open Space
Deb Stanley

Thanks to the Blue Sky Trail, visitors can run, walk or bike from Devil's Backbone Open Space 8.8 miles to Coyote Ridge Natural Area, 9.6 miles to Horsetooth Mountain Open Space or 15 miles to Lory State Park's Visitor Center.

If you're looking for a moderate hike, combining the first three loop paths (Wild Loop, Hunter Loop and the Laughing Horse Loop) creates a hike of 6.3 miles. The hike starts at Devil's Backbone Open Space (directions below).

At the trailhead, pick up a map and start down a short hill to a picnic area in the trees. Pass the picnic area and hike the rocky, dirt trail in a valley between two ridges.

About 0.4 miles from the trailhead, visitors come to a bench a view and a trail split. Go left here and follow the hiker-only Keyhole Trail along the Dakota Sandstone ridgeline. While you'll see several small openings and two larger ones, the highlight of this path is the Keyhole arch.

At the arch, take a few photos and then continue on the Keyhole Trail north and downhill until it ends at the main path through the park.

Turn left here, cross the valley and you should see where the trail is going -- up. You'll drop down about 100 feet from the Keyhole to the bottom of the valley, then you'll climb another 200 feet up the ridge to the Hunter Loop. As you climb here, enjoy the views of the Dakota Ridge, the foothills and the Rocky Mountains.

The Hunter Loop is about two miles from the trailhead. A sign here says foot traffic and horses may go left, while everyone is welcome to go right. Because the trail to the right went up and it was still the beginning of the hike, I decided to go that way first. The trail continues to climb up the ridge with impressive views of the area.

It's just a 0.4-mile walk along the Hunter Trail to a spot where both ends of the loop merge again. Hike this rocky section to another trail split about 0.25 miles away. This split is for the Laughing Horse Loop.

A sign at the Laughing Horse Loop tells visitors all users are welcome to go either way, but there's a black diamond (meaning more difficult) pointing to the right. Once again I figured I'd rather to tackle the harder trail first, so I went right. The Laughing Horse Trail is very rocky and has some steep drop-offs that might intimidate cyclists. You'll want boots with good ankle protection for all the rock hopping on this trail.

It was nearly 0.6 miles of hiking through a scenic area before the black diamond trail section ended at a sign for the Blue Sky Trail. At this point, hikers can continue north adding as much distance as they'd like. I decided to continue on the Laughing Horse Loop and head back.

The next section of the Laughing Horse Loop starts with an uphill climb, but soon you'll notice you're near the edge of a scenic ridge. While the ridge is quite dramatic to the eye, I'm not sure photos will do it justice.

The trail follows the ridge, eventually dropping back down to where the loop started. Hike back on the main trail a short distance to the Hunter Loop. Since I had already done the east side of the loop, this time I did the wast side.

The west side of the Hunter Loop drops down into the valley and goes around a hill. This section was icy and muddy, even though the rest of the trail segments were mostly dry. It appears this trail section is the last one to melt.

The Hunter Loop ends back at the main trail. Head south, hiking back downhill into the valley of Devil's Backbone. Again, enjoy the views over the ridgeline west of the foothills and mountains.

After hiking back across the valley, you'll come to the trail split for the Wild Loop and the Keyhole Trail. Both trails are about the same distance, so I took the Wild Trail for something different. As you hike along the Wild Trail, you'll see a different view of the rocky ridgeline -- the top of it. You'll also get a glimpse of the keyhole from a distance.

The last 0.4 miles of the trail is the same trail you started the day on.

Details: The hike around the Keyhole Trail, Hunter Loop, Laughing Horse Loop and Wild Loop is about 6.3 miles with 1,000 feet of elevation gain with all the ups and downs.

In the area, don't miss Horsetooth Falls, Horsetooth Rock and Coyote Ridge Open Space. Need more ideas? Check out this list of 200+ hikes. Don't miss any of my trip reports, sign for an email alert at the top of this page and follow me on Facebook.

Note: There are very few trees here, so it will be warm in the summer. Please check the park's website before you go for closures due to mud, nesting and other issues.

Directions: From I-25, take the U.S. 34/Loveland exit. Drive west 8.3 miles and turn right on Hidden Valley Drive (there should be a small, brown sign here for Devil's Backbone Open Space). drive Hidden Valley Drive 0.2 miles to the open space park entrance.

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