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Hiking in Larimer County: Coyote Ridge Trail at Coyote Ridge Natural Area

The Coyote Ridge Trail starts across the prairie
The Coyote Ridge Trail starts across the prairie
Deb Stanley

Each trail in the foothills feels so different and the Coyote Ridge Trail is no exception. Coyote Ridge Natural Area protects an area of open prairie and several ridges with expansive views.

Coyote Ridge
Deb Stanley

Coyote Ridge Natural Area is about half-way between Fort Collins and Loveland, just east of Highway 287 (directions below). The parking lot has space for about 30 vehicles and a few horse trailers, but there are no bathrooms. Those are about a mile down the trail.

The hike starts at a sign board that explains that area was used for farming and grazing. Now mule deer, badgers, coyotes and other animals live here. To protect the wildlife, dogs are not allowed here.

The trail starts as a wide, dirt path cut across the prairie. As you hike west, toward the foothills, enjoy the prairie grasslands while looking for signs of life -- maybe a small flower, maybe a small lizard, maybe a snake's burrow. A quarter mile down the path, signs appear describing the prairie grasslands, the small animals that live here and the birds that live on the treeless plains.

Less than a half mile from the trailhead, the flat path begins climbing the first ridge. At the top, a sign explains that an ancient sea covered this area 100 million years ago. There's even a fossil here to show one of the ancient fish unearthed by scientists. One sign tells hikers to look for the Bell's twinpod -- it's a plant that is ONLY found in Larimer, Boulder and Jefferson counties.

As you look at the ridges to the west -- you're going there! But first, turn north and walk this ridge a short distance to another sign. This sign blocks off part of the ridge because it's a rare plant sanctuary. Here you'll turn west and drop down into the next valley.

It's a short hike across this second valley. At the next ridge, you'll come to the bathrooms and a call box and a turnoff to a cabin. Take the turnoff and walk to the cabin. Take in the views from the porch. Imagine living here 100+ years ago. You were about 20 miles from Fort Collins, a town wikipedia says was founded as a military outpost in 1864.

Just past the cabin, a trail begins to head up the next ridge. There's actually a cut in this ridge, so you won't have to climb to the top. Instead you'll walk around this cut, walk through the next small valley and then begin to head up the highest ridge in the park. The next ridge is steep, but just take breaks and enjoy the scenery when you feel out of breath.

At the top of the ridge, you'll find a rock bench and lots of rocky cliffs. Find a place to sit on the cliffs facing to the east or west and listen to the wind, listen for birds and listen for the howl of a coyote.

A sign here says it's 1.5 miles to the Blue Sky Trail. The Blue Sky Trail is a north-south corridor from Horsetooth Reservoir to the Devil's Backbone Open Space.

While the sign doesn't say it, it also marks the end of the Coyote Ridge Trail and the beginning of the Rimrock Trail.

After enjoying a break and the views, consider hiking part of the ridge before you return the way you came.

In the area, don't miss Horsetooth Rock and the Bobcat 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.

Details: The Coyote Ridge Trail is 4.2 miles roundtrip with about 600 feet of elevation gain. Trail map. Park home page.

Directions: From I-25, exit U.S. 34/Loveland, and drive west 6.3 miles. Turn right/north on Wilson Avenue and travel about 5.1 miles to the trailhead on your left/west. (Wilson Avenue becomes CR 19 during that 5 miles.)

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