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Hiking in Larimer County: Reservoir Ridge Natural Area

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My new favorite map is Larimer County's map of its Natural Areas. It's a great way to find lots of hiking trails and great places to explore. While the online map is hard to read, you can pick up copies of the map at several trailheads.

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After a morning hiking at Lory State Park, I decided to stop at the western trailhead for Reservoir Ridge Natural Area. While most hikers and bikers start at one of the eastern trailheads (on Overland Trail or at Penrose), the western trailhead is quiet without the crowds.

The map shows two trailheads on the western side of Reservoir Ridge. However, the southernmost trailhead is actually a parking area for the Foothills Trail. While that's a good spot to stop for a bathroom, I recommend starting your hike at the signed trailhead, just 0.2 miles north of the 48C/dam road turn (directions below). This trailhead has a sign board, maps and a trash can, but no bathrooms.

With a name like Reservoir Ridge, it will probably not surprise you that the hike starts with a hike to the top of a ridge. The single-track, dirt trail starts next to the signboard and winds through a meadow on the side of the ridge. As you go up the ridge, see that rocky outcropping above you, you're going to hike around the north side of that formation.

About a quarter-mile from the trailhead, I spotted another trail (Trail #1) coming in from the right. It appeared to continue to the left, but was blocked off. It appears that the northern section of that trail is closed and has been replaced by the trail I was on because it continued up the hill a little further, turning north at a second unmarked trail split (Trail #2).

*Note, while unmarked, you'll be returning via Trail #1 or Trail #2 after you loop around the ridge. Also, I HIGHLY recommend having a map with you for this trek. Very few trail splits are marked and the map will help you decide which way to go.

For now, stay on the main trail (called the North Loop Trail on a map at the trailhead) as it turns north and continues climbing to a saddle on the north side of the ridge. At the saddle, you'll come to a spot where that closed trail and the new trail meet. There's a sign here (about 0.6 miles from the trailhead) that explains how beaches become ridges. Essentially, over time, beach sand gets buried under rock and dirt. That weight, along with water, cements the sand into sandstone. A major geologic uplift brought those layers to the surface, bending and tilting them.

After reading the sign and enjoying the view, I continued on the trail at the top of the ridge's saddle, marveling at how far the ridge continued on. For now, I crossed the ridge and started heading down the other side with views of the Front Range. On this side, you'll spot Claymore Lake below. That's one of the trailheads for this open space natural area.

As I came around to finish the loop, at about 1.2 miles, I came to yet another unmarked trail split. It appears that turning left will take you to the Michaud Spur, Foothills Trail and that lake. So, I turned right to stay on my loop.

About 1.4 miles from the trailhead, I came to my first trail sign! A sign here said Foothills Trail. Now, it was decision time. Turning right here takes you back over the ridge to that second unmarked trail split we saw earlier. That creates a loop of about 1.9 miles.

However, I noticed there was another turn around spot about a half mile away on the Foothills Trail. I decided to stay on the Foothills Trail. This next section of trail was quite nice. There were trees. But only one tree was next to the trail, so there really wasn't any shade. I was also hiking in a "valley" of sorts, an "indent," between the high points on the ridge to my left and right.

About 4/10th of a mile from the split, I came to a sign for Reservoir Ridge. Another tenth of a mile and there was a gate and a trail going back over the ridge. At this point, I decided to turn off and head up and over, then back north to my parking lot. However, it appears you can hike the Foothills Trail for several miles, making the hike as long as you want.

On the other side of the ridge, I was surprised to be almost next to the highway. Close enough that I could the heavy breathing of a cyclist trying to get up one of the hills.

The trail on the west side of the ridge also enters one of those "valleys" or "indents" in the ridge. Here I found a seasonal pond and the very loud chorus of crickets. The valley trail ended back at that first trail split I saw when I started this hike. Then it was less than a quarter mile downhill, back to the parking lot.

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Details: The hike up and over the ridge and around part of the Foothills Trail was 2.7 miles with 450 feet of elevation gain.

Directions: Reservoir Ridge is about 14 miles from I-25 and Harmony Road. Take Harmony Road about 6.8 miles to where Harmony become CR 38E. Go about 1.9 miles and turn right onto CR23. Proceed north until t-intersection. Turn left at stop sign onto CR23. Proceed north about 4 miles to the signed parking lot on your right. It's about 0.2 miles past the turnoff for 48C (a road that goes across a dam).

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