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Hiking in Larimer County: Rimrock Open Space

The hike starts on this flat path at Coyote Ridge Natural Area
The hike starts on this flat path at Coyote Ridge Natural Area
Deb Stanley

Larimer County describes the Rimrock Open Space as 472 acres of unmarred views, dramatic red rock cliffs, and hogback valleys - a striking western landscape rapidly disappearing as residential development creeps into the Larimer County foothills.

Rimrock Open Space
Deb Stanley

While Rimrock Open Space is a quiet, peaceful, scenic area, it is not easy to get to. There's no trailhead or parking at the open space. To get there, you have to hike in several miles via the Blue Sky Trail or two miles in via the Coyote Ridge Trail. I chose to hike in via the Coyote Ridge Trail (trailhead directions below).

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. 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 -- and beyond. 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, 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. While most people turn around here, this is where the Rimrock Open Space finally begins.

A sign here says it's 1.5 miles to the Blue Sky Trail. The next 1.5 miles of trail is the only trail in the Rimrock Open Space.

Follow the trail as it winds over the ridge. Enjoy the trees here and the view. As you head south, look at the valley to your west. Now look at the next ridge to the west. Do you see a cut in the ridge? You're going there.

For now, enjoy hiking this ridge, then drop down a series of steep steps 225 feet to the valley floor. The trail crosses a small creek and the mostly-flat valley. There are homes nearby and I assume there might be a tractor and other sounds in the summer, but in the winter, it was very quiet here except for the occasional chirp from a nearby prairie dog.

At the other side of the valley, you'll see the trail cuts through an opening in the next ridge. You'll do some climbing of the trail here, but you won't be going all the way to top. Instead, you'll hike through a series of small, red, rock ridges and valleys.

I was surprised to find a trail split about 3.25 miles from the trailhead. There was no sign, so I had no idea which way to turn and there were footprints in both directions. Good news -- this next section is a loop and you can go either way. I hiked it clockwise, but a runner in the area went counter-clockwise. Either way is about the same.

Wind your way through this area, with some ups and downs, until you suddenly come to the next big ridge and a sign that says Blue Sky (for the nearby Blue Sky Trail). Walk a few steps to the west and look into the next valley -- WOW!

From here, you can drop down into the valley and hike part of the Blue Sky Trail. When you're done exploring, continue on the loop, back to the main trail and return the way you came.

I highly recommend, if you have two vehicles, parking one at Devil's Backbone and one at Coyote Ridge and doing a one-way, 8.8-mile hike from Coyote Ridge Natural Area to Devil's Backbone Open Space.

Details: The Rimrock Trail is only about 3 miles roundtrip, but because you have to access via the Coyote Ridge Trail, the roundtrip hike through both parks was about 7.1 miles with 1,150 feet of elevation gain with all the ups and downs.

*Note, even on a busy Saturday afternoon, I only saw one other person on the Rimrock Trail. Most people hike the Coyote Ridge Trail and turn around. Park information. Area map.

In the area, don't miss 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.

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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