Have you ever thought about hiking the Colorado Trail?
The Colorado Trail starts on the southwest side of Denver and winds through Colorado's wilderness areas, over some its highest peaks, passing beautiful lakes and incredible vistas as it takes hikers to Durango. The trail is nearly 500 miles long and is broken into 33 segments.
The shortest is Segment 2, between the South Platte River and Little Scraggy Trailhead. I decided to start with that section.
The official guidebook for the Colorado Trail says hiking Segment 2 north to south has about 2,500-feet of elevation gain, hiking the trail south to north has about 750-feet of gain. I decided to hike it south to north.
I also decided to cut about one mile off the hike by parking on Highway 126 instead of at the Little Scraggy Trailhead (directions below). Parking in the pull off on Highway 126 was easy and there were markers for the Colorado Trail (Trail No. 1776) on both sides of the highway. We crossed to the east side of the highway and started hiking.
However, it turns out, the trail in this section just follows near Highway 126. The one-person wide dirt trail meandered near the highway, but in the trees. We crossed one road and kept following the path about a third of a mile before it turned east and headed away from the highway. Now, you'll feel like you're on the Colorado Trail.
The trail starts in a fairly barren area. This is desert-like with just scrub brush and very few trees. The forest in this area was destroyed in the 1996 Buffalo Creek Fire.
The trail wanders up and down, before hitting a high spot about 1.1 miles from where we parked. There was a trail split of sorts here, but no markings, so we continued in the direction we were heading and didn't turn off.
The trail continues with some slight ups and downs as it winds through the old burn area and around the occasional rock outcroppings. If you notice a peak with a long, scraggy top, that's likely Long Scraggy Peak to the south and east.
While I expected to be in the burn zone for the entire hike, about 3.2 miles from the car, that changed. We suddenly hiked back into a forest. There were some areas where you could see the ground cover and lower part of the trees had burned, but the trees were healthy here and there was some shade.
About 4.3 miles into the hike, pass another unmarked trail split. Keep to the right to stay on the Colorado Trail.
It's not far from here that you'll cross a road. A road? Yep, a road. That's Raleigh Peak Road that leads to a few homes back here. Just cross the road and stay on the trail as it starts to drop for awhile. But don't expect that downhill to last long. At about 4.9 miles, the trail starts a pretty steady climb up to the high spot at about 7800 feet elevation, about 5.35 miles in.
The trail drops again, but there are more climbs coming, including a series of switchbacks at mile 6.5. And lots of up and down, rolling hills.
After hiking through the forest, we were a bit surprised to suddenly come down a hill and see burn zone again. The trail goes back into the burn zone at about mile eight. The fire was huge here in May 1996. It burned 11 miles in 4.5 hours, eventually damaging nearly 12,000 acres.
The fire burned so hot, there are entire hillsides here that are showing just small signs of re-growth. However, it is part of the cycle of nature and as you walk here, look for the wildflowers and the small plants that are growing here.
At 9.25 miles, you'll spot a side trail that goes to an overlook with a granite formation on it. Take the time to take this short detour to see one of the many quartz mines that once dotted this area.
From here, it's just another 1.25 miles down to the South Platte River and the Gudy Gaskill Bridge over the river to the parking lot at the end of this segment. Congrats!
Details: The hike from Highway 126 to the South Platte River Trailhead is about 10.5 miles with 1,200 feet of elevation gain, according to my GPS.
Directions: From C-470 and Highway 285, take Highway 285 south about 20.5 miles to Pine Valley Road/Highway 126 and turn left/south. Take Highway 126 through Pine, through Buffalo Creek, about 12.6 miles to where the Colorado Trail crosses Highway 126. You should see hiker crossing signs just before you get to the trail. (The signs don't say anything, but they have two hikers on them.) At this spot, look for a pulloff on the right side of the road and small trails with signs that say Colorado Trail. If you miss it, the official trailhead is just one mile down the road to Forest Road 550H. Turn right there and drive 0.1 miles to the Little Scraggy Trailhead and start your hike there. There is a free to park at that trailhead.