Hiking the Colorado Trail: Segment 3 Rolling Creek to Little Scraggy

Editor's Note: This is a blog about segment hiking the Colorado Trail. I am planning to hike the 485.8-mile trail over the next 10 years (that's 50 miles a year!) Because I prefer not to backpack, I am attempting to split the longer segments into shorter segments.

After hiking segments 1 and 2 of the Colorado Trail, I decided to tackle one more segment that was close to home -- segment 3.

After hiking segment 2, segment 3 is a nice change. It's a very pleasant walk in the forest. However, much like segment 2, expect a rolling trail with lots of ups and downs. There's never a really hard or long up or down, but there are a lot of them.

The low point on the trail is at about 7,400 and the high point is at about 8,270, making for an elevation gain of about 870 feet. However, with all the ups and downs, we ended up with 1,500 feet of gain going from west to east. My Colorado Trail guidebook warns of nearly 2,000 feet of gain if you hike the trail east to west.

We started at the Rolling Creek/Colorado Trail trailhead (directions below). The parking lot was easy to find, it was right next to Wellington Lake Road and since the Colorado Trail crosses the road here, there were small trail signs right next to the road that said Colorado Trail.

After parking, we headed across the road and up the trail. The trail started with a short, quick climb in the thick forest, then it leveled off.  The trail winds through the forest and an occasional meadow. It's very pleasant here.

About 2.5 miles from the trailhead we were surprised to see a sign that said, "Rifle range nearby. Stay on trail." Just a few steps later, we heard our first shot. Then lots more. While we never saw the range, we heard lots of shots.

Just 0.2 miles past the sign we came to our first road crossing. The sign on the other side said, "Buffalo Creek. Forest Service Road 543 1.5 miles." There was also a very small Colorado Trail marker on a tree, so we continued on.

About three miles from the trailhead, the trees opened up a bit and we got a nice view of the valley to our right. This is a great spot to take a break, take pictures and look for "The Castle." The castle is a tall, rock formation that I'm told looks like a castle when viewed from Wellington Lake.

About 4.2 miles from the trailhead we came to the Redskin Trail turnoff. At this point, we had dropped 750 feet in elevation and gained 270. Yep, it's a rolling trail with lots of ups and downs.

Another quarter mile or less away, we came to Buffalo Creek. I loved hiking along the creek bed, listening to the water crash over the rocks and downed trees. The trail and the creek cross a road (hikers above the road, the creek below it) and continue on the other side.

Soon we left the creek bed and came to the Buffalo Creek Trailhead turnoff. There was an open gate here and a stile to help hikers go over the fence if the gate was locked.

After the Buffalo Creek Trailhead turnoff, our experience on the Colorado Trail changed dramatically. It turns out the next 8 miles of the trail is popular with bikers. Lots of bikers. At one point we counted more than 50 cyclists. Many of them were very polite, but many were flying down some of the hills incredibly fast. Don't wear headphones here. You need to hear the bikers approaching from behind you and in front of you, especially when they come around a curve and you hear them before you see them.

We also started to notice the sound of laughter and people. That's because you're not that far away from a group campsite. At 4.8 miles from the trailhead, we crossed a road with a view of a really cool rock formation to the left and the group campsite to the right. We stayed on our trail and continued on.

A short distance away was a creek crossing where the trail got a bit confusing. The best advice? Look for the Colorado Trail marker in a tree and go that way.

You've now hit the low point on the trail and the trail starts to climb -- quite a bit in this spot.

From about mile 4.2 to 6.4, we passed several other trails -- the Redskin Trail, another Buffalo Creek Trail turnoff, the Green Mountain Trail, the Buffalo Creek campground and another Green Mountain Trail turnoff. When you pass the Green Mountain Trail turnoff for the second time, at about mile 6.4, you're at the half-way point of the hike. We had lunch here, but I would recommend walking another 0.3 miles to a nice viewpoint of rocks and the surrounding valley.

For next 3 miles, we really didn't see much. There was a turnoff for the Tramway Trail and a turnoff for the Buffalo Creek campground, but otherwise, we just had more of the rolling trail, with ups and downs, through the forest.

At about 9.5 miles, we came to another nice viewpoint with some cool rock formations. This is a good spot to rest before tackling the last 3 miles or so.

At 10.8 miles, we passed the turnoff for the Shingle Mill Trail, and a 12.1 miles we crossed Forest Service Road 550. At this point, we knew we were close to the end.

After 12.7 miles on my GPS (12.2 according to the Colorado Trail guide), we arrived at the parking lot with a bathroom and a picnic table where we could take a break and change shoes.

Details: The hike, according to my GPS, was 12.7 miles with 1,486 feet of elevation gain. The Colorado Trail guide says it's 12.2 miles with 1,549 feet of gain if you go west to east. It's 1,975 if you go east to west.

We all enjoyed this section of the trail. While it had a lot of ups and downs and ends with an elevation gain, we enjoyed being in the forest and that the trail wasn't very rocky. It was much easier on the feet than most trails in Colorado.

If you're interested in hiking the Colorado Trail, read my trip reports about Segment 1 (part one), Segment 1 (part two) and Segment 2. Find more hikes and fun things in Colorado in our Discover Colorado section.

Directions: To get to the Little Scraggy Trailhead, take Highway 285 to Pine Junction. Turn south on Jefferson County Road 126/Pine Valley Road and drive through Pine and Buffalo Creek. Watch for Springs Creek Road and drive one mile past the road to the intersection with Forest Service Road 550. Turn right and drive 0.1 miles to the parking area. There was a $6 parking fee here in 2016.

To do a one-way shuttle hike, you'll need to leave a car here and drive to the Rolling Creek Trailhead.

Directions: Take Highway 285 to Bailey. As you come down the hill into Bailey, look for a small sign that says County Road 68 and a smaller sign that says Wellington Lake. Turn left/south. Take this mostly dirt road about 8 miles to the parking lot on your right. (At any intersections, follow the signs for Wellington Lake.) If you get to Wellington Lake, you've done too far.

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