The Basics: Distance: 2.5 mile loop, can be extended to 15+ milesElevation: approx. 200-foot gain Rating: Easy for people who hike often. However, I saw several walkers who thought it was tough, especially with the occasional muddy/icy sections in mid-February.Directions: From I-25 and U.S. 34 (the Loveland Outlets exit) go West about 8 1/4 miles to Hidden Valley Drive. There's a small brown sign saying "Devil's Backbone Open Space." From here it's a 1/4 mile to the trailhead. Warning, this trailhead has a small parking lot and the sign says if the parking lot is full, the trail is full. Trail information: This is a multi-use trail: hikers, bikers, horses and dogs are allowed on leash. There are two bathrooms at the trailhead and an interpretive sign.When 7NEWS Meteorologist Mike Nelson started saying it would be in the 50s on a weekend in mid-February, I knew that meant one thing, I had to "Get Outside" and hike! February hikes are tough. You have to pick a place at a low enough elevation that the snow has melted, but with some scenery, or why hike?7NEWS photojournalist Major King suggested Devil's Backbone. It's an Open Space park in Larimer County, just outside Loveland. That's not close, it's 40 miles from the north side of the metro area, but I've wanted to do this hike for some time. (I'll put some other possible winter weekend hikes at the bottom of this report.) Since the weather isn't nice enough to hike all day, use this as an excuse to hit the Loveland Outlet malls for part of the day.Devil's Backbone Open Space is the southern parcel of open space lands and connector trails that stretch all the way to Lory State Park. (For maps and more information, click here. The site is up and down on Saturday, Feb 9th) Larimer County bought this parcel to protect the unique geology and wildlife habitat.The geology is what brings many people out, the so-called "Devil's Backbone." It's an eroded rock formation on the west side of the park. The trails run along the east side of the formation.At the parking lot, pick up a brochure for the "Wild Loop Interpretive Trail." There are several sign posts with numbers that correspond to information in the guide.From the parking lot, you walk past a few picnic tables, then start climbing up the trail. Because it is winter, expect sections to be muddy and/or icy. I think hiking boots are meant to get muddy, don't wear nice white tennies and expect them to stay that way. This is also a shared trail so you may run into bikes and people on horseback. I saw a few dogs, they were all on a leash, which is required.The description for marker 1 explains this area was settled in the 1870s.Marker 2 is easy to miss. It's next to a nice bench with 3 steps. I said hello to the people on the bench and missed the post. Here's the sign at marker 2. I took the foot trail to the left/west.
I mention the post because the trail splits here. See the sign? This is the loop part of the trail. Go right and you'll see the formation as you do the return portion of the loop. Go left and you'll see the formation much more quickly. The numbered sign posts also follow the trail to the left. I went left.After hiking up a rocky trail section, you quickly begin to see the first section of the "Devil's Backbone." It's pretty neat. I really like arches so I was glad to see some areas where the rock had eroded away, creating arches or openings. There's a sign saying "Overlook 1/4 mile." I thought it would be prefect for taking a photo of the line of the backbone. Not really. If you see a nice photo along the trail, take it. Don't wait for the overlook. Also, watch the sky as you hike, this area is known for its hawks, ravens, swallows and owls. I did see one bird, but I wasn't really watching for them.After the overlook, as you continue on the trail you'll come to a split with the number signpost 6. Here you can take the "keyhole" trail or the "bypass" trail. I have no idea why anyone would take the bypass, though lots of trail runners did. The keyhole trail section is a little tougher, but it takes you to "the keyhole," a good sized hole in the formation with benches and a great view. I'm not sure what I expected to see, but this was a pleasant surprise.The view through the keyhole is sky and mountains, it's very pretty. It also has a view of the nearby back yards of homes. I'm not sure what was more interesting, the kids on the trampoline who had no idea people were watching or the llama being chased in a back yard for some reason. The view of the keyhole.
I took a few pictures, but my camera decided the batteries had had enough. Note to self: Always bring extra batteries.After a few minutes enjoying the view at the keyhole, I continued down the trail (and it is down from here) back to the main trail. From here, you can turn north and hike on to several other parks making the hike as long as you'd like. You can turn south and return to your car making this a 2.5 loop. Or you can turn around and do the same section of trail making this a 2.6 mile RT hike and giving yourself a chance to see the backbone again from a different direction. I actually took the same trail back. The views were so good, why hike back on a trail where the view is some houses and rolling hills. I came to see the backbone, so I saw it from both directions.This was a nice hike for mid-February. It took about an hour. I saw a lot of different people; some with full packs and gear (they were training for Argentina next month), I saw several families with kids and dogs, I saw couples who thought the hike was pretty tough and I saw a man with a child-carrying backpack. Again, watch for the muddy/icy sections and bring a camera.I welcome your questions, comments and hiking trail suggestions. To E-mail me, just click on my byline at the top of the page.
Previous hiking reports:(lower elevation hikes have a star)Boulder:Caribou Ranch*, Mallory Cave*, Marshall Mesa,Heil Valley Ranch*Forsythe Canyon*, South Boulder Peak*, The Boulder Flatirons*, Walker Ranch*, Bear Peak*, Rabbit Mountain*, Bald Mountain*, Betasso Preserve*, Wonderland Lake*Golden area:Forgotten Valley, Chimney Gulch*, Apex Park*Jefferson County:Mt. Falcon*, Elk Meadow*I-70 area:Herman Gulch, Chicago Lakes, Chief MountainRocky Mountain National Park:Granite Falls, Twin Sisters, Bierstadt Lake, Chasm Lake, Lulu City & Little Yellowstone, The Loch, Andrew's Glacier, Sandbeach LakeIndian Peaks/James Peak Wilderness:King, Bob & Betty Lakes, Forest Lakes, Arapaho Lakes, Mitchell & Blue Lakes, James Peak Area, Heart LakeNorthern Colorado: Homestead Meadows, Lake AgnesSummit & Eagle Counties: Booth Falls, Missouri Lakes, Mohawk Lakes & Continental FallsGrand County:St Louis Lake, Waterfall At Snow Mountain Ranch, Granby RanchOther:Exploring Fulford Cave, Our Favorite Hikes, Our Favorite Bike Rides