Having the ability to escape to the mountains in less than an hour is one of the main reasons that we moved to Colorado, and the current pandemic has made us appreciate that quick escape even more. I personally can’t imagine being stuck in a place where there isn’t nature around to explore during these times, where the feeling of being cooped up is amplified. The playground that is the Rocky Mountains offers endless socially distanced adventures, and I’m certainly grateful for the beautiful state we now call home.
As I scanned the AllTrails map on Friday, the goal for my hike this weekend was fairly specific in what I was looking for, but not necessarily specific about where. I wanted to find a lightly trafficked trail that offered good views of the front range, a challenging hike, all while avoiding the trails still covered in snow this early into the summer. Given my affinity for the Nederland/Boulder area, it’s not surprising that I found what I was looking for not that far from where we were last weekend. I promise I tried to look elsewhere!
I woke up and gathered the necessities as quickly as I could, packed up, and set out, arriving at the trailhead just before 8am. There were maybe 10 cars in the parking lot and plenty of open parking spots, which was something I was grateful for, and was glad that I set out as early as I had. From the parking lot, you are presented with a beautiful vista of Gross Reservoir below, and I immediately wanted to go towards it. It probably didn’t help that the only other people I saw setting out for the day were taking the trail going towards it.
I didn’t make it too far before realizing that I was already off the trail I intended to be on and hadn’t paid close enough attention to the map. Despite going the wrong direction, it wasn’t a total loss, as it afforded me some pictures of the lake and gave me an idea of what the trail down was like.
I hiked back up to the parking and realized the trail that I actually wanted went beyond the restrooms, more or less along the road. I set out for the second time, glad that it was early and not too hot, and walked past several fairly private picnic tables that all had gorgeous views of the lake.
I didn’t take a picture (for obvious reasons), but, about a half mile in, I passed a deer leg that had clearly been eaten by something, reminding me that there are in fact large predators in the mountains – something I take for granted all too often on our hikes. It wasn’t long, though, until I was walking along a dirt road that was, in fact, the trail, which allowed me to relax a little. It felt like deja vu from the hike last week, although it was significantly more “interesting” from the standpoint that it wasn’t a perfectly flat road. I guess it made me feel like I was hiking a little bit still, even though I was clearly on a road.
Once again, I passed my turn off, but realized quickly yet again that I was going the wrong direction, turned around, and got back on my way. With all the private property on either side of the road, I was expecting something more well defined for the trailhead turn off, but it was just a gap in a fence. The trail quickly narrowed and steepened slightly. After this point, I didn’t see a single other person until I was at the top. I never saw any wildlife other than birds and chipmunks, but I certainly was keeping an eye out after my grisly discovery earlier, and I kept thinking to myself that I wish I wasn’t hiking alone. The trail was very narrow in spots and the trees thick on either side, adding to the feeling that I wasn’t in my natural terrain anymore.
It did eventually open up into a magnificent meadow, filled with wildflowers, aspens, and pines. The wind was whipping through the trees at a decent pace today, and the leaves of the aspens let you know it.
It was a fairly gradual climb to the top once you turn off the road and it made for a good workout on the legs. I reached the top and had the place all to myself. It felt like I was the only one taking the trail today and the mountain was mine to enjoy. I took several pictures and videos, which don’t really do it justice due to my irrationally strong fear of heights, but it was an amazing feel standing on top, looking out over the mountains in the distance, with the wind blowing harder than ever.
I spent maybe 20 minutes sitting on a rock at the top (sufficiently away from the edge), enjoying the sounds all around me and rehydrating, before the people started to show up. Apparently I wasn’t the only one to take the trail today, but it appeared that I was perhaps the first. I was thankful for the time and solitude that I was able to enjoy on top, but it was time to start heading back down. That’s when I realized that this was far from a “lightly trafficked” trail, as AllTrails had indicated. I started running into groups of people what seemed like around every turn. After not seeing anyone else on the way up, I saw probably 10-15 groups of people on my way down. It made me wonder if it would even be worth it at top with all of those people crawling the rocks all around you. I’m sure it would be, but still wouldn’t be the same as it was being up there alone. This made me even more thankful for the peace and quiet I was able to enjoy.
Once I got back to the dirt “road”, I started to run into large off-road rigs taking the OHV trail and determined that it probably wasn’t initially designed for both hikers and those kinds of vehicles. I had to step off the road to let them pass a couple of times, and it made me nervous every time I heard someone coming up around a corner that they would be going too fast to see me.
I made it back to the parking lot around 11:30, and realized just how good of a decision I had made arriving as early as I had. I didn’t even know you could park on the other side of the parking lot, but now both sides were completely full, and there was a sheriff at the entrance to the parking lot turning people away. It became apparent that this parking lot was popular for folks hiking down to enjoy the lake, many with kayaks in tow. I would highly recommend arriving as early as I did.
All in all, I would definitely do this hike again, but would absolutely keep in mind to arrive early to avoid the crowds, find a parking spot, and not have to dodge cars. I honestly just wish so much of it wasn’t on a dirt road, but I’m starting to discover that that’s a thing.. Once I took the turn-off, it was an incredibly rewarding hike and rates highly for views and solitude. We’re going to have to come back and check out the lake next time too – I never did get any closer than I did taking the wrong trail at the beginning.