Staunton SP

Staunton SP

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Sisters Trail, Aldefer-Three Sisters Park

Sisters Trail
Aldefer/Three Sisters Park

Date Hiked: Jan. 31, 2015

Distance: 2.3 miles (roundtrip)
Elevation Gain: 329ft
Elevation Min/Max: 7,469 to 7,760ft
Managing Agency: Jefferson County Open Space
Fee: None

Directions: From downtown Evergreen, take 73 south and turn right (west) on Buffalo Park Rd.  Follow Buffalo Park Road until you see the parking lot on the right. 

The Sisters Trail is the main attraction at Aldefer/Three Sisters Park.  This short but exciting trail weaves up to the top of the Three Sisters rock formation before looping back down to the parking area.  The trail can be very popular on the weekends, but on this cold snowy day in January, the trail was beautifully deserted.  

From the parking area start heading through the woods on the Sisters Trail and make a right at the Junction with the Ponderosa Trail.  As you walk peacefully through the Ponderosa forest the size and frequency of the boulders will steadily increase.  Soon you'll be surrounded by interesting rock formations as you come to the intersection with the Dedisse Trail.  Turn left and start the ascent to the saddle between the Sister's rock formations towering overhead.  The views of Evergreen Lake and the surrounding foothills are wonderful from this stretch.  When you top off you'll be surrounded by the rock towers, some easy scrambling is required to get any higher but it's worth the extra effort.  

The trail continues on descending through the rock and Ponderosa Pine.  Before too long you'll come to the Ponderosa Trail, turn left and climb slightly to a saddle and the turnoff for the optional Brothers Lookout.  Descend the saddle and return to the junction with the Sisters Trail, a right turn takes you back to the parking lot.  

Monday, January 26, 2015

Rod & Gun Club Ponds, Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge

Rod & Gun Club Ponds
Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge

Date Hiked: January 25, 2015

Distance: 3.5 mi (RT)
Elevation Gain: 100ft
Elevation Min/Max: 5,244 to 5,260ft
Trailhead Lat/Long:39.812950, -104.861191
Managing Agency: U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
Fee: None

Rocky Mt. Arsenal NWR Trail Map (FWS)

Directions: From Denver head east on I-70 and exit onto Quebec Street.  Turn left to head north on Quebec.  Turn right on Prairie Parkway and left on Gateway Road.  Follow Gateway Road into the park and bear right onto Wildlife Drive.  Follow the signs to the lakes area and once you pass the 4 way intersection with Havana Street/Wildlife Drive, look to the left for the parking area sign.  Park here but cross Wildlife Drive to the Prairie trailhead on the south side of Wildlife Drive.

The hike to the Rod & Gun Club Ponds is one of the prettiest hikes in the refuge.  The easy, rambling, trail cuts through multiple stands of juvenile and mature cottonwoods.  The trees are stark during the winter and I would love to come back to this trail in the spring or fall when the trees show their true colors.  The landscape along the trail alternates between narrow chutes between the trees and open prairie with terrific views of the Front Range mountains.  Your destination is a wildlife viewing blind on the shore of the ponds and it feels like you are quite remote by the time you reach the ponds, even though Wildlife Drive is only a few hundred yards away.

From the small parking area, cross the road and start out on the Prairie Trail.  When you get to the junction for the Havana Ponds Trail, stay straight and continue through the trees.  Pass another trail junction and soon you'll come to a T intersection.  Go right or left, both ways lead to the same spot.  When you reach the other side of the loop, follow the signs to the Viewing Blind.

This trail sees far less traffic then the trail around Lake Ladora and is far more scenic then the hike to Havana Ponds.  If you are a fan of prairie and cottonwoods, then this hike will be paradise for you.  The big skies and mountain views are just icing on the cake...oh yeah, keep your eyes out for wildlife, this is a wildlife refuge after all...

Friday, January 16, 2015

Black Canyon, Rocky Mountain National Park

Black Canyon
Rocky Mountain National Park

Date Hiked: January 16, 2015

Distance: 8.1 mi (RT)
Elevation Gain: 1,657ft
Elevation Min/Max: 7,879 to 9,093ft
Trailhead Lat/Long: 40.396513, -105.513025
Managing Agency: National Park Service
Fee: No

Rocky Mountain National Park Website (NPS)

Directions:  From downtown Estes Park, head north on 34 past the Stanley Hotel and make a right on MacGregor Ave.  Make another right onto Devil's Gulch Rd and look for the signs for Lumpy Ridge Trailhead on the left.  There is no fee to hike into RMNP from here.

The rock formations of Lumpy Ridge are massive and iconic and there is no better hike to experience these formations then the hike up the Black Canyon Trail.  The first 2 miles of the hike makes for an easy stroll along the base of Lumpy Ridge and if you are looking for an easy hike with great scenery and views, you can just hike these 2 miles and turn back when you enter the forest.  Once you enter the forest, you gain 1,200 ft of altitude over the next 2 miles before you reach the trail junction with the Dark Mountain Trail, the turn around spot for this hike.  Those first 2 miles are the most scenic and very easy going.

From the Lumpy Ridge Trailhead head west on the Twin Owls Trail.  For .6 miles you'll weave through the rock garden with terrific views of the aptly named Twin Owls formation to your right.  When you reach the trail junction, veer left for the Black Canyon Trail, you'll cross a road and find yourself at a wonderful viewpoint.  Long's Peak and the Continental Divide are towering over the meadows in the distance.  Continue on for views of the Lumpy Ridge formation as you cross meadows and cow pastures.  With each turn you'll get up-close and personal with the towering spires, domes, and cliffs.  Soon you'll spot the gates of Black Canyon consisting of the Sundance and Thunder Buttresses and you'll have to remind yourself that you are in Rocky Mt. NP not Yosemite.

If you want to get to the base of the cliffs and be able to look up to a rocky eternity, take one of the many climbing access trails along the way, trail signs will point you up the steep trails.

At about the 2 mile mark you enter the pine forest and the trail gets steeper.  The views of the formations start to get obscured by the trees but the forest itself is peaceful and serene.  Keep on pushing up-hill, sneaking up on Sundance Buttress from behind.  After 2 difficult miles you'll reach the Dark Mountain Trail.  From the trail sign you'll be staring at Dark Mountain to the west and you'll be able to see Long's Peak in all it's glory to the south...through some trees of course.  At this point you can turn around or continue by turning right make a long 11+ mile loop to Gem Lake and back to the trailhead.  If you head back the way you came, you'll have hiked 8.1 miles.

There are many ways to experience Lumpy Ridge, the Twin Owls Trail and the hike to Gem Lake are great, but only Black Canyon allows you be fully awed by the towering formations.  While this area appears less dramatic then the rest of the higher elevation park, when you're staring up at the Buttresses, or the Book Cliffs, or even Twin Owls from the west (way better than the view that actually makes the rocks look like owls...) you'll understand why this area was added to the park.  It truly is a national park worthy landscape.