Cheesman Ranch loop, Mueller State Park

We were spoiled by gold foliage during our last visit to Mueller State Park. But Teller County’s 5,100-acre refuge spoils in all seasons, with wildflowers in summer and the promise of a wonderland in winter, the wide, rolling fields snow swept and glistening, and the spaces between pines piled with powder. The Cheesman Ranch trail offers the added bonus of history. The loop is a great tour of the park’s beauty, but before you go, be sure you’re willing to commit to the full length. Be aware of the weather, too.

From the Grouse Mountain trailhead, the path for Cheesman Ranch is numbered 17 and well-marked throughout. If you opt to go counterclockwise, as we did, you’ll hang right at the first Y.

Along the wide path, the trees clear for open views of the fields where elk are known to roam. The full form of Pikes Peak’s backside looms large, a breathtaking view that remains throughout the trip. For more vistas, take some of the short spurs along the way. The trail numbered 16 leads to the Grouse Mountain overlook in a loop less than a mile long.

The getaway might not seem like one, as the Cheesman Ranch trail heads toward Colorado 67, the park’s boundary. You’ll straddle the highway for about 1½ miles before coming to the first of several homestead remains. Beside the trail, a wooden structure sits between tall aspens.

The trail bends down to an old barn surrounded by fence line. You’ll want to stick around for pictures and a silent remembrance of rugged life long ago. Continue uphill to lovely glimpses of the Tarryall Mountains and then down again to more leaning ruins.

While the first half of this route is open, the second is wooded, through the tall and fragrant forest. Buffalo Rock is seen protruding above the trees, around the time the so-far flat trek becomes steep, at times harsh. Not wanting the workout at the end? Start the loop clockwise instead.

At the end of the uphill, the trail comes back to the fork. Go right to return to the parking lot.

Trip log: 5.7 miles round trip (loop), 658 feet elevation gain, 9,472 feet max

Difficulty: Easy-moderate

Getting there: Going west on U.S. 24, turn left for Colorado 67 at the stoplight in Divide. Follow to the park’s entrance on the right. Continue straight on the road to the campground and veer right at the sign directing to the Grouse Mountain trailhead.

FYI: Day pass $7. Multi-use trail. Dogs prohibited on all of park’s trails.

SETH BOSTER, THE GAZETTE

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