At a glance, the Coyote Ridge Natural Area might not impress, especially for Coloradans preferring their adventure at higher altitude. A wide trail runs straight through the plains, seemingly barren, but Fort Collins park managers will tell you this swath is anything but. “You’ve come to a special place,” reads the welcome sign.
Life is abundant, from the area’s namesake predators hunting the colonies of prairie dogs, to mule deer roaming the same open space, to rattlesnakes and mountain lions lurking among the hogbacks beyond, to songbirds in the sky. Bell’s twinpod only grows here and in neighboring counties, atop the shale and limestone left over from an ancient seabed.
The mountains call, sure. But prairie-to-foothills experiences such as these are often overlooked.
Starting in the sea of grasses less than 10 miles from FoCo’s downtown, my wife and I were greeted by singing prairie dogs. Several emerged from the cold ground. Fort Collins markets Coyote Ridge as an all-seasons getaway, though on our January visit — a bluebird Saturday — we were pleasantly surprised by the relatively low visitation. Perhaps that had to do with the bitter winds that battered us farther on.
Another surprise: A vault toilet off the trail a mile in, situated in another grassy flat between hogbacks. The path, well-formed and easy to follow, thins and bends northwest, into rocky corridors framed by ridges. Lengthy switchbacks rise steadily — a worthy workout among runners going up and an enjoyable downhill for mountain bikers coming the other way.
The last stretch of the trail skirts a hardscrabble hillside, cresting at an overlook. The foothills roll over a wide valley to the west, the city and plains sprawling in the other direction. Most take the trail back, but long-distance explorers on foot, bike and horseback might continue on to Devil’s Backbone and Horsetooth Mountain open spaces.
Trip log: 4.2 miles round trip (out and back), starting elevation 5,138 feet, 778 feet elevation gain
Getting there: Take interstate 25 north to the exit for Harmony Road. Go left (west) on the road that becomes County Road 38. At the light for Taft Hill Road, turn left (south) and follow to the Coyote Ridge parking lot that will be on your right.
FYI: Dogs not allowed. Multi-use trail.
SETH BOSTER, THE GAZETTE