Category: Colorado Travel (Page 1 of 2)

Mills Lake Trail: A Good Winter Hike in Rocky Mountain National Park

Thousands of people visit Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP) every year. So much so that getting into the park in the summer has become a bit of an accomplishment. While summer is the easiest time to hike in the park, especially if there is good weather, winter offers its own lens on RMNP. There are a little less people exploring the mountains in the winter. And frankly, the snow can create a real wonderland that is breathtakingly beautiful.

But for the hikers out there, it’s ideal to know what trails can work well for the cold (and often snowy) season in the mountains. Well, Mills Lake Trail is one good winter hike in Rocky Mountain National Park. It isn’t easy, being about 5 miles long (round trip) and it has some consistent elevation gain throughout the inwards leg of the hike. But compared to the truly challenging trails in RMNP, it settles in the range of easy to moderate. And the track works well in the snow, particularly when other folks have already followed the route.

That, and the pay-off for the trail is a really lovely lake tucked among the shoulders of some of the most exceptional mountains in the world (the Rocky Mountains).

If I’ve sold you at this point, read on to learn more about exploring this trail in the winter. And if you aren’t a hiker, scroll down to see some pictures of this inspiring little corner of Mother Earth. Finally, if you’d like to learn more about other Rocky Mountain lake hikes, be sure to also check out my guide to Gem Lake and Lily Lake hikes.

Why Mills Lake Trail is a Good Winter Hike in Rocky Mountain National Park

Good Winter Hike in Rocky Mountain National Park

(c) ABR 2023

Mills Lake Trail is among the moderate hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park, and its length, difficulty, and location all make it a great open for winter treks. Here are some things that you might consider when deciding if this trail is a good fit for your needs.

  • Mills Lake Trail is an out and back trail, which means that it makes for an easy turn around at any point. Weather can change rapidly in the Rocky Mountains, and you will need to keep an eye out for whether or not to head back.
  • This trail is long and steep enough to make for a bit of a challenge, and these characteristics of the trek will make it worth the drive and winter gear-up. It’s a solid day hike, particularly if you are going a bit slower because of the snow.
  • Mills Lake Trail is a good winter hike in Rocky Mountain National Park because it is lower down in the mountains and it mostly travels through valleys. This means that the air is a bit thicker and warmer than the higher reaches of the park. The road is also open for more of the winter, and a bit easier to navigate.
  • This area is absolutely exceptional. The forests here are verdant carpets of evergreens and aspens. And the mountains that surround this area are stoney monoliths. When shrouded in snow, they rank among the giants of Switzerland and New Zealand for their impressive size and rugged, awe-inspiring beauty.

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Part 5 of Fort Collins Footrails and Food: Longmont, North Shields Ponds, Ross and Running Deer

I am back here with the fifth part of my series on hiking, food, and attractions in and near Fort Collins, CO.

This particular post is a little bit of an interesting one, because I started out with this series focusing on trails. The parks that I cover here in Part 5 aren’t my favorite, as sad as that is to say. BUT I am hoping to explore all the Natural Areas in town, so that means checking out the amazing ones and the humble ones.

Additionally, because the experiences that culminated in this post happened mostly over the winter, there is more emphasis here on food than trails. AND I have some information on some cool attractions in the Longmont area – which is just south of Fort Collins. When traffic isn’t so bad, it is about an hour drive there.

So, if you are looking for some short winter walks, and lots of good food options, this is the series chapter for you. And if you are wondering about what to do on an afternoon in Longmont, I’ve also got some ideas for you.

Hiking

North Shields Ponds Natural Area

hiking in fort collins

(c) ABR 2023

North Shields Ponds Natural Area is a very small park near the Poudre River. It has tracks that circle two small ponds. This makes for a figure 8 trail of about 1.5 miles.

I must say, of the Fort Collins parks that I have been to, this was the only one that has made me uncomfortable. It’s tucked back in an area that is a little industrial, so it has a particular kind of traffic. So, I’d suggest not going here alone – at least based on my experience here.

Ross Natural Area

hiking in fort collins

(c) ABR 2022

The Ross Natural Area is a small natural area that is home to a short, 0.7 mile section of the Spring Creek Trail. While there isn’t much hiking here, it is connected to Rolland Moore Park. So, it is a nice little area to bring the family for a day outside.

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Part 4 of Fort Collins Foothills and Food: River’s Edge and Reservoir Ridge

Join me for my fourth entry in the series Footrails and Food in Fort Collins! I’ve got loads of suggestions for restaurants across the city in this post, along with some great, in-town hiking options. The trails included here range from city park trails to great training options at the edge of town. Give it all a try here!

Hiking

River’s Edge and Salyer Natural Areas

hiking in Fort Collins

(c) ABR 2022

River’s Edge and Salyer Natural Areas are linked to eachother via Lee Martinez Park. All together, these make for a great place to walk. There are great views of the Poudre River. And loads of of options for side trails and places to sit and take it all in. Throughout the seasons, you can see different kinds of wildlife – from birds to mammals and of course, all the little guys too (insects, reptiles, etc.).

As long as you respect seasonal signage for sensitive wildlife, this is also a great area for walking your dog. With bridges, nice flat trails, and views of the river, it’s a nice place to come with the family too. (Just mind the water!).

hiking in Fort Collins

(c) ABR 2022

Unsurprisingly, there is also a lot to do in Lee Martinez Park. It’s a really big area with playgrounds, links to the Poudre River Trail, and even a farm!

If you want to make the day of it, you can get a meal in Old Town and then spend some time strolling through the park and natural areas with a warm drink in hand.

There is no fee to visit these areas!

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Exceptional Hiking Near Lyons, CO – Button Rock Preserve

Lyons is a small town tucked just on the edge of the Rocky Mountains. Besides having a cute main street complete with food and (sometimes) music, Lyons is also the gateway town to beautiful Button Rock Preserve. I first visited the Preserve when I was looking for fairly easy hikes near the Front Range. I was immediately enchanted by the part of the trail that follows a twisting, robust creek to a massive dam. And recently, I was able to visit for a second time to complete a lollipop trail that heads up into the forested mountains that surround the preserve. What’s great about this trek, besides the river, the drama of the dam, and the views, is that Lyons is the perfect post-hike stop for food and rest.

button rock preserve

This is a wonderful option for anyone looking for a trail that isn’t too long, but it is still a great workout. It also offers an opportunity to enjoy many of the things that make Colorado such a wonderful place – forests, mountains, food, and breweries. Whether you want to explore in person or just enjoy some pictures, come along to learn about this exceptional hiking near Lyons, CO.

Why Visit Button Rock Preserve?

There are a lot of really cool trails in Colorado. So many, in fact, that it can be hard to pick which one you’d like to do. This is a particular problem when you have limited time in the state, and you have to prioritize. Button Rock Preserve (as much as I love it) can’t compete with places like Rocky Mountain National Park. And it isn’t the same kind of hiking as the famous 14ers. When it comes to moderate Colorado hiking, close to Denver, CO, though, this preserve is a great option.

Perfect for Family Hikes

button rock preserve

(c) ABR 2023

For one, it doesn’t require reservations – which Rocky Mountain National Park does seasonally. If you happen to come and find out you can’t visit the National Park, it’s time for other options. Button Rock Preserve is a great spot. Sure, it isn’t home to craggy peaks, but is a beautiful riparian area encircled by the mountains. And it has hiking options for the whole family. For example, there are plenty of long trail options for the hard-core hikers. There is also a road that most of the trails start from, which travels along the creek to the dam. For folks into casual hiking, this is great. There is even a bathroom at the beginning of the trail and towards the dam. It’s perfect for the family as long as you are careful around the flowing water. And finally, there are even beautiful spots along the creek right at the trailhead. So, folks who don’t want to hike at all have some good options too.

History on the Land

button rock preserve

(c) ABR 2023

Secondly, Button Rock Preserve is a prime spot for exploring the relationship that people have had with the land in this area. The dam is a massive, industrial element that shapes everything in this area. It is important to the water provisions of the communities here. And it makes for a really interesting and unique hike. That’s because the trail leads to the base of the dam. And you can follow another track up to the top too. From there, a spectacular lake will stretch off into the mountains. There is also a history of ranching here.

Free but No Dogs Allowed

Another nice thing about this spot is that it is free. And while it can get busy, it has a nice parking lot, so it is a great option if you don’t want to make a mountaineering start. That all being said, Button Rock Preserve is NOT dog friendly.

Sleepy Lion Trail Lollipop Route

button rock preserve

(c) ABR 2023

As per 60 Hikes Within 60 Miles of Denver, I did the Sleepy Lion lollipop route (5.5 miles) when I visited Button Rock Preserve for some hiking near Lyons, CO. (Although the first time I went, we just did an out and back to the dam). For this route you will follow the dirt road that leaves from the trailhead along North St. Vrain Creek. Along this initial, road section, you will get to see Longmont Reservoir, and the lower part of the creek. In the summer, there are often fly fishers in this area, and sometimes people just relaxing along the waterway.

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Part 3 of Fort Collins Foothills and Food: Pinewood Reservoir, and Edora Park

There is loads to hike, taste, and experience in Fort Collins, Colorado. So far, I’ve already covered several city open spaces, trails, and restaurants in Part One and Park Two of this series. So, I am continuing the guide to the city here with coverage of new trails, restaurants and more!

Our hikes in this part 3 of the Fort Collins Foothills and Food series include the trails of Pinewood Reservoir, and the Coterie off of Spring Creek Trail from Edora Park. The restaurant spots include some of Fort Collins most unique spots, and this is the first part of this series to include other attractions here in the city.

Hikes in Fort Collins

Pinewood Reservoir and the Ramsay-Shockey Open Space

(c) ABR 2022

Pinewood Reservoir is part of the Larimer County park system. And I better start out this section of my post by mentioning that it’s not actually in Fort Collins. It’s about 45 minutes away from town and close to Loveland. That being said, I am still going to include it here, because it isn’t too far from town, and Pinewood has some very nice hiking options.

In particular, I did two trails when I went – Shoshone Trail and Besant Point Trail, which can be combined to create a lollipop. This lollipop was roughly 3 miles and included walks along the lake and ascents into the rolling hills that surround it. To access this lollipop route, park at the southern trailhead, where the restrooms are. Then, from there, you will follow Besant Point Trail along the southwestern edge of the lake along the shore. It’s a great place to see wildlife and enjoy the general beauty of the calm water of the reservoir.

(c) ABR 2022

Besant Point Trail ends when it conjoins with the loop, Shoshone Trail. We chose to hike up first, so we went into the hills as soon as we got to the junction. We took a clockwise direction. From there, the Shoshone trail is a bit more challenging than the shoreside trail, since it has some elevation gain. There are some great views from higher up, however, so if you are looking for a more challenging trek, I definitely suggest doing both trails.

To get here, you will take Taft Hill Rd/Wilson Road south from Fort Collins. Then you will turn west onto the 34. After that, you will need to head southwest towards Carter Lake, which you will pass while following County Road 18E. The easiest way to get good directions will be to put the lake into Google.

Need to Know Information

(c) ABR 2022

Land Manager: Larimer County

Entrance Fee: $10 per vehicle

Difficulty: Moderate

Bathroom at the Trailhead: Yes

4WD Necessary: No

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Footrails and Food in Fort Collins, CO: Fossil Creek Reservoir, Maxwell Natural Area, and More

The northern most city in Colorado’s Front Range, Fort Collins is known for being home to Colorado State University. It’s a growing city, but with all the charm of a smaller town. Whether you are visiting, or moving here, there are plenty of trails and good food to be had. Along with the first part of this series, this guide will fill you in on where to hike in Fort Collins and a short series of food reviews for spots in town. Come with us to get an idea of new spots to check out for food and nature.

Where to Hike in Fort Collins

Fossil Creek Reservoir Regional Open Space

(c) ABR 2022

Fossil Creek showcases a grand lake, and many birds utilize this habitat throughout the year. Along with trails, there are a couple of bird watching blinds, picnic areas, and a ranger station with a full bathroom. If you are thinking about where to hike in Fort Collins, and you are looking for a spot that is family friendly, Fossil Creek is a great option for where to hike in Fort Collins. The parking lot is between two main trail options.

The Cattail Flats Trail a 1.6 miles lollipop trail, and is the longer of the two options. It is a mostly flat trail that crosses the grasslands of the park, before stopping by the shore of the lake. This trail is closed in winter, so if you are set on seeing it, make sure to visit during any other season.

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A Day in Golden, CO for Hiking, Museums, and More!

Just outside of Denver, Colorado sits a little town nestled in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. It’s got the perfect balance of access to the urban plains, small-town feel, and entrance into the mountains themselves. This little, lovely spot is Golden, CO.

For visitors, it’s got just about everything that you could need. There’s hiking in Golden, CO, good food, museums, and the Coors factory. (Did you know Coors was made in Colorado? Somehow I didn’t!) All this makes a day trip to Golden, CO a great option for any itinerary, and a must for anyone living in the state.

This short guide will give you a sense for the town, and help you plan your own trip to this lovely and easily-accessed mountain town.

Five Great Reasons to Take a Day Trip to Golden, CO

A taste of the mountains, close at hand

day in Golden CO

(c) ABR 2023

The mountain towns of Colorado are world-famous for the beautiful landscapes that they are nested within, and for their own, small-town USA charm. Golden has got you covered with both of those. You might not be up in the high Rockies, while visiting, but you will have amazing views of the mountains all around. And the town itself is gorgeous. Just taking an hour or two to walk the old, downtown area is a must. The buildings are lovely and there are loads of unique shops to check out. Taking in this little town is a great way to stay your day trip to Golden, CO, in fact.

It’s a really short drive from Denver (15-20 min) to get to Golden. It’s so close in fact, I would almost say that Golden could be considered a suburb. This means that if you don’t have time or the desire to drive deep into the mountains, this is an awesome option for a day of adventure and exploration.

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Two (Relatively) Easy Lake Hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park

Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP) is rightfully known for its challenging and potentially dangerous treks through the mountain range for which the park is named. But not every beautiful trail through this park is a high adventure track for experiencing hikers only. And for those lovers of water among us, there are also beautiful trails that features montane lakes of exceptional beauty. In particular, I’d like to give you a glimpse into two easy lake hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park. Both are great for folks of all abilities and can be very family friendly as well. Gem Lake is a more challenging, upwards trek through the forest to a small, mountain lake. And Lily Lake is a short, flat hike that will take your around the body of water, with plenty of breathtaking views to be had on your stroll.

Let’s open the door to RMNP and see if these hikes are right for you.

Picking Your Easy Lake Hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park

At a glance, these two hikes are pretty different from one another, so it shouldn’t be all that hard to pick which one fits your needs. Alternatively, we did both in one afternoon and if you have the stamina for that, it’s a great day out in the park.

easy lake hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park

Lily Lake (c) ABR 2022

Lily Lake is the shorter and easier of these hikes. There isn’t much elevation change, and you will have an easy stroll around the water. This is a busier area, however, with a smaller parking lot that is partially shared with trailheads across the highway. This can make parking a challenge and we had to cross the highway from our car, which I am not fond of. That being said, this is the better trail for an easy family hike, or for those friends among you who aren’t looking for a huff and puff up a mountain. This is a very accessible in terms of hiking skill level.

Gem Lake is a bit longer of a trek and it is more challenging of these two easy lake hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park because there is some elevation change from the trailhead to the lake itself. In fact, while this trail isn’t horribly hard, it is a pretty steady upwards hike. This is a wilder feeling area, and it has a pretty substantial parking lot that is more out of the way than Lily Lake. There is a bathroom here and when we visited, there were also volunteers at the trailhead. This is a doable family hike for families with kids that are used to hiking upwards.

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Foot Trails and Food in Fort Collins, CO: Pineridge, Riverbend Ponds, and Arapaho Natural Areas

Fort Collins in northern Colorado is a small(ish) college town that is known for being home to Colorado State University. And it is now home to Nightborn Travel. So, while this town might not be the #1 tourist spot in Colorado (which is not a bad thing), I will be exploring the trails and restaurants in Fort Collins (or FOCO) as thoroughly as I can.

We’ve got an amazing array of trails up here, managed by the city, county, and state, and it’s my goal to visit them all, big or small.

The restaurant scene here is also pretty small, but I am convinced that there are some gems out here.

Whether you are a long term local, a transplant like me, or a visitor to the area, join me now as I start to explore and appreciate my new home. If you are wondering about hiking in Fort Collins or food in Fort Collins, this is the guide for you.

Foot-trails and Hiking in Fort Collins

Tips and Safety Note for Hiking

hiking in fort collins

Viewpoint Trail at Pineridge (c) ABR 2022

Before heading out, check out the COTrex App for trail conditions. FOCO is very careful about closing trails when they are wet and prone to damage by use or potentially dangerous. Please don’t disobey trail closures while hiking in Fort Collins or elsewhere.

But remember, ANY time you go out hiking or traveling, your safety is your responsibility. This guide and any other guide is no guarantee of your safety. Check the weather. Wear the right clothes. Let people know where you are going. Bring snacks and water. ETC! Do your own research and be prepared.

As a final tip, many of these trails are near water which means that you need to exercise extra caution with yourself, your kids, and your pets. All water is dangerous, even if it looks calm.

Pineridge Natural Area

hiking in fort collins

Pineridge (c) ABR 2022

Pineridge Natural Area has a special place in my heart, because these are the first trails that I ever tried out for hiking in Fort Collins. In fact, I think it was only my second or third day after having moved into town that I visited. Not only that, but Pineridge helped me ease back into hiking after taking several months off due to plantar fasciitis.

This natural area is nestled between the foothills and a large city park called Spring Canyon. There is parking on both sides, and luckily, bathrooms to the south and north as well. But the amenities on either side are different. Near Spring Canyon Park, you can easily access Pineridge, but you can also access a dog park, skatepark, and traditional park. You can also park next to the Dixon Reservoir, and from there you can launch a small boat into the lake. On the flat plateau between the ridge and the lake you might catch sight of the local prairie dogs.

hiking in fort collins

(c) ABR 2022

From the Spring Canyon side of the natural area, you will take the Foothills Trail up the small ridge from the park. Then you can cross the top of the ridge and walk down to the lake, which you can circle using the Reservoir Loop Trail. From the lake side, you can more easily get to the lake, as well as a couple of short, uphill trails – the Veiwpoint Spur and Timber Trail.

All of these trails are pretty short, but you can make up different combinations of various lengths and level of challenge.

Need to Know Information
hiking in fort collins

(c) ABR 2022

Land manager: City of Fort Collins

Entrance fee: None

Bathroom available at trailhead: Yes

4WD needed to access: No

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Part One of Things to Do In Denver, CO

As with any large city, there are so many cool things to do, that it’s hard to pick just a few. For those of you visiting Denver, CO, I will be compiling my thoughts on various activities and food locations across the city to help you pick the best options for you and the length of your stay. For those who live in and around Denver, I’d love to hear your thoughts on these spots. But for now, in this first installment I’d like to share my impressions of Denver’s Meow Wolf installation, Belmar Park – a nice spot for history and a stroll, and a couple takeaways for African cuisine in the city and drinks at Death and Co.

TL:DR Go to Meow Wolf. Skip Death and Co. And explore the suburbs for good food and a unique park.

About Me and How I Travel – Is This Guide for You?

(c) ABR 2022

The blogs that I get most excited about are those written by people who have a similar travel style to me, and who are looking for similar things.

Relevant to this urban guide – I’d like to briefly describe what it is that I look for while visiting cities, so you can tell if this guide is for you.

First, when it comes to museums and art, I am a huge fan of immersive installations. I like being able to explore, touch, climb, and experience history and art.

I’m also a HUGE nerd, so give me fantasy and sci-fi and I will be happy.

And finally, when it comes to hiking, I am not a purist. I consider most trails to count as hiking and when it comes to exploring new places, I enjoy strolling parks of all sizes and difficulties.

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