Exploring Devil’s Backbone

A quick search for “Devil’s Backbone” in Wikipedia returns a list of 17 options – 3 plants, 10 place names, 2 movies, plus a battle during the Civil War and a brewpub in Virginia.  You can visit one or more places named Devil’s Backbone in eight different states, ranging from Oregon to Virginia and Indiana to Texas.  Someday perhaps, but my first Devil’s Backbone outing was right here in Colorado, no more than 30 minutes from our house.

The occasion was to go hiking in the foothills with Janice (sister), Mark (her husband), and niece Amy during their recent visit from the flat lands.  It was a winner!  In this blog, I’ve highlighted five reasons to put Devil’s Backbone on your hiking list.

Reason #1:  Interesting Geologic Features

Officially, the Devil’s Backbone is an outcropping of gray-brown to tan sandstones that is characteristic of the Lytle Formation, which I know only because I looked it up. To most of us, it’s an interesting bunch of rocks that seem to rise up from the ridgeline, with a view of the foothills and Rocky Mountain National Park in the distance.


View of the Devil’s Backbone looking west toward Rocky Mountain National Park

Those rocks are larger than they look.  Search for the hiking trail at the extreme right in the photo below to get a better sense of scale.


A closer look at a portion of the Devil’s Backbone

We also had a good view of the hogbacks from the back side.


Hogback ridge from the west side looking north

The Dakota Hogback is a ridge that runs north and south along the entire length of the Colorado Front Range and divides the plains to the east from the Rocky Mountains to the west.  Geologists say this distinctive faulting of the North American Plate was created about 50 million years ago from general uplift.

Reason #2:  Easy Access

Hiking in Colorado can easily be an all day commitment.  Justifiable to be sure, because the choices of magnificent places to explore on foot are endless, many of which require a 1-2 hour drive just to get to the trailhead of a hike that could easily be 6+ miles.  But when you have only a few hours to spend on your nature fix, as was the case for our group, it’s nice to have options that are both easily accessible and beautiful.

The drive from home to the Devil’s Backbone trailhead was about 30 minutes.  Parking is free, but the lot can be filled to capacity on summer weekends.  To avoid the frustration of being turned away due to lack of parking spots, you can check out the current situation via webcam.

Another outstanding feature of this particular trail is the ability to customize the length of your hike.  We did about 4.5 miles roundtrip, but you could easily double, triple, or even quadruple your distance, because of the many connections with other hiking trails that meander as far north as Lory State Park, a distance of some 17+ miles.

Reason #3:  Modest Elevation Gain

It’s (almost) a given that hiking in the mountains requires a lot of ups and downs, frequently as much as 1,500-2,000 feet in elevation gain over the course of a 3-4 mile uphill trek.  I’m a big fan of those hikes, because the changing views along the way and expansive vistas from the summit are spectacular and make the effort seem worthwhile.  Our tradition is to eat lunch and relax for an hour or so at the top (except when threatening weather is on the horizon, which happens often . . .), then descend in fairly rapid fashion and head home for a warm shower and cold beverage.


View from the high point of our hike, with Rocky Mountain National Park and Long’s Peak in the distance

However, we’re learning that easier hikes can also yield big rewards, and Devil’s Backbone is a good example.  The section that we hiked unofficially gained about 600 feet in elevation, which approximates taking the stairs to the top of a 60 story building.  Enough exertion that you feel it but not so grueling that your legs feel like jelly.

Reason #4:  The Keyhole


Looking west from the Keyhole at the Devil’s Backbone

The Keyhole is a natural “window” in the Devil’s Backbone formation where you can access a great view looking west over a broad valley, the foothills, and eventually a couple of high peaks in Rocky Mountain National Park.  Definitely a highlight!

It’s also one of the few shady places on the hike, which means it’s a good stopping point to sit, rehydrate and relax for awhile before continuing on.

Reason #5:  Wildlife

Seeing wildlife on a hike is always a highlight, even if it’s only a deer or two!


Overall – plenty of reasons to enjoy hiking at Devil’s Backbone and lots of motivation to go back!  You can read more about this terrific place on the Devil’s Backbone website.



Categories: ColoradoTags: ,
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