Five Wide Open Spaces in Northern Colorado


People who live here love outdoor activities, and over the years, residents have approved local taxes dedicated to acquiring and protecting natural areas and wildlife habitat throughout northern Colorado.

With over 90,000 acres of city- and county-owned natural areas, we have many options (and no excuses!) for spending time in the great outdoors, pandemic or not.

In this post, I’ll introduce you to five super cool natural areas that we visited recently.

Bobcat Ridge Natural Area (April)

Unless you enjoy tramping through snow and mud, spring hiking is way more enjoyable at lower elevations in our part of the world. Plus the public restrooms at many trailheads were closed due to COVID-19 restrictions, so we didn’t want to get too far away from home in those early days.

Why do we like to hike at Bobcat Ridge?

  • Close to home – 12 miles away, to be exact
  • 2,600 acres of former ranch land – no residential neighborhoods in sight
  • 29 miles of trails for hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding ranging from easy to difficult
  • Features an old cabin and other structures to explore
  • Good choice for bird-watching – included on the Colorado Birding Trail
A Few Photos from Bobcat Ridge

We enjoyed our hike at Bobcat Ridge – a perfect introduction to the season!

Soapstone Prairie Natural Area (May)

Soapstone is best enjoyed on cool, sunny days. Without any trees to provide shade, hiking is brutal and out of the question as far as we’re concerned on hot, summer days.

Why do we like to go hiking at Soapstone Prairie?

  • 28 square miles of pristine shortgrass prairie with 50 miles of trails to choose from
  • A 50 minute drive from home – far enough away to draw fewer crowds than close-in hiking trails
  • Home to the Laramie Foothills Bison Conservation Herd, a genetically pure and protected herd of Yellowstone bison released in 2015. Click here for a short video to learn more about this innovative endeavor.
  • Location of the Lindenmeier Archaeological Site, a significant historical excavation area listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places
A Few Photos from Soapstone Prairie

It was cool and a little blustery (note Bill’s hair in the photo above) on the day we visited Soapstone, but well worth the trip.

Eagle’s Nest Open Space (June)

The most prominent feature of Eagle’s Nest Open Space is Eagle’s Nest Rock, which has hosted nesting golden eagles for over a hundred years!

Why do we like to hike at Eagle’s Nest?

  • 827 acres of diverse terrain, ranging from wide open vistas to riparian areas along the North Fork of the Poudre River
  • 5.2 miles of hiking/equestrian trails – mountain biking not permitted
  • A quick 30-minute drive to get there – hike, enjoy a leisurely picnic by the river (or lunch at The Forks Mercantile and Saloon nearby), and be back home in half a day
  • It’s a “go to” hike when hosting visitors from out of state
A Few More Photos from Eagle’s Nest

Devil’s Backbone Open Space (July)

Devil’s Backbone was the first open space purchase by Larimer County after voters approved a dedicated sales tax in 1995. The “backbone” is a 2-mile long strip of Dakota sandstone that serves as a transition zone between the plains of eastern Colorado and the foothills of the Rocky Mountains.

Why do we like to hike at Devil’s Backbone?

  • 12 miles of trails on 2,200 acres – if you’re ambitious (we weren’t), there are connecting trails that continue all the way to Lory State Park some 15 miles north
  • Craggy pinnacles rising up along the ridge line – they are larger than they appear from a distance!
  • The Keyhole – great views of Rocky Mountain National Park on a clear day, but also reminders that you’re not far from civilization 
A Few More Photos from Devil’s Backbone

Red Mountain Open Space (August)

And last but definitely not least is Red Mountain – the final highlighted area in this post.

Red Mountain Open Space connects with Soapstone Prairie Natural Area, and both parcels are part of a grand land conservation vision known as the Laramie Foothills Mountains to Plains project. This huge public-private partnership has acquired upwards of 56,000 acres, creating a protected wildlife corridor between the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains and the High Plains of Colorado and Wyoming, with more expansion on the horizon.

Access to recreational opportunities is an important byproduct of this conservation initiative, and we (in this case, “we” means Carol and Andrew, our son who was visiting from the Seattle area) took advantage of those benefits with a recent visit to Red Mountain.

Why do we like to hike at Red Mountain?

  • The name “Red Mountain” is indeed descriptive – beautiful red colors in the landscape
  • 15 miles of hiking trails on nearly 16,000 acres that feature diverse landscapes and stunning views
  • Sparse crowds and uncrowded trails, along with a nice area for a picnic lunch after hiking
A Few Photos from Red Mountain

Bonus: Photos from a previous visit to Red Mountain in June, 2019:

And finally, near the picnic shelter, there’s a cool sculpture depicting the evolution of Red Mountain inhabitants, from land mammals that are now extinct through today’s mountain bikers.

Red Mountain is a special place, and just revisiting these photos whets my appetite for our next visit!

These five open spaces close to home have sparked a renewed appreciation for the natural beauty that defines the northern Colorado Front Range and deep gratitude for the efforts of local residents over the years to protect these treasures as well as to make them available to the general public. Well done, fellow citizens!

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