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Lulu City Loop Trail, RMNP, CO June 7, 2009

July 12, 2009

Posted July 12, 2009


Will and I were able to coordinate our work schedule to allow for us to take a hike together on Sunday, June 7, 2009.  Quite an, ummm, interesting hike.  One could even use the work “epic” : )

The question was, where to go?  June 7 is normally too early for hiking anywhere close to timberline due to snow.  And this year is even snowier than what we have been having during the last few years (supposedly our “drought” has been broken by the amount of precipitation this year).  So, I looked for a hike that was somewhat lower in elevation than timberline, but still above the local foothills.  I decided on the Colorado River Trail system in RMNP.  Specifically, the one that goes up to Lulu City.  It’s located on the “other side” of RMNP (Rocky Mountain National Park).  So, we would go over Trailridge Road in addition to hiking.  Always an interesting ride.


Before I go any further in the trip’s description, here is my standard comment. Please check my photo galleries here for all the larger and higher quality photos for this trip. The photos in the gallery are a quantum leap in size and quality compared to the little teaser photos I put in this site’s trip narrative. I have two other links that will help locate the area if you are interested in making the hike yourself. A Google Earth map can be found here. Use the scale bar on the left side of the Google map to help zoom in or out to help locate the area based on where you live. (This link will direct you to a Google map that shows ALL my trips.) In order to help you with the actual trail itself, you can use this link to view a topo map of the Lulu City trail. All links open a new browser window.


In addition to the Google map link above, below is a Microsoft Live map. The red tack shows the general location of the trail from Fort Collins, CO. You can click on the map to bring it up in a “live” mode and zoom in or out (move the map around) to get more detail.

Map image

We got to the trailhead relatively early.  Although cool, the sky was mostly sunny.  It was a little breezy.  Not too many people seemed to be using the trail.  We took a quick “pre-hike” video and took off.

It’s always a good idea to take a quick glance at the message board.  Just in case there have been reports of rampaging mountain lions, etc.


With that out of the way, we took off.


One thing that was immediately apparent was how “green” everything was.  The bushes and aspens were just getting their leaves and had that glowing greenery that you only see in the late spring/early summer.  Other than dandelions, there were very few wild flowers in evidence.  Too early.

The trail starts off as almost a highway.  This lower section of the trail is heavily used by people from neighboring campgrounds.  All kinds of people (young, old, big, small).  Not many of which were evident today.  I think we saw a total of 6 hikers (two groups).


Once pass the initial half mile or so, the trail comes back to tracking close to the Colorado River itself.  Just to be sure everyone is on the same page, yes, this is the same Colorado River that you’d see on the outskirts of Moab, UT. and that continues down through the Grand Canyon.  This is the headwaters of that river.  Photo by Will.


As can be seen, the first couple of miles of the trail are relatively flat.  It crosses through a lot of small meadows.  Quite a bit of the time you can hear, but not see, the river off to the side.  But, there are numerous side paths leading down to the river.  So, this first part of the trail is a great children’s hike (aside from falling into the river itself, there aren’t too many areas of concern).  Photo by Will.


Once you get a mile or less up the trail, you can begin to see the mountains in the distance.


Being RMNP, there are always plenty of elk around.  At this time of the year the elk are even more evident than during the mid and late summer as they are unable to get up into the high country until the snow melts.  Will, being in the lead, was the first to see a small herd of grazing elk.  They were right next to the trail.  Will makes his move to sneak up on them.


Yes, the sneak looks to be perfect.  Photo by Will.


Noticing the strange two legged animal, the elk pauses its grazing for a minute.  Photo by Will.


We move on.  As per normal during the early season of hiking, water is everywhere.


But in general, the trail, and the day, is almost idyllic.  Almost too good to be true.  Hmmmm.


Here are some aspen that are just leafing out.  Pale pale green.


The mountains were starting to close in on the river valley.  Still some meadows, but not as big as when we started the hike.


Tall mountains in the distance from the trail.


New leaves on the aspens.


Some rather bright moss (fungi?) on the rocks.


This marmot was gathering grass for its den.  It actually ran right past (within a couple of feet) Will as it crossed the trail.  Kinda gave us a glance, but mostly just ignored us.  I was still learning my camera, so missed getting a photo as it popped in it’s den right next to us.


Like I said earlier, water everywhere.  We were treated to a lively chorus of frogs as we went past this small pond.


Well, ok, just a couple of small patches of snow.  Nothing to be worried about.


Really, dad.  This trail is a piece of cake.


In another week or two, that meadow will be carpeted with wild flowers.  For now, the grass is just turning green.


Shipler cabins.  Well, used to be cabins.



Most of the trail was clear of downed trees.  But, we did climb through a few.


The clouds continued to get a little darker.

And then, it started snowing.  Somewhat surprising.  But, hey.  You have to expect this kind of weather in the mountains.  Particularly early summer.  So, we put on our ponchos and went forward.


My hat serves a purpose besides keeping the sun off my face.  Is this “epic” enough, Will?  : )


Will heading up the trail.


Shot of the Never Summer mountains in the falling snow.


And then, the snow stopped and the sun started to shine.  So, parkas off.  At about the same time, we reached Lulu “city”.  Or, it’s remains.


There were a few old remains of some small cabins.  Really not much to see (or, that we noticed).  Looking at the sign, it doesn’t look like it ever got too big.


I talked to a man I met on another hike a few weeks later.  He was mentioning a mining scam that had bilked thousands of people out of money (lots of money) back in the 1800s.  He thought Lulu City had been one of a few such scams all run by the same person.  People never learn, I guess.

The sun came out, it was a very pretty spot, so we stopped to eat lunch.


Will and I had decided that we would reach Lulu City and then make a final decision on where to hike.  We could continue up the Colorado River to what was called “Little Yellowstone” and “La Poudre Pass” (somewhat a mis-nomer), or, we could head up to the Grand Ditch and loop back to our starting point.  We decided on the latter.

After a quick lunch we continued up the trail.


The weather continued to be sunny and the views were quite nice.


After a short hike, we crossed the Colorado River.  Quite a bit smaller here than in Moab : )


We reached a fork in the trail.  One final time for a decision.  Note the sunshine and bare ground, please.


Should we hike to the Little Yellowstone, and then back down to the car via the same trail we had come up?  Or, up to Grand Ditch and a loop back to our car?  We decided on the loop.  Note that the “one mile” to Grand Ditch on the sign.  It turned out to be one of the longest “one mile” sections of trail I had done for a long time.


And then, we hit snow.  Both in the air and on the ground.  We ended up hiking on snow, solid drifts of snow without any ground unlike what you see above, for half a mile or more.  Uphill.


We eventually reached an area that was a little confusing at first (missed spotting a sign in the snow).  Picked the wrong way to go and ended up at a camping spot.


Turned around and found the real trail to the “ditch”.  Now, let’s talk about the ditch.  So, as far as I knew (not that I’d ever looked into it) the ditch was some old thing that had been used to move water to a mine.  Or, maybe to Grand Lake.  Anyway, I figured we’d see a grass covered dry old canal with a trail along one side.  Man, was I in for a surprise.


Nope.  Not dry.  And not small.  And the trail was in very good shape.  For a road.  So, I finally put 2 and 2 together and came up with something close to 4. This “ditch” actually runs alongside the Never Summer Range (so, the big mountain range running along the western side of the upper Colorado River).  It crosses all the streams coming out of the mountains and collects them into the ditch (instead of letting the water go on down to the Colorado River).  The water then runs North (opposite my original thinking) to Long Draw Reservoir.  And from there on down to the Poudre River.


Yep.  It takes this PACIFIC watershed water and routes it over the continental divide.  Again.  OVER the CONTINENTAL DIVIDE, and into the ATLANTIC (by way of the Gulf of Mexico) watershed.
“………In 1890 a project called the Grand Ditch began. The ditch is a 16.2 mile water diversion project. Streams and creeks that flow from the highest peaks are diverted into the ditch, which flows over La Poudre pass, delivering the water into the Atlantic Basin for the use of eastern plains farmers. The ditch wasn’t completed until 1936. The ditch diverts between 20 to 40% of the runoff from the Never Summer Mountains and significantly impacts the ecology in the valley below. In May 2003 a 100 foot section of the ditch breached causing the water to cascade down the slopes and into the Colorado River. The flood left a visible scar on the mountainside………..”See this link for more information.
“……Considered an engineering marvel at the time, the channel began sending water eastward in 1890 with 8 miles of ditch across a high mountain pass, dug by hand primarily by Japanese and Mexican laborers. By 1936, with the help of machinery, the ditch extended to 14 miles, leaving what some visitors consider an unsightly scar through the heart of Rocky Mountain National Park…………..An immediate effect of this water theft was a reduction in the fish population in the Colorado River. The water flow was cut in half, not only limiting the number of fish it could support but also causing an increase in the water temperature, which further endangered the fish……”  See this link for more information.
This would never be achievable in the present times.  Well, maybe after 100 years in the courts and approximately 23 Trillion Dollars.  There are some folks that would like to see the Grand Ditch removed from RMNP.

So, we started walking up the road keeping our eyes open for a sign that would indicate the trail that headed back down to the Colorado River.

The road does allow for some good views of the mountains to the east.


And, some of the Never Summer mountains to the west.  Note that there were a number of trails that take off into the Never Summer range to the west.  Including Thunder Pass.  We never did see anyone else on the road.  Actually, we never saw anyone from the time we left Lulu City to just before reaching the Colorado River.


Grouse in a pine tree along the road.


After experiencing a rather intense snowstorm (so much so that I could not take a photo during the majority of the storm),………


……… we found the trail that heads back down to the Colorado River.  It was really a pretty trail, but the weather, and our sore feet, conspired against us achieving full enjoyment : )


We did run into a few patches of snow, but nothing like the section of trail that led up to the ditch.


This was a rather interesting log bridge.  It was covered with a thin coating of wet ice.


Which I found pretty interesting when I tried stopping halfway across to take some photos of Will.


But, I made it across.  Took a photo looking up the stream that you can see coming down the rocks below Will.


This section of the trail takes a VERY winding route to get to the bottom.  However, there aren’t any steep sections and, while longish, there are a lot of pretty sections.


Eventually you get to a part of the trail that is hanging on the side of the mountain as it descends to the valley floor.


And you start to get some good views whenever you can find a spot where the trees thin out a  little.  This is looking up the Colorado River valley.  So, the part that we covered during the hike to Lulu City.


If I zoom in on that, the clearing is, I believe, where Lulu City is located.  But, I could be mistaken.  Lulu City might be further up than that.


YES.  The valley floor.  Will is trucking as I try and capture the incredible “greenness”.




Crossing the Colorado River.  We intersected with our original trail which completed the loop.



The parking lot beckons.  Gee.  I wonder why it’s wet. : )


Anyway, an almost EPIC hike.  Saw a lot of nice country.  Nice green country.  And enjoyed (so to speak) our last snowstorm before summer hit.  I’ll have to come back sometime and check out the other trails.  This will be a very good area to hike in during the fall.

– Geoff Weatherford

8 Comments leave one →
  1. starr sangid permalink
    June 20, 2010 12:11 pm

    Sure enjoyed reading about your Lulu City hike! I love colorado and with all of your pictures and narrating, it was perfect!! Found your site online while searching for info about Lulu City

    • June 22, 2010 1:27 am

      Actually just took another hike there this past weekend. Went up past it all the way to Poudre Pass. Great hike (much better weather this time : )

      I’ll eventually get the hike blogged, but saw elk, deer, sheep, etc. Great sunset coming back over Trail Ridge road.

      Thanks for visiting.

      Geoff Weatherford

  2. donna Metcalf permalink
    June 21, 2010 1:53 pm

    This is a wonderful story of your hike. You are an amazing hiker, photographer and writer. So glad I found your blog

    • June 22, 2010 1:35 am


      Thanks for the kind words. I hope that when people see the photos they will go hike themselves. Lots of people don’t know that there are quite a few great hikes in the area close to Denver and Fort Collins. So, hopefully they can check out some that I did and then go do them with their kids, etc.

      I hiked Lulu City (to Poudre Pass) again last weekend. Great trail. Much better weather this year (less snow on the trail also : ) I’ll try and get those photos up in a week or two.

      Thanks again,

      Geoff Weatherford

  3. donna Metcalf permalink
    June 22, 2010 1:08 pm

    Thanks, Geoff! Not only do you take great pictures, but your narratives are fun. We have already made our “summer” Colorado trip, and your blog wants us want to come back. Wish we didn’t live so far away. We love to hike but the touristy aspect of Estes is too much for us, so we try to come out of season, before Memorial Day, or after the rut. You are lucky to live so close!

  4. July 1, 2012 8:01 am

    Fantastic! I walked on that trail about 15 years ago and found that mysterious Lulu city on the way, but I had no camera to take pictures. A few days ago I was talking about Lulu city to some of my friends here in Switzerland; now, thanks to you, Geoff, I can send them the path to your very nice pictures that remind me the walk I made at that time very well. It’s great that you posted and shared your very nice pictures on the net. Thank you. Pierre


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