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Poudre Pass, RMNP, CO June 19, 2010

March 6, 2011

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After my adventure in trying to hike in the Zirkels the week before, I wanted to hike somewhere closer to home and, hopefully, a little more snow free.  I decided to hike to the headwaters of the Colorado River.  Yes, the same river that flows right outside of Moab, UT.

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 (and there are more of them). In addition, 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. You will need to 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. (If you want to see all my trips, 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 (care of the great National Geographic TOPO program(http://www.natgeomaps.com/software.html ) that one of my sons purchased for me : ) of the Poudre Pass trail. Please note that all links open a new browser window.

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In addition to the Google map link above, please see a Microsoft Live map below. The red tack shows the general location of the trail from my home in Fort Collins, CO. You can click on the map to bring it up in a “live” mode and zoom in or out (and move the map around) to get more detail.  Just make sure you don’t close the Microsoft “My Places” editor that pops up with map.  If you close the editor (it is small and you can use/scroll/zoom the map without the editor getting too much in the way) without first saving the new location, the location button will disappear.   If that happens, just close the map and click on it again on my web page.

Map picture

So, one sunny morning I crossed over Trail Ridge road, in RMNP (Rocky Mountain National Park) and found myself at the Colorado River Trailhead going to Poudre Pass.

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It was an incredibly nice day.  Just a little cool, but very sunny and pretty much wind free (along with, from what I could see, snow free).  A year ago Will and I headed up this same trail about two weeks earlier in June.  It was quite snowy on a lot of the trail and a fair of amount of snow in the air.  So, this was looking real nice.  Of course, we hit all the snow higher up than this, but at least you could see blue sky today.

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Even the wildlife was out and about.   This marmot wouldn’t sit still for me.

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The elk were a little more accommodating.

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There several times that I hit running water crossing the trail.  But the trail itself was quite dry.

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After a nice 4 mile hike (3.7 miles by the sign), I arrived at the site of the boom and bust mining town of Lulu City.  From what I can find out (which isn’t much), Joel Shipler built a cabin close by in order to mine silver.  You can see the remains of his cabins a mile or so prior to reaching Lulu City.  Once Joel had discovered silver, other miners soon arrived leading to the existence of Lulu City.  A road, now called the Old Flowers Road/Trail, was built to allow stagecoach access to Lulu City from Fort Collins, CO.

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Not much to see anymore, but there are some great meadows for taking a lunch break.

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Or, you could sit alongside the mighty Colorado River.  For some reason, I didn’t see many rafts floating the river today.  Maybe they’re all down at Moab, UT.

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Looking back down the valley.

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Alrighty then.  Let’s think about this.  So, if you do the math, turning around at this point (Lulu) would give a nice hike of just around 7.4 miles.  That’s normally enough to make a person feel like they did a little bit of walking.  However, the sign says, from where I parked the car, that Poudre Pass, the head of the Colorado River, is 7.5 miles.  So, that would be a 15 mile hike round trip.  In addition, most of the hike to Lulu is very mild in nature.  Sorta flattish.  However, you gain some quick altitude in many places once you get past Lulu.  The final thing is that there isn’t any real “destination” before Poudre Pass other than what they call the “Little Yellowstone” canyon.  So, if you want to head to Poudre Pass, you better be ready for just a bit of a hike.

One final note.  The hike to Lulu is pretty safe (relatively speaking) for children.  Even smaller children.  There aren’t any real cliffs to fall off of, you just need to keep the kids in sight at all times.  The same cannot be said for the little Yellowstone area.  There are some very steep (and long) drop offs right along the trail that could be construed as “not child friendly”.  If you take your smaller children up to the little Yellowstone area (which I would suggest not even trying due to the distance), not only keep them in sight, but close at hand.  At certain places, depending on the child, you maybe should keep their hand in your hand.

So, I thought about it for a few minutes and then, particularly since the day looked so nice, decided to go all the way.

You will come to a fork in the trail prior to crossing the Colorado River.

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The trail to the left goes up to the Grand Ditch and the trail to the right goes up to Little Yellowstone.  However, if you look on the map you can take the trail to the left and, once it crosses the Colorado River, there is another split in the trail where you can head up to the little Yellowstone (and on to Poudre Pass).  That’s the way I went.  I think.  Pretty sure.  I think I came back the other way and stayed high above Lulu City.  Oh well, just get a map (or, look at the one on my other web site) and it will be all clear.

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Colorado River crossing.  Quite a bit smaller than at Moab.

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Saw some nice Indian Paintbrush, so had to take a photo.  Of course.  Didn’t see a lot of flowers as it was still a bit early and just starting to warm up.  But, these were growing on the side of a hill that was warm and dry.

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The trail follows up a very rapidly flowing stream.  It was loud and boisterous due to the melt off of the snow in the higher elevations.

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You can see the bridge up ahead through the trees.

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The bridge.  The water was a bit higher on the way back down later in the afternoon (because of snow melt during the day).  As can be seen by the bare rocks, at times the river is probably flowing over the bridge.

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As I mentioned earlier, after Lulu City (particularly after you cross the Colorado River), you start to gain altitude fairly quickly.  Nothing  insane, but enough that you can begin to look back down the Colorado River valley.  The weather was staying very pleasant.

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After a mile or two, you reach what is called the Little Yellowstone section of the Colorado River.  Now, if you have actually seen the Yellowstone Canyon in person, or photos, you can understand why this section of the valley is named such.  It has steep and bare canyon sides with the occasional spires of raw rock.  What is doesn’t have, or I didn’t see any, is the color that the real Yellowstone canyon exhibits.  It’s mostly whitish/grayish in color from what I could see.  However, it was interesting.

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This is also the section that I mentioned where you want to keep an eye on small children.  Or, anyone who seems inclined to take chances.

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You can actually see the bottom here.  The few remaining snow fields look somewhat out of place.

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There are a few side canyons that you cross.  Some reminded me of the badlands in the Dakotas.  The water, at times, must come thundering down these worn gullies.  This particular bridge is being replaced by a new one down below.  The earlier bridge builders used some very nice rock work for the foundations.  But, I think the Park service is a little worried about them collapsing.

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Here is a close-up view.  The bridge seemed very solid to me, but I assume the park knows better than I do : )

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You can see the new bridge in an early age of construction just below the old bridge.

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I have to say, the trail was always pretty interesting.  Maybe not up to the level of some of the slick rock trails I’ve been on in Canyonlands, but still a little different than what you normally walk along.

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Nice little side stream.

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As you progress past the Little Yellowstone area, the vistas open up down the Colorado valley.

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Zoom.

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Here you can see some of the interesting rock formations of the Little Yellowstone.

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More.

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Eventually you pull away from the canyon and gain the last little bit of altitude prior to intersecting with the Grand Ditch road and, well, the ditch.  This leads through some nice trail sections.  Including, for this hike, the only patch of snow that I encountered on the trail itself.

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And there it was.  The road.

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Well, they get a little careless with the snow plows, I guess.  Or, the base just rotted away finally.  However, it still serves it’s purpose.

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Having a little bit of advance information, I can see that I’m on the right path, or, road, and have a mile to go to Poudre Pass.

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Normally I don’t enjoy walking along a road when I’m out for a hike.  However, on some “out of the normal” trails you do hit sections of roads, mostly 4wd only, and normally they are “OK” to “very nice”.  The “OK” ones mean that you are on them just because that’s the only way to get to a particular destination and in general you don’t see much, if any, vehicles.  The “very nice” ones are not only ok, but they offer great scenery.  This particular road was “very nice”.  And, well, it was close to flat.  Which felt good after gaining all the altitude from Lulu City.  Note that I saw “0” vehicles or people after leaving Lulu City.  In fact, I did not see any other people until I ended up back at my vehicle that evening.  Nice.

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After a pleasant stroll I saw what appeared to be the “pass” in front of me down the road a short ways.

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Zoom.

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The pass itself is basically a low spot between mountain ranges composed of flat meadows and small ponds.  Quite scenic with lots of great spots for relaxing.  This is looking back towards the Colorado River side of the pass.  A couple of weeks earlier than today and this was probably all under snow.  The small willow bushes along the ponds and out in the meadows are just starting to leaf out.

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I walked up to the Ranger Station to get a closer look.  I’m always interested in the ranger stations as some of them have been around for many decades.  You can see some very good log work on the older ones.  Plus, there was always the chance that a ranger might be around that would give me some info on the area.

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Unfortunately, no one was around.  I’m not sure why the area was so empty of people.  The day was on the weekend, the weather was great, it was still fairly early.  Hmmmmm.  One reason may have been that the access road, found on Hwy 14 just before Cameron Pass, had not yet been opened.  Or, it could be that this area is just not that well known.  Or, perhaps there was a gate just a short ways down the road that blocked public vehicular access.  Well, I’d just have to suffer the place all to myself.

I did take a closer look at the cabins.  They were of relatively recent construction, but well made and fitting into the edge of the forest as if they belonged there.  In general with such stations, the area was clean and well maintained.  As with all construction in the high mountains, they are at risk to a forest fire.  Increasingly so as the pine beetles kill off the surrounding forests.  But, just like the forests will re-grow after a fire, the cabins can be rebuilt.

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Met a bum hanging around the area.  Walked right in front of me as I was trying to take a photo for National Geographic.
The nerve : )

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Anyway, here is a slightly better photo.  Great little camp spot.  Maybe a little too close to the road.  But, hard to beat the view both for sunrise and sunset.  I’m also not sure of the restrictions (if any) on camping in the area.  I doubt if they would care if you set up a tent and sleeping bag.  But, I also doubt that they would approve of someone building a fire.  Best to check.

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And one more photo without the pack plus some zoom.  I really could have spent a long time sitting here just enjoying the sun, the scenery, the lack of any other people, and, umm, did I mention the scenery?.  But, I had 7 plus miles to hike back to the car, so I rested just a bit, ate a quick snack, chugged a bunch of G2, congratulated myself for being here, and took off.

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After hiking back down the one mile of dirt road, which seemed just a bit longer this time, I dropped down into the forested trail and cruised on back towards Lulu City.  Now, the nice part of the return trip, aside from that dirt road section that seemed to turn into a 10 mile stretch, was that it is all down hill.  And the first half, to Lulu, was a steady descent that went fairly quickly.  Not too steep to bother the knees or feet, but steep enough to require minimal effort.  Nice.

Had a deer give me the once over around the Little Yellowstone area.

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For some reason, I didn’t remember going through this red carpeted section of trail on the way up.  Nice.

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Lush meadow along the way down.

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Zoom.

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Missed seeing this waterfall on the way up.  Tough to photo due to it being in deep shade and the area behind it being in bright sunlight, but it was very nice.

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Crossed some nice streams.  REALLY wanted to hike up this one a ways and rest.  Sigh.  Oh well, it’s not going anywhere.  I’ll probably be back.

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Close up.

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Missed seeing these rock spires on the way up.  Or, at least from this viewpoint.  Like I’m on a different trail.

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Zoom.

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Again, one of the neat things about this trail was how it was always changing.

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The view down the Colorado River valley just before dropping through the last bit of elevation as the trail leaves the Little Yellowstone area.

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Zoom

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Zoom more.  Fairly sure that is the meadow at Lulu City.

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Now I was back at the bridge crossing of the “roaring” stream.  I “think” this is Lulu Creek.

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At first glance, it looked as though I might get a bit wet going across.

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But, although the stream had risen during the day, the crossing was not going to do much more than get my boots a little splashed on.

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If anything, it was louder now than it had been earlier in the day.

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And then, while hiking down the trail to where it crosses the Colorado River, I happened to glance off the side of the trail, and across on the other side of the stream, and saw a mountain sheep.

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And, he saw me.

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He had a buddy with him.  We sorta eye-balled each other for a few minutes over the roar of the mountain stream that separated us.

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A Colorado River crossing quite some miles above Moab.

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I took a slightly different trail back down from the crossing. It gains altitude and stays above Lulu City.  But, although I missed the meadows, I did experience a very nice little section of trail that I hadn’t been on before.  It was well worth it.

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This was an interesting photo.  I ran into many of these spider webs strung across this little offshoot of a trail.  The “fun” part of this photo was discovering a function of the camera and lens that I had forgotten existed.  Even though I had actually purchased the camera system exactly for this type of photo.  Well, I don’t mean photos of spider webs, but photos requiring manual focus.  Normally, like 99% of the time (or more), I let the camera do the focusing (ok, there is more to it than that because anyone else other than me that tried to take a photo with my camera would never get anything in focus due to the way I have it set up for auto-focusing, but good enough for this explanation).  Normally I just point the camera at what I want to focus on, and it does a great job.  However, in certain conditions that I rarely encounter, the camera will not understand what I trying to photo.  So, as in this case, instead of focusing on the spider web, the camera lens kept focusing on the background behind the web.  The spider web just did not provide enough “substance” for the lens to determine that the web might be what I was interested in taking a picture of.  I began to get a little frustrated and then remembered “Oh yeah, I can just manually focus the lens.  Dummy.”  So, that is what I did.  It took me a split second to turn the lens with my fingers to where the web popped into focus.  Then I took the photo.

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Due to the run off, there were some pretty little streams crossing the trail.

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The side trail tended to stay in the trees, but it occasionally provided some great views.

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Getting close to the end of the trail, I take one more photo back up the valley.  The sun is beginning to get pretty low in the sky, which makes for some great light.

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Another deer surprised to see someone on the trail.

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Here is the sign at the beginning of the trail.  It provides a little detail on the mileage.

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My vehicle awaits me as the sun goes down.

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Occasionally I do a hike and end up seeing some pretty nice sunsets.  Since I only go over Trailridge road a few times a year, the odds are not great that I’ll hit it right at sunset.  I’m normally coming back over it after dark (and half the time it seems like in the middle of a wet snowstorm : )  But, this trip I hit sunset on top of Trailridge just about right.  Not the best sunset I’ve ever seen, but pretty nice.  And surrounded by all the mountains at the same time gives it an additional boost to the awesomeness that, unfortunately, these photos can’t capture.

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This photo is overexposed (so, looks much lighter than it really was), but it gives you a good idea of the area.  Kinda looking west (makes sense : ).

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Back behind me, and slightly to one side, was Longs Peak.  Kinda looking east.

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In between those directions, so, to the right (south) when looking at Longs, was the extremely mountainous part of the continental divide that forms one boundary of Forest Canyon (where the headwaters for the Big Thompson flow out of).  I did not take any photos of all those peaks.  They were a study in black and white.  I was interested in capturing some color.

“Back” side of Longs looking up Glacier Gorge as the last rays of the sun hit the peak.

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Never Summer range in the distance.

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Some of the clouds picked up a bit of color looking over the highway itself (which you can’t really see in the photo).

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Anyway, great hike with pretty much perfect weather, great scenery, animals, no people, and then a sunset from on top of one of the highest highways in the US.  Coolness.

– Geoff Weatherford

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. Rachael P. permalink
    March 30, 2011 2:35 pm

    Excellent trail review and pictures. I’m impressed that you’ve hit the trail so early! I plan to check in regularly with your blog.

    I’m heading out to RMNP in late May and may have found a nice trail to take my mother on – she’s quite inexperienced but loves the great outdoors. (She tries to pack lipstick in her daypack…) Please do let me know if you have any other recommendations, <8 miles rt with conservative hikeable elevation gain.

    Many thanks,
    Rachael

    • April 17, 2011 12:51 pm

      Late May is a little early for a lot of the hiking areas in the park. It does depend on the weather (some years are better than others). You may just wait until you get to the park and check with the rangers on what trails are clear of snow. That said, the Lumpy Ridge area of the park (so, the trail to Bridal Veil Falls, Gem Lake, and surrounding areas) should be nice and green with wild flowers at that time of the year. If the weather has been nice, the Lawn Lake trail may be open as would some of the trails around Bear Lake. The west side of the park, besides the lower Colorado river trail system (the trail up to the Poudre Pass most likely will be snow covered) has some very nice trails. Going to Grand Lake and then taking the East Inlet trail towards Lone Pine lake is quite nice.

      Hope that helps.

      GeoffW

  2. Anonymous permalink
    July 23, 2011 6:37 pm

    Wonderful review – I felt like I was right there with you! Thanks so much!

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