Hiking Colorado: Mount Audubon & Rampart Reservoir
From almost anywhere in the Denver area Mt. Audubon appears as a domed mosque set among the windswept church steeples of the Indian Peaks Wilderness, rising up to 13,223 feet next to the Continental Divide. The steady four-mile long trail to its summit from Brainard Lake west of Ward takes the mellow route up the mountain's east-west spine. Approach the peak from any other direction and it's a craggy beast, cut and gouged by ancient glaciers.
The ponderosa clogging the foothills has given way to dense fir and spruce forests. Soon the trail rises in a series of switch backs and you're in a battlefield of stunted, storm-battered fir and willow clinging to life between great clusters of granite boulders. Clutches of purply-pink columbine stretch for the sun from gaps in the rock. You may spot a deer grazing nearby. Pikas dart to and fro.
A mile from the starting point the route divides and the Beaver Creek Trail heads over a rise to the north. Turn left and eventually you'll reach a ridge that looks down into the gray abyss of Coney Creek. The final walk up the summit's boulder field from the overlook takes about 20 minutes.
To the south stretch the silent sentinels of the Indian Peaks along the Divide. Nearest is Paiute, then Pawnee obscuring the rest: Shoshone, Navajo, Arikaree, North and South Arapaho. To the east stretch the foothills and the plains, to the west the deep blue mass of Lake Granby peeks out from behind Thunderbolt Peak. The Divide snakes northward into Rocky Mountain National Park - the hulk of Long's Peak rises into the clouds.
With crystal blue water and stunning views of Pikes Peak, the Rampart Reservoir area is a hiker`s, trail runner`s and mountain biker`s paradise - the kind of place that reminds you why you love Colorado.
An 11.6-mile single-track trail hugs the shore of the reservoir. Access the scenic loop from one of several points around the body of water and ride, hike or run in either direction. Leafy aspen and tall pines provide shade for most of the loop. Rolling hills and some rocky terrain are the minor challenges of this hike or ride. Stop and enjoy the magnificent views at any point along the trail.
The most popular starting point is an obvious turn-out a half-mile before the entrance station. Starting from this point, cross a gate and continue down the dirt road toward the reservoir. Follow the road as it skirts a lovely river until the terrain opens up into grassy slopes.
There is also a single-track trail on the opposite side of the river. After about a mile on the road, you come to a junction with a bridge over the river to your right. At this point, either cross the bridge or continue on the road to your left. Either way leads you to the single-track loop around the reservoir.
If you choose to start closer to the reservoir, cross the dam and park in the large parking area just across the top of the dam.
Looks can be deceptive: This loop appears shorter than it is. The trail follows numerous "fingers" on the reservoir as it skirts the edge adding distance. The average bike ride will take between two and three hours; double that for hikers. Camping is permitted at the reservoir, but reservations are recommended.
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