Colorado Trail Segment 1 [Trip Report]
The Colorado Trail (CT) covers about 500 miles from Denver to Durango, Colorado. Thru-hikers hike the entire trail from one end to the other in usually a little over one month. Section hikers hike individual segments. There are 28 segments in total. The shortest segment is 10.9 miles and the longest is 32.7 miles. For now, I am section hiking the trail meaning I am hiking one segment at a time. My goal is to complete the entire CT in 5 years.
COVID-19 closures have affected everyone and everything around us. Waterton Canyon, the traditional starting point for the CT is closed. The Colorado Trail Foundation suggested using one of two alternate starting Trails. The options are hiking from Roxborough State Park or Indian Creek Trailhead. Roxborough State Park is a beautiful area but it adds more miles on to the trail and because it is a State Park the entrance fee is higher. We decided on the Indian Creek Trailhead.
Section hikers or thru-hikers can hike SOBO (South Bound) or NOBO (North Bound). South bound is Denver to Durango and North bound is Durango to Denver. My goal is to hike all the segments SOBO but this one didn’t work out that way.
My hiking partner and I decided to hike on a Sunday. I had heard that parking at the Indian Creek TH could be crowded or full. We agreed to check that trailhead first. When we arrived we noticed there were only a couple of parking spots available. We paid the day use fee, left my car and drove on to the South Platte TH with hopes of getting a spot there and we did, the last spot. Our direction was decided for us by parking.
The NOBO route starts at the South Platte TH, in Pike National Forest. We began our hike by following several switchbacks up the western slope of Russell Ridge and although we did not go to the top of the mountain, we reached a segment maximum elevation of 7,517 feet. These gentle mountains are part of the Rampart Range of the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains. On our hike day the winds were very gusty which made the air feel cooler, something we would soon miss after hitting our high point and descending into the valley below.
From the start we could see Raleigh Peak and Chair Rocks off to the west. Raleigh Peak is a prominent fixture when hiking segment 2 but this is the last time we would see it on this hike. From the South Platte TH to the high point (7,517ft) is 4.2 miles. Once we arrived at the high point, the next 4.7 miles the trail would gently loop around Russell Ridge, descending through forest until Lenny’s Rest. There were several small water sources to refill our water bottles from and a water purification system is needed. I brought my MSR MiniWorks Ex water filter and filled up all my bottles at the crossing of Bear Creek. This is the last place to fill your bottles for awhile and is 8.1 miles from where we started. Speaking of bottles, on these longer hikes I carry one Nalgene and two SmartWater liter bottles. The SmartWater bottles are much lighter than the Nalgene bottles and it was a hot day so I needed a lot of water.
Lenny’s rest is a nice area with a bench in memory of Eagle Scout Leonard Southwell and this is where the trail splits. If it were open, you could continue on to Waterton Canyon or you could go to Roxborough State Park or the Indian Creek Trailhead. From this point, we were about 4.4 miles to the Indian Creek TH. The trail climbed up onto a ridge line that is at about 7000ft elevation. I think this is the first time I have ever looked around on a hike and didn’t see anything familiar. We had hiked so far that the beginning of the hike and the hills around it could no longer be seen. I imagine this is what traveling used to be like for many people.
We were tired and the trail seemed to go up forever, finally descending down to Bear Creek. You could get more water here if you needed, and then the trail starts to go back up. So it is true you can start a hike uphill and finish a hike going uphill. After crossing Bear Creek again via logs we hiked up into the Indian Creek Campground and to my car. I was so happy to see the car. We had hiked 13.4 miles with over 3,100 feet of elevation gain. Along the way, we saw several people starting on their thru-hikes and wished them well. I hope they all have a wonderful journey.
Additional editing by my dad, Gordon Eaton III
“Attention. Waterton Canyon will be closed March 18th until further notice due to COVID-19. Access to the upper portion of Waterton Canyon (Trail 1776, Colorado Trail) will remain open from Indian Creek Trail Head and Roxborough State Park. For additional information on alternative access points, visit: www.coloradotrail.org/waterton. For more information visit: http://www.denverwater.org/Recreation/WatertonCanyon/”
- South Platte River to Indian Creek TH
- Point to Point Distance: 13.40 Miles
- Elevation Gain: 3143 feet
- Difficulty: Class 1
- Route Direction: NOBO
- Time: 5+ Hours
- Date Hiked: June 7, 2020
A gentle beginning to segment 1.
After climbing numerous switchbacks, we can look across part of Segment 2 at Raleigh Peak.
Another great view of Raleigh Peak, Segment 2, and Chair Rocks off in the distance.
Someone chose a wonderful area to camp with a great view. Long Scraggy Peak is off to the left.
Me, at 7,265 ft. Close to the highpoint on this hike.
A downed tree, probably due to the recent high winds.
The trail going through Pike National Forest.
The last place to get water at Bear Creek.
Nothing looks familiar.
Lenny’s Rest. 8.9 miles from where we started.
Trail sign to Indian Creek.
Looking at the rolling hills in Pikes National Forest.
Almost to Indian Creek Trailhead.
The log crossing at Bear Creek.