Monday, February 13, 2012

Hiking Hall Ranch

Another weekend, another great hike. I didn't have a lot of time, and I wasn't really in the mood for deep snow and hard-to-find trails, so I went out to the foothills to check out Hall Ranch, just west of Lyons. It's a trail I've been wanting to visit for a while, and I think I'm smitten.

View 2012/02/12 08:51 in a larger map

According to the signage, this trail is usually pretty muddy. My truck's thermometer said it was 13° F when I arrived at the trail head, and the ground was well frozen. So I thought I was in luck. By the time I finished, the temperature had risen 10 degrees, but it was enough to thaw out the ground. I have this totally non-scientific theory that not only does water boil at lower temperatures at higher elevations, but ice also melts at correspondingly lower temps. I guess it's really just a matter of radiant heat from the sun through our thinner atmosphere, which causes more disparity between the temperature of the ground and that of the air.

Hall Ranch trail head
The snow was pretty thin and packed down early on. Farther along the trail, it got deeper, but not enough to require snowshoes or any kind of traction device. I started off heading west along the Nighthawk trail.

I saw mountain lion tracks (twice) for the first time on this hike. What a thrill!
Mountain lion tracks
There was a herd of deer near the first set of puma tracks, but they didn't seem to be perturbed, so either the mountain lion had moved on, or it was doing a fine job of hiding. There were two bucks in that herd, one of which had lost one of its antlers.

A herd of deer
Gorgeous scenery was all over the place, but there were some especially nice views where the Button Rock trail intersects Nighthawk.
At the Button Rock trail intersection
I followed Nighthawk, and then took the southern part of Nelson Loop trail. There is an historic ranch house there. I would love to have a home in that kind of setting.
Nelson Ranch house
Soon after the ranch house, I saw the second set of mountain lion tracks. This time the cat followed the trail for a while before heading off into the trees. The thought of following that thing was a bit unsettling, so I wasn't altogether disappointed to find that we were parting ways. Soon thereafter, I saw another deer, which appeared to be a much more suitable meal for a mountain lion than I would have been.
More mountain lion tracks
During the last four or so miles of the hike, I decided to do a bit of trail running. Mostly for fun, but I also needed to get back home by 1pm. But a slip on a rock, resulting in a pretty good bang to my left knee, convinced me that I ought not to be in that much of a hurry. There was still plenty of good scenery to be had.
A view along the Bitterbranch trail
As always, I had a great time. And it was refreshing to actually get to complete my route instead of getting turned back by deep snow drifts. I think I'd like to revisit this trail in the summer, hopefully when it's dry, to see what it's like in other seasons.
A happy hiker with his winter beard


  1. Neat, one of my go to trails for when I don't feel like driving more than I hike!

    I was out there last week for a short hike. It was very picturesque with the snow cover, but the way back was much muddier than the way up. There wasn't many people on trail, which is one of the benefits of winter hiking. Did you meet many people up there or was the mountain lion and deer your only interactions?

    In the summer it gets bit hot, so I usually try to get a bit more altitude. Plus it's a popular mountain bike trail (Nighthawk is hiker/horse only though).

    Another couple of trails in the area are
    Lion Gulch to the Homesteads and Heil Ranch.


    1. I saw one other hiker walking along the maintenance road near the little bridge on Nelson Loop. There were a few more vehicles in the lot when I got back to the TH, but I didn't see any of those folks on the trail.

      I've taken the kids out to do the Lichen Loop trail at Heil Ranch. It's the perfect distance for them (~ 2 miles), and only foot traffic. I haven't explored any of the other trails around there. Lion Gulch sounds nice, too - I'll have to check that one out some time.

    2. Lion Gulch is nice in the summer as it follows a stream to the meadow about 3mi in. I believe it was the main road for the homesteaders as there is a rusty truck along the way. It's not a spectacular hike by any means but it has a great feel to it, bubbling creek into a meadow with broken down farm houses to gaze at.

      While I'm talking about easy local hikes, I'll add another. Ceran St. Vrain Trail is about 4mi round trip, but very verdant in the summer. Don't have to go the whole way either. Never tried it in winter, so I'm not sure how accessible it is, but maybe I should try it soon. Its about 20 minutes past Heil Ranch up past Jamestown.