Sunday, October 24, 2010

A Perfect Fall Run: Pike National Forest - Roxborough and More

Explored some buffed out trails connecting the Pike National Forest, Douglas County Open Space Properties and Roxborough State Park.

Time: 3:08
Distance: 18:39
Effort: Easy
Body: Average
Weather: Sunny and warm

Up early to get one in before the day started. The weatherman billed today as the "calm before the storm," so I knew I wanted to get out and explore some new ground while the weather was still cooperating.

I dug into the memory banks for ideas, finally hitting on some of the trails above Waterton Canyon (which is closed through the end of the year for maintenance on the Strontia Springs Reservoir about seven miles up the canyon). From past runs, I knew trails connected into Waterton from nearby Roxborough State Park.

I called the park hotline and heard a recording saying the park didn't open until 9 a.m. in October. Fearing there would be a closed gate, I poured over a couple maps and found the Indian Creek area in the Pike National Forest, a number of miles southwest of Roxborough.

The maps showed a network of trails accessible off the Indian Creek Trail, which starts at the closed-for-the-season campground. Perfect.

I got to the trailhead, located up Highway 67 about 10 miles west of Sedalia, a little after 7:30 a.m. and was soon headed into the woods on the Indian Creek Trail.  I carried with me a 10-year-old Trails Illustrated map of the area, which quickly proved useless. Virtually none of the trails in the area appeared to be on the map. And, the map showed none of the Douglas County-owed open space parcels that form a ring around much of the southern part of Roxborough, linking that area to the trails in the Pike National Forest.

After about 1.6 miles, the trail dumped out on a closed dirt road at a trail junction. None of these trails were on the map, so I made a guess...a good one, turns out. 

I started cruising east on the Ringtail Trail and ended up in a Douglas County Open Space property.  The trail undulated a bit, following a ridge line. The trail was virtually rock-free...just fast singletrack dirt. Glorious. Ran a couple miles at a sub-7 pace and it felt easy. From the ridge, I had great fews down onto the stunning red rock formations of Roxborough. Soon the trail was dropping down a north ridge through a forest of gambel oak, still holding some of their red fall colors. The trail dropped down into the grasslands below and headed toward a single, large red rock standing like a sentinel over the grassy hills and dales. 

Right about here, I entered Roxborough and ran down a red dirt road through a bit of private land towards the park's visitors center. About .6 miles from the visitors center, I picked up the Carpenter Peak Trail and started climbing the ridge east of the park's well-known rock formations. 

Roxborough State Park - Photo by Bo Insogna
Just past Carpenter Peak, I hit a trail junction with marked trails to the right (where I didn't want to go) and unmarked trails to the left (where my decade-old map indicated I should go). I conferred with a couple of hikers and went left. I was looking for a trail my map said was the Bear Creek Trail. I never found it, but I did come across an unmarked, but well-tracked right which the hikers said was the northern end of the Indian Creek Trail.

I found the intersection, hung a right and started climbing again up a heavily forested ridge. I was flying blind...unmarked trail, dense forest...and so on. Fortuitously, about a half-mile up, I came across an equestrian trailing a pair of horses - a guy I had seen at the trailhead when I started.

I asked him if this was the Indian Creek Trail. Sure enough, I was where I needed to be. The trail climbed another mile and ended a a dirt cul-de-sac near a big powerline tower.  I hung a left and ran three miles up a steady grade to the first trail junction of the day - the place where I had made the right onto the Ringtail Trail. I hung a right off the dirt road onto the singletrack Indian Creek Trail and made quick work of the mile and a half of mostly downhill back to the parking area and the truck.

I was pretty psyched to have put together this loop basically following my nose (and getting a good bit of beta in one spot from a pair of hikers). This is a great loop. The surface is mostly buffed-out dirt single track, save for the three miles of soft dirt road. There's some really fun switch-backing descents and a couple of solid climbs. And, there's lots of options to extend the run with loops in the Sharptail Ridge (there's a .pdf map at that link) area, connections with the Colorado Trail and a couple other trails that looked like they would be fun to explore.

As I was running, I kept thinking what a great area this would be to stage an extended trail race. It would, no doubt, be difficult to get permits from all the land-owning entities in the area, but, man, there is some sweet trails back in there. 

A darn fine day on the trails.

3,068 feet of elevation gain.


  1. Shoulda dropped me a note, woulda joined you. I've been out there a handful of times and know my way around just enough to be dangerous. You probably know now but Indian Creek is the temp start to the CT. Very nice trails back there!

  2. Damn. Would have been great to have company...and it's not too far from your home base. Problem was I didn't decide where to go until about 11 p.m. Would love to do some more exploring back there. Maybe early Nov. weekend, if the snows stays high. Didn't realize Indian Creek was the temp CT start. Parking lot was busy post-run. No one there early, save for a cowboy. Mt. Falcon on Thurs.?

  3. This run has been on my list all summer. I ran from Waterton Canyon to Roxborough SP once on the connector trail. I've been itching to get back and explore some of the other trails out there.