Adventure in Your Backyard: Finding Hidden Gems Close to Home

As an outdoor enthusiast and recent Colorado resident, it is hard for me to resist the temptation of heading to the Rocky Mountains every chance I get. The Rockies are beautiful and scary all at the same time. They hold elk herds, bear, mountain lions, beautiful landscapes and other majesties too numerous to name. Getting into the heart of the Rockies can be a bit of a chore though. It takes me at least an hour to get to Estes Park and even longer to get into Rocky Mountain National Park proper. Many of the notorious "13ers and 14ers" of the Rockies are just as far (if not further) away from me. That doesn't mean I have no opportunities for exploration and adventure though and the same goes for everyone. Adventure and beauty can be found closer than you think.

Luckily for me I live in an area that treasures it's outdoor recreation areas. Just 20 minutes north of my house is the college town of Fort Collins and I checked out a couple of outdoor spaces in the area. Finding the 2 areas I hiked was not too difficult because I used a couple of easy (and free) search tools. Everyone knows about It is a great tool to find trails in your area. But, thanks to our most recent podcast with Rails to Trails, I discovered Trail Link and found the Poudre Trail and CSU Learning Center.

The Poudre Trail in Fort Collins follows the meandering Poudre River from the Bellevue Watson Fish Hatchery to Colorado State University's Environmental Learning Center on East Drake. The trail passes through wooded corridors and among agricultural and natural areas, small lakes and holding ponds, parks and light industrial sites. There are plans to extend the Poudre Trail at its southern terminus east toward I-25. The city of Ft Collins maintains the trail year round and is the perfect place for a leisurely stroll, a brisk run, cycling or roller blading. I did not get to walk that much of it, but the area I did walk on was excellent. Even though the area had received snow and cold weather, the trail was snow and ice free. The trail is wide and provides ample room for passing walkers or bicyclers.

The Ft Collins section of the trail is approximately 12 miles. To walk it all in one day would be quite the chore. Lucky for you, there are numerous parking areas that would allow you to do the trail in sections. I have a lot of plans for this trail. I am going to eventually walk the whole thing mostly because the Poudre River has amazing trout fishing and I plan on catching a trout this year. I also plan on taking my bicycle up there and having a splendid cycling day.

The big surprise of the day for me was the CSU Learning Center though. The CSU Environmental Learning Center has a rich and long history; the land was originally part of the Arapaho bison hunting grounds, and also had a “Council Tree” where tribe members held meetings. The Overland Trail stagecoach stop was originally also located on this property. The land was donated to the ELC in the 1960s by the Rigden family descendants. The area now features prairie grassland, riparian areas and 212 acres of cottonwood forest. The ELC facilitates educational experiences for students and the public in the natural environment and advances the field of environmental education through sound research and practice.

The Learning Center was the reason I did not hike more on the trail. I could have spent an entire day exploring and examining this area. This area is more natural and the hiking paths reflect that. There were areas that had iced over and were very slippery. Other areas had melted and had become muddy. While there are two main paths through the area, game trails and paths split off in every direction and make exploring the area very exciting. After crossing a bridge you will find a map that shows the main paths and the layout of the property.

Both of these areas have a lot to offer everyone. They are relatively flat and make walking very easy. Keep in mind the CSU property is not as well maintained and you should be prepared for slightly more difficult walking conditions. The best part about them is there location relative to me. I was able to have an honest to goodness adventure in my backdoor. Keep in mind, it wasn't a mountain hike with amazing summit views but I did see multiple wildlife species, fished for trout and most importantly got outside. You can do the same thing. Do some research in the area you live. I can guarantee there is a park or walking path closer than you think. Take advantage of the resource and you'll be surprised at the experiences you will have.

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Welcome to the 12 Hike Challenge!! I'm new to this, but stay tuned for new entries.