Instead of driving by, we stopped. You know the places, the ones you drive by and think, “we really should check that out some day” and then somehow 10 years go by. This fall we finally made a place we’ve passed a million times our destination.
Even though Gateway Natural Area is in the Poudre Canyon it is actually a part of Fort Collins. It’s a popular location, charges an entry fee and isn’t very high up so it has never made sense to visit when there are so many lesser used, free destinations, higher up the canyon. But on a slightly cooler, possibly rainy Sunday morning it made perfect sense. I was on my own with the girls but wanted to get outside for a short hike. And so we were off.
15 miles outside of Fort Collins, Gateway Natural Area is about a 25-minute drive from town. We pulled up to the pay station and were greeted by a enthusiastic ranger who was happy to give us tips for our visit and assured me it wasn’t going to rain. Not sure how he knew, but he was absolutely right, despite a few raindrops we encountered in the parking lot.
Gateway is unlike any other spot along the Poudre. It more resembles a city park with a large swath of green lawn, picnic areas and shelters and even a little natural playground utilizing existing materials such as a tree hollowed out and carved into the shape of a boat. But unlike any park in town, it is nestled in the mountains.
At the suggestion of our ranger, we chose Black Powder Trail, a .8-mile oneway hike with an offshoot scenic lookout trail. We nearly completed the hike including the offshoot but L was in such a good mood that when she decided it was time to turn around I didn’t push.
Black Powder Trail is a bit steep and narrow at times to the point I definitely felt more comfortable holding L’s hand on some switchbacks. She enjoyed the moderate bouldering and watching a rock she kicked tumble all the way down… luckily just a rock and no kids.
We saw an owl that the couple in front of us spotted and some nice views of a part of the canyon we had never explored.
In addition to two trails, Gateway has river access and a mile long dirt path leading to Seaman Reservoir that seemed to be where the fishermen were headed. It is where the Poudre River and the North Fork of the Poudre River meet up and is the original site of the Fort Collins water filtration plant.
In keeping with exploring the unknown we stopped at Me Oh My Pie in Laporte for breakfast and although it’s super cute I was instantly reminded why eating out with a six and a two-year-old solo isn’t exactly relaxing. Perhaps I’ll go back for pie on a date day instead.
If you’re looking for a quick trip to the mountains with lots of family friendly amenities, Gateway Natural Area is a great option and has a little something for all ages and abilities.
Drive Time/Directions: 25 minutes from Fort Collins, 5.2 miles up highway 14 on the right hand side, a huge sign is at the turnoff
Trail Length: Black Powder Trail: .8 miles one-way, The Overlook Trail: .3 miles one-way, we hiked Black Powder Trail, steep at times, so moderately difficulty with kids
Usage: Medium to Heavy, we saw a few other hikers on a cloudy Sunday morning
Trail Highlights: Views of the river, close to home, river access – great place to play
Optimal Time of Year: Open all year, weather permitting
Day Use Only (dawn to dusk)
Cost: $6 parking fee check, cash or credit card (free December, January and Februrary)
Picnic Rating: 5 Turkey Sandwiches
Would we go back? Yes, would also be a great place for family get togethers
Visit website for more info and shelter reservation information