She squatted close to the red ground surveying the rocks before selecting a smooth oval one. She carefully added it to the top of the cairn, looking back at us with a triumphant grin. L didn’t have to look far to see another one, leading us onward.


It’s nice to have a few lower elevation hiking destinations in your back pocket for those perfect spring days in March and April when anything higher would still be a snowy or muddy mess. And these lower elevation trails are often more arid and less shady so it’s the ideal time to enjoy them too.


Red Mountain Open Space has quickly become a family favorite. From a Martian-like mountaintop to a white washed moonscape then back down to grasslands, the Bent Rock Trail is a kid friendly 2.8 mile loop through a different ecosystem than we’re accustomed to along the front range.



Approximately an hour drive from Fort Collins near the Colorado/Wyoming border, it’s close enough to head to on a whim and far enough away to escape the crowds found at Horsetooth and Lory State Parks. (And it’s free!)



Red Mountain Open Space spans 15,000 acres and contains 15 miles of interconnecting trails, some of which connect to Soapstone Prairie as a part of an overarching  Laramie Foothills Mountains to Plains Project.

We’ve completed the Bent Rock Trail twice, taking it from the left each visit, going up an incline into a wooded area that eventually opens up to the red dirt and rocks for which the open space gets it’s name.



Last year we spotted a doe in the trees and watched as she hopped over one of the many cattle fences along the trail. This open space is shared due to the land rights, although we have yet to see any cattle on the trail. There are several creek crossings, one of which can be challenging, depending on how wet of a spring we’ve had. L got tossed over by her dad last year, but was able to hop rocks this year.


We let C out of the pack and she hiked the last portion of the trail near Rainbow Rock, a beautiful spot on the creek with scenery more like Moab than northern Colorado. C actually hiked about as fast as L so it gave us hope for summer hikes ahead, which is good because I’m not sure how much longer I’ll be able to haul her on my back!




Details: Bent Rock Trail in Red Mountain Open Space- open March through November, Dawn to Dusk

Fee: Free!

Drive Time: Approx 1 hour from Fort Collins

Directions: 799 Red Canyon Road, Wellington, CO 80549- From town, take Taft Hill Road North to Co Rd 70/Owl Canyon Road, turn left on Co Rd 15 north/Terry Lake Rd, turn left on Co Rd 78, turn right on Co Rd 17, then left on Co Rd 80, turn right on N Co Rd 19, left on Co Rd 21, Right on Red Canyon Rd (Lots of turns, but eventually there are signs for Red Mountain Open Space to follow, making it super easy).

If you decide to use navigation, may I suggest using Google Maps instead of iPhone maps, my phone tried to take us to Red Mountain in Red Feather instead of Red Mountain Open Space.

Trail Length: 2.8 loop

Designated Rating: Easy

Usage: Moderate

Elevation Gain: 200

Trail Highlights: Different ecological features including Rainbow Rock, not too busy

Trail Lowlights: Not much shade

Amenities: Nice covered picnic area at trailhead, vaulted toilets

Notes: Bring sunscreen, water shoes (in case the water crossings are rocking), water (no water at trailhead), no dogs allowed, Be “Snake Awake”- definitely rattlesnake country

Optimal Time of Year: Spring and Fall

Would we go back? Yes, it’s definitely one of our favorites

For more information visit Larimer County’s website