Activities, Colorado, Hiking, United States

Colorado Hiked: Bent Rock Trail

The first day of spring was upon me! After doing a big bike ride the day before, I decided it would be a good day for a hike. I have a big adventure coming up, and this would be a good warm up hike and test of my severely sprained ankle that I have been working on healing up. (I’d like to say I sprained it doing something epic, but all I did was step on the side of my parents’ driveway wrong, and down I went, tearing ligaments on the way.)

A few months back I checked out a day hike guide for northern Colorado area from the library, and stumbled across Bent Rock Trail at Red Mountain Open Space. At a little over 3 miles, this is a perfect, easy hike. This area is one of my favorite places to mountain bike, but I was unsure the ankle could handle a mountain bike at this time, so time to check a hike off the list!

A map of Red Mountain Open Space, Soapstone Prairie Natural Area, and Big Hole Open Space

Red Mountain Open Space is part of a trio of public lands that straddle the Colorado-Laramie border, joined by Soapstone Prairie Natural Area (City of Fort Collins, CO) and Big Hole Open Space (City of Cheyenne, WY). Red Mountain is managed by Larimer County. The trio provides dozens of miles of trails, often empty of the typical Front Range recreational crowds. Hikers, mountain bikers (and gravel bikes are taking off), and equestrians are all welcomed, though some trails are restricted to just hikers or hikers/bikers. The terrain is open and desolute, which can be a killer under summer sun. There is no water, so pack plenty, and there are no restrooms after leaving the trailheads. Via stout hiking legs, or a mountain bike, it is possible to end up over 10 miles from your car, so being prepared is key! Cell phone service is spotty, and it is not uncommon to see SPOT trackers dangling from packs. The trio is open dawn to dusk, and closes seasonally December through February. One important thing to note is dogs are not allowed, so leave your pupper at home.

Probably the only annoying thing about trips to Soapstone and Red Mountain are that if coming from Wyoming, there is no northern access – you have to drive about 25 miles south on I-25 from Cheyenne, and then backtrack on gravel roads north to reach the trailheads. This makes it a much longer trip than it thereorectically should be. Luckily the road into Red Mountain was smooth sailing, and I made good time.

The trailhead at Red Mountain Open Space has maps, information, and brochures available. There are also vault bathrooms.

I read online that hiking the loop clockwise is best as you end with a bang at the canyon formed by Sand Creek, so I took this advice. Everything at Red Mountain (and Big Hole and Soapstone for that matter) is well signed at intersections. I gathered up my pack (first hike with my brand new Osprey Tempest Pro!), laced up my boots (needed for the ankle), and hit the trail! Of note, Bent Rock Trail is for hikers only, no horses or bicycles allowed.

Bent Rock Trail is not very climby, with just 295 feet of elevation gain for the entire 3.35 miles.
The trail crosses Sand Creek several times, but there are rock stepping stones in place.
Reaching the lollipop, where you can choose to go clockwise (to the left) or counterclockwise (to the right). I chose to go clockwise so I could end with the canyon.

I love the scenery of this area… the rolling praire, the red dirt, the rock formations. Knowing that the canyon would be the big treat, I still couldn’t help but to admire the views the rest of the hike offers.

It’s me and my new pack! I upgraded from a typical backpack with no suspension to an Osprey Tempest Pro 28, and wow! I didn’t even notice I had 3 liters of water on my back! (No, I didn’t require 3 liters of water, but I was testing out the new hydration pack I got as well.)
These red dirt scenes!
There are some bridges that cross washes
Wrapping around to the north, which has some wide open prairie views, with distant Wyoming windmills
Looking back at Table Mountain
Rounding towards another trail junction. Heading left will lead you to more Red Mountain Open Space trails, and right will take you through the Sand Creek canyon and back to the trailhead

As the hike rounds to the finishing stretch, the trail joins the banks of Sand Creek. The “layer cake” geology of this unique area comes onto full display as you enter the canyon. These rock layers were deposited over millions of years, and the Lykins, Jelm, Sundance, and Morrison formations are all on display. Sand Creek is responsible for the canyon, though it is hard to imagine this mild creek carved this canyon (oh how thousands of years can make a difference!).

Nearing the canyon, and the best views of the hike
Close up of the layers of the Sand Creek anticline
Another little crossing of Sand Creek
There are a couple of intrepretive signs that explain the geology of the canyon and surrounding area along the trail

This area is also great because here you will find billion year old rocks on top of million years old rock – wait, what?

Geologists use the term superposition to suggest that rock layers below are older than layers on top. This is generally true. However, regional uplift and mountain building about 70 million years ago exposed very old underlying rock layers west of here. Periodic intense floods over thousands of years have carried some of those billion year old basement rocks down into this drainage on top of much younger layers.

Red Mountain Open Space intrepretive sign

Not only a layer cake, but a “precambian upside-down layer cake!”

Gosh, I sure do love rocks!

Entering the layer cake
This sign explains mountain building and anticlines and synclines
Finishing out right against the canyon walls
The widest creek crossing of the day on Bent Rock Trail
Out of the cnayon and heading back to the trailhead
A great sign explaining the layer cake!
Arriving back at the trailhead

This was a short and sweet hike – all in all, it took me only 1 hour 15 minutes complete with a bathroom break and all the stopping I did in the canyon to take photos. Perfect length for not irritating the ankle too much (and only slightly rolled it once!) and for getting some sun on my skin!

Details:
Date Hiked: March 20, 2022 (Spring equinox!)
Trailhead: Red Mountain Open Space
Total Mileage: 3.35 miles per Garmin Vivoactive 4s/Strava
Total Elevation Gain: 295 feet
Total Time Spent: 1 hour 15 minutes
Weather: Partly cloudy, upper 50s/low 60s
Trail Conditions: Dry
Cell Service: Spotty service (Verizon), which is typical of Red Mountain and Soapstone

2 thoughts on “Colorado Hiked: Bent Rock Trail”

  1. I love this area! I also enjoyed your designation of “precambian upside-down layer cake.” I hope your ankle heals up okay. As someone who has rolled her ankles a lot (usually doing dumb things as well), I feel your pain.

    Liked by 1 person

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