2023 is apparently flying by, and my winter hiking plans are slowly fading into spring hiking plans. Wanting to get some solid miles back in my legs (backpacking season will be here before I know it!), I debated where to go. Weighing a desire to sleep in a bit with my mileage goal, I settled on not venturing into Rocky Mountain National Park, which requires such an early start to secure parking at Bear Lake. Instead I opted for a hike closer to home – Hewlett Gulch in the Poudre Canyon and Roosevelt National Forest.
Following Gordon Creek and entailing a gazillion creek crossings (which all have logs as footbridges), Hewlett Gulch trail forms an 8.1 mile “lollipop.” This trail is open to both hikers and mountain bikers, and a bit unique to the area, dogs are allows to be off-leash and under voice control (sadly a lot of dog owners ignore the voice control part). It should go without saying, it is a very popular trail in the Fort Collins area, and the 22-car parking lot easily fills.
I had only been to Hewlett Gulch once before – roughly nine years ago to mountain bike. I remember lots of creek crossings and that I crashed. Since hiking a trail is always different than pedaling one, I was looking forward to seeing “new” territory. I was able to sleep in, and then enjoy a comfortable one-hour drive south from Cheyenne to the trailhead. I had fretted a bit about if I would be able to find parking, but was relieved to find plenty of empty spots as I pulled into the trailhead shortly before 11am. The parking lot for Greyrock had overflowed to alongside the road, so I was worried! Alas, visitors to Hewlett Gulch must’ve been more like me on this grand finale to winter, and slept in a bit longer…
With the bright winter sun (it was the last calendar day of winter after all) shining down, I took to the trail, thankful to be in light layers and my hiking shoes versus the winter gear a hike in RMNP would’ve entailed (sometimes I am incredibly lazy, what can I say?!). I started out in my long-sleeved sun hoodie, but found myself quickly letting my pale arms out into the sun. I congratulated myself on remembering to apply sunscreen to my face before leaving the car (the first time I’ve remembered all winter, so my nose is alarmingly tan). Today was a good day!
The first two miles casually ascends alongside Gordon Creek on a relatively smooth and easy trail. I lost count of the creek crossings, but found it easy to cross on the log and a few times, through the creek itself since water level was pretty low.
Two miles in I arrived at the head of the lollipop and had a choice to make. To the left (clockwise), the trail steeply ascends to the high point, and then gradually descends back to the stick of the lollipop. To the right (counterclockwise), a more gradual, but longer, ascent is possible with a steeper descent. Needing climbing time in my legs, I chose to go left and take the steeper, but shorter, climb. (When I mountain biked this trail, I went right to enjoy a tamer climb but more ripping descent, and this is what I would recommend for mountain bikers to do for a more enjoyable experience.)
So far I was enjoying all the views on the hike, but as I climbed up the switchbacks, the views intensified as I could see down into the gulch, and sweeping views to the west and north. Though I was met with wind near the top and had to stop and put my long-sleeve shirt back on to cut the chill, I enjoying my hike and seeing new scenes. The trail flattened out a smidge, descended a bit (where I encountered the only ice of the day in a ten foot long patch interspersed with mud), before sharply climbing to the high point of the trail. Though Hewlett Gulch trail does not get you on the summit of a mountain, the views are gorgeous!
I began my steady descent through a wide open meadow before dropping down a rocky, but short, hill into a Gordon Gulch filled with unique rock formations, more creek crossings, and plant life.
Before long, I was back at the lollipop stick, and began meandering back to the trailhead. Crowds had picked up, but I made quick work of returning my car.
8.4 miles and 2 hours 45 minutes later, I arrived back to my car! The parking lot had completely filled (it was just a bit before 2pm). What a great day in the sun, getting some hiking miles back into my legs! Though I have so many trails to continue exploring in my “local” neighborhood, I could see returning to Hewlett Gulch when I needed some miles but not necessarily a ton of elevation gain. However, Greyrock does win out for more as my favorite hike along this part of Poudre Canyon.
Date Hiked: March 19, 2023
Trailhead: Hewlett Gulch
Total Mileage: 8.4 miles (Garmin Forerunner 255s/Strava)
Elevation Gain: 1,195 feet
Time: 2 hours 45 minutes
Weather: Sunny and warm enough for a tee shirt!
Cell Service: None (Verizon)
Trail Conditions: Dry with the smallest bit of insignificant ice and mud
Special Considerations: No fee is in place at trailhead. There are vault toilets. Dogs are allowed off-leash, but please remember this also means the dog still needs to be under voice controlled and, well, controlled. Please be considerate of the fact that other trail users may not want your dog running up to them, jumping on them, etc. And for the love of all things holy, take your dog’s poo with you and dispose of it at home! Rattlesnakes and poison ivy may be present in-season. Mountain bikes are allowed.