It’s March and winter still dominates in the high country, but down low, spring is making its imminent presence known. It’s time to Ramp up on these early-season trail runs.
If you’re itching for T-shirt weather and dry dirt right now, then you’re probably a trail runner (or should be). Sweet thing about Colorado: Even when our peaks are still buried in snow, you can find miles of singletrack perfect for pounding. This guide to our favorite springtime runs should help point you in the right direction. We’ve kept the distances fairly short—with options for extensions—so you can ease back into running without injury.
Note: These lower routes should be good to go now or very soon. But we all know we can count on at least one more low-elevation spring storm over the next couple months. Please check weather and trail conditions before heading out to avoid slopping through mud or snow and doing damage to these precious trail systems.
Pollock Bench Trail, McInnis Canyons National Conservation Area
Start: Pollock Bench Trailhead (4,490 feet)
The Dirt: With each step on this pleasant and varied 7-mile lollipop loop hike through the Black Ridge Canyons Wilderness, you head deeper into the subtle brilliance of the desert. Run along the rim of a canyon dappled with fragrant pinyon pines and junipers and past wind-sculpted sandstone formations, deep ravines, and heaps of sandstone boulders while enjoying views of the Colorado River meandering below. Hearty wildflowers add bursts of yellow, red, purple, white, and magenta to the copper-colored soil and red rock slabs, while long-distance views draw your eyes across canyon country.
Options: Look for connections to the Rattlesnake Arches, Pollock Canyon, and Flume Canyon trails along the route.
Monument Canyon, Colorado National Monument
Start: Upper Monument Canyon Trailhead (6,140 feet)
The Dirt: After a steep 600-foot drop from the plateau to the canyon floor, this 6.3-mile point-to-point descent through Monument Canyon levels out as it snakes around the base of sandstone cliffs and winds through this lonely chasm at the heart of the Colorado National Monument. Plentiful blooms offer bits of color that stand out amid the high desert earth tones at your feet, and some of the more famous and imposing rock features of the park—including the Kissing Couple and Independence Monument— tower overhead, decorating the sky with pillars of pink, white, tan, and brown.
Options: For one-way, you can set up a shuttle with two cars. Without a shuttle, you can still experience the canyon by running the entire trail out and back. Or, run from the upper trailhead to Independence Monument and back. This 6-mile roundtrip option adds the tough love of climbing 1,100 feet to get out of the canyon.
Well Gulch Loop, Lory State Park
Start: Well Gulch Nature Trail Trailhead, across the road from the South Eltuck Picnic Area (5,480 feet)
The Dirt: Escape from the fast-paced modern world with this easy loop run overlooking Horsetooth Reservoir in Lory State Park, near Fort Collins. Designated for foot traffic only, the Well Gulch Nature Trail climbs gently through tranquil forest adorned with a host of early season wildflowers. As you traverse varied life zones, soak in the soothing sounds of water rushing past; discover blooms in the lush
riparian corridor; marvel at steep rock walls; look for wild turkeys and Abert’s squirrels; and enjoy sweeping views of the reservoir below.
Options: With 26 miles of trails, Lory State Park offers numerous options for exploration. One possibility: Create a longer, more challenging loop by leaving the Well Gulch Trail and connecting with the Overlook Trail, the Timber Trail or the West Valley Trail.
Fountain Valley, Roxborough State Park
Start: Fountain Valley Trailhead (6,160 feet)
The Dirt: Discover the best of Roxborough State Park, an often-overlooked gem south of Denver, by exploring this unique 2.5-mile lollipop trail. Here you will find ecological diversity, scenic beauty, unmatched views, and a wealth of interesting geological features. Pass through a range of different ecological communities—from those dominated by scrub oak to wet meadows—and run in wonder under the shadow of giant red sandstone fins. Those beauties, formed from the Fountain Formation (also seen in Garden of the Gods and Red Rocks Park), lord over the verdant valley below. Farther north, the yellow-orange Lyons Formation forms a chunkier banded ridge. You’ll be awed by the park’s unique geology throughout this adventure, especially if you stop for a breather at the two overlooks along the way. Other highlights include a visit to a historic cabin and a meadow where striped chorus frogs sing.
Options: With eight trails, totaling approximately 14 miles, the park also offers longer adventures and—since the trail systemconnects to Douglas County Open Space Trails, Pike National Forest Trails, Waterton Canyon and the Colorado Trail—there are opportunities for epic hookups too.
Cover photo: Well Gulch, photo by Gnar Runners / Terry Grenwelge