I'm visiting my hometown of Fort Collins, Colorado, and since I haven't spent much time there since leaving for college, I did some research to find good trails in the area. A number of the trails I knew years ago have been greatly expanded, and new trails established! (This must be why Money Magazine recently named Fort Collins the best small city to live in the United States.)
One good online resource is this article by Miles Blumhardt recently published in the Fort Collins Coloradoan, the local rag. Blumhardt filled me in on the Blue Sky Trail, which connects the Devil's Backbone Open Space to Horsetooth Mountain Park, two natural areas of protected land that had heretofore been separate. I thought I'd give the new trail a try.
I started at Horsetooth Mountain Park (parking at the Soderberg Open Space) and took the Inlet Bay Trail from the Soderberg parking lot to County Road 38, where Blue Sky officially begins. The Inlet Bay trail is about a mile long, gravel-covered, and takes you through the campground and around the main water inlet to Horsetooth Reservoir. I'd expected to have to dodge cars to cross County Road 38, but the County conveniently built a tunnel underneath the road -- much safer, and probably a lot easier for those on horseback.
After the tunnel, Blue Sky officially begins, and the change is immediate. While most trails in the area are hard & rocky (you are in the Rocky Mountains, after all) Blue Sky is soft red dirt almost the whole way. Steep red cliffs flank the trail on the east, while to the west, cottonwood trees and tallgrass meadows slope down to the valley below.
The early-morning light in my photos doesn't do justice to these red-rock cliffs; they're stunning! Be sure to scan the boulder-tops for eagles; I saw a huge golden eagle watching over the valley about two miles south of County Road 38.
Three miles after the road, Blue Sky enters the Devil's Backbone Open Space. Here, the trail veers west (and downhill), away from the cliffs, meandering through the meadows below. A 1/2-mile diversion trail has been set up, some posted signs informed me, because the original Blue Sky Trail cuts too close to some Golden Eagle nesting areas. The detour is easy to follow, and hopefully the birds can rest easy and raise their families in peace with crazy trail runners and mountain bikers kept at bay.
After two miles along the valley floor, Blue Sky again heads east, up the cliff, to an excellent view over the valley. I turned around here (mile 6.7 on my GPS) but the trail continues south to the Devil's Backbone Trailhead, off State Highway 34. It's possible to park at that trailhead if you prefer to run south to north.
Overall it was a great run: the scenery doesn't disappoint, the footing is good, and the rolling hills make for a trail that's runnable the whole way. For a fun run in Fort Collins, I highly recommend the Blue Sky Trail.
See you on the trail!