Where it is: This 2,886 acre park is located on the west side of Horsetooth Reservoir, 4 miles west of Fort Collins and 12 miles northwest of Loveland.
Trail Use: Hiking, biking, horseback riding. Hike to Horsetooth is foot traffic only
Cost: Need to pay the $6.00 per car day pass for all individual walk in, bike, or drive-ins. Self –service station takes Visa, MC credit and debit cards. Larimer County yearly passes also available for $65 for residents and $85 for non-residents
Pets Allowed? Yes- Must be on leash at all times
Elevation: 5,815′ – 7,256′ (7,256′ max elevation)
Other Park Uses: Boating, camping, fishing
Although there are many things you can do at this park we’ve only hiked here. We have checked out the campgrounds and they definitely look nice. They have full hook-ups right next to the reservoir and there was plenty of space between each site. We initially came here to check out the campground but we’re not sure if driving the RV up there is something we’re ready for just yet. The name of the park is Horsetooth Mountain Open Space and although there are many trails, we hiked the trail towards Horsetooth Rock which is the park’s tallest feature and can be seen from Fort Collins. Native American legend says it is the remains of the heart of an evil giant, slain and cut in two by Chief Maununmoku. European settlers believed the rock looked more like a horse tooth which is how it got its modern name.
At first, we weren’t quite aware of the fees involved to get into the parks in Colorado (which are also added on top of your campsite fees.) We’re just used to driving into a park and wandering around and not needing to have our wallets with us. Not the case here. So, if you’re planning a trip to Colorado make sure to budget that into your travel plans. The parks we’ve been to so far have been beautifully maintained and the fees are relatively cheap. It’s pretty difficult to find a day of entertainment for more than 1 person for 6 bucks these days so I’m not complaining. For frequent visits the yearly pass is definitely the way to go and will get you into all parks in their system, which is this case is Larimer County.
The trail head has the self-pay station which takes credit and debit cards but we were paying cash so we couldn’t figure out how to pay for our pass. The first time we came here, there was a booth with an actual person so we could pay that way but this time, since we couldn’t shove our cash into the self-pay machine, I kind of felt like we “stole” our hike. Maybe I’ll pay double next time? Bathrooms, a picnic shelter, and water fountains (along with a super short one for dogs) are available there as well. Once piece of advice: Bring water! We weren’t really planning on hiking this so we weren’t prepared. It gets pretty dry up there, and obviously water for energy and hydration is always important.
The hike up was a little tough for us due to the constant incline, but our biking legs are kind of new to hiking. Plus we had only been here a couple days so the elevation change probably came into play as well. For someone that hikes regularly, we figured it would probably be considerate moderate in the difficulty range. The surface of the trails are pretty easy to walk on which is basically smoothed over rocks. You still have to watch your step, but it’s not like walking on loose gravel. The first part of the hike is through what seemed more like a prairie and then as we got higher up we were hiking through more timber and rock. When we first started we ended up walking by what we assumed were Texas Longhorn Steer (we don’t really know our cattle) and these things are HUGE. I don’t know how they lug around those horns on their head all day long! There are places to stop and rest along the way with park benches, stations go get free dog waste bags, and garbage cans. The trail system is marked very well also so we always knew where we were and how to get back. There are lots of places to stop along the way and enjoy the views of the foothills or reservoir below.
When we got to the area just below Horsetooth Rock, which is where it changes to foot traffic only, we decided to start our climb down since we are not climbers…at all. Sam and Reid came to hike to that rock so they kept on. From what we were told, there was a bit of a climb to get to the top but the views are breathtaking! Our descent down went much quicker than the climb obviously, but we were happy to get to the trail head to get a drink of water and wait for our son. Overall, we think this a great place to hike. The park is well taken care of and the facilities they offer are clean. Definitely worth the 6 bucks for a little exercise, beautiful views, and just a generally peaceful experience.