Saturday, July 16, 2011

Spruce Mountain Loop

Distance: 5 miles round trip
Elevation: 7, 127 ft - 7,658 ft
Elevation Gain: 816 ft (cumulative)
Date Hiked: 19 June, 2011
Dogs: On leash only
Bathroom at the trailhead: port-o-let only

A view from one of the many overlooks on the Spruce Mountain Trail in Douglas County

The Spruce Mountain Loop in the Spruce Mountain Open Space in Douglas County traverses a large sandstone mesa within spitting distance of I-25 but it feels worlds away. South of Castle Rock and west of Larkspur, this was a total find for someone who lives north of Denver. I loved this trail and can't wait to take others on it. This would also be a great trail run for those who also enjoy such things.

The parking lot

Example of the trail signage. This is the junction with the Spruce Meadow Trail where I took a left.

The vegetation on the mesa is a unique combination of Scrub Oak, Douglas Fir, and Ponderosa Pine. Once on the mesa, the route navigates the edges with many overlooks on sandstone promontories overlooking pastoral ranch land. For those who love alfresco dinning this Open Space has more places to choose from than you will ever need.

The Oak Shortcut Trail

A screen shot of the trail system from the Douglas County web site.
I had a hard time finding the trailhead for this open space because a prominent guide book mentioned that it was 1.25 miles out of Larkspur on Spruce Mountain Road. It is actually 3.5 miles beyond the railroad bridge at the edge of the city limits. I kept turning around thinking I had missed it. The moral of the story is keep driving. The trailhead is very obvious with a large metal sign.

A view to the east. That open grassland is perfect for horse back riding.

20 yards beyond the western exit from the parking lot is a sign pointing out trail options. While the Spruce Mountain Loop technically starts straight ahead, I chose instead to take an immediate left, which is on the Spruce Meadow Trail, and head up the hill that everyone seemed to be coming down. It is a short 0.1 miles to a well marked trail called the Oak Shortcut. This trail quickly ascends another 0.1 miles through a gauntlet of Scrub Oaks to a junction. Take a left here and you are on the stem of the lollypop loop that traverses the mesa.

A typical trail segment through the early switchbacks
Picnickers on one of the many spots on Greenland Overlook

The next 0.7 miles is a series of switchbacks that wind gracefully up to the top of the mesa through a pleasant Douglas Fir forest. This trail is popular with equestarians who add on this loop the much larger Spruce Meadow Loop (which lazily wanders through the open grassland below), as well as mountain bikers. Everyone was amazingly polite and shared the trail in a most pleasing manner.

Looking south at the rest of the mesa from the Greenland Overlook
Upon reaching the top of the mesa at 0.88 miles, the main trail heads straight while a series of social trails head onto the first set of overlooks, the Greenland Overlook. I did this hike on Father's Day and every nook and cranny, and there were plenty, of this pleasing area was filled with picnickers.

Paddock's Point
The view of Eagle Mountain from Paddock's Point
From this point on the trail stays on top of the mesa. The trail itself is broad and soft on the paws, again a great place to run. At 1.19 miles was Paddock's Point, a lovely overlook gazing down on more ranch land and Eagle Mountain, a sandstone formation to the west.

A typical trail segment on the mesa. There is a family standing on the rock outcropping in the distance.
A view of ranch land from the rock outcropping in the picture above

1.33 miles is the start of the loop portion of the hike. I chose to take this clockwise. Much of the mesa is the same, open Ponderosa and Douglas Fir and occasional piles of rocks to climb on and admire the surrounding scenery. At 2.26 miles is a nice picnic area with tables and at 2.66 miles is Windy Point at the apex of the loop. Ironically, this area was quite windy, and since the weather had been threatening to rain all day, I finally had to don my rain coat to block the wind. 3.11 miles is the junction with a service road, that could form part of a an Eagle Pass Loop (see map). At 3.83 miles I was back to the stem of the lollypop and 5.2 miles back to the trailhead.

Another view of the sandstone cliffs. This trail reminds me a lot of Castlewood Canyon State Park.

I am a typical selfish Coloradan, I like to be up high with views all around. The Spruce Mountain Loop did not disappoint. Wandering from outcropping to outcropping and their associated views was most pleasant. In the spring or fall when the surrounding ranch land is bathed in the colors of the seasons, seems the best time to visit. I suspect that on a sunny day in the middle of summer, the mesa could get quite toasty.

A typical trail segment on the western side of the loop


gumo said...

Gosh, I hope you never take your blog down. It is a wonderful resource for those of us who hope someday to make it to Colorado to enjoy these same hikes you take us on. Thanks very much.

Anonymous said...

We tried to hike at Brainard Lake 2 weeks ago - July 2 - and found banks
of snow. I am observing that you are not hiking above 10,000. I keep
waiting for you to do so and let us know that the trails are clear! The blog
is great - thanks so much.

sylvia murphy said...

Hi Anonymous,

Don't use my posts as an indicator of snow clearance. One there is a lag between when I hike and when I post. Two, you need to go trail by trail. Some are clear. I did Chicago Lakes last weekend and it was clear. I did the Kettle Ponds two weeks ago and it was very dry. My friends did Eccles Pass this week and ran into some snow but were able to get around it. Sniktau is doable. Native Lake and Missouri Pass are not. You can get part way up Buffalo Mountain. The best thing to do is call the Forest Service for the area you want to go and ask them.

Ackart said...

I just found your blog and I love it! I just started mine this year to keep track of my hikes. I live near this one and have never hiked here. Do you every hike with meetup groups? My partner doesn't go with me as much as I like to so its a great way to keep active.
I like all your Breckinridge hikes. I'd like to get up that way. I'm trying to plan a desert hiking trip to California.

sylvia murphy said...

Hi Ackart,

I don't hike with meetup. I hike with friends for the Sierra Club. I am an outdoor leader for them, although I have been on sabbatical for a year. Our group hikes a lot.

I checked out your blog. You do a lot of the same hikes that I do. You should consider an index on your blog like I have created on mine. That way people can target specific hikes.