Saturday, June 8, 2013

Antelope Park (Button Rock...Hall Ranch) Loop

Distance: 7 mile loop
Elevation: 5,972 ft - 6,731 ft
Elevation Gain: 1,600 ft cumulative
Date Hiked: 14 April 2013
Bathroom at Trailhead: Yes but up the trail a bit
Dogs: On leash until Sleep Lion Trail

Rock formations and open meadows dominate Antelope Park.
Antelope Park is a long sloping meadow nestled between the Button Rock Preserve and Hall Ranch in Lyons Colorado. At the far eastern end is a large pile of rocks that make for an interesting destination. This loop hike is not on any maps, but is easy to navigate on the ground and will transport you back in time to the age of the Colorado pioneers who lived and worked ranches in the hidden valleys between Lyon's and Estes Park. 

The trailhead parking lot
The first 0.9 miles follows this private road. 
Because this trail is so little used, there are few places where the trail itself fades into the grasses, but most people should be able to navigate these sections with minimal angst.

The turn off for the Sleep Lion Trail
The turn off for Antelope Parks is the small spur trail to the left.  The  loop will end up returning to this  point down the main trail. 
The route to and from the rocks traverses several different Front Range biomes including a Ponderosa Forest, open grasslands, riparian (think frogs) lowlands, and rocky traverses. While it may become "hells half acre" in the heat, in spring and fall it is delightful and in the "lusty month of May" you might just see a fairy or two.

The initial part of the loop goes steadily upwards through Ponderosa Pine and rocks. 
This loop starts and ends at the parking lot for the Sleepy Lion Trail in Lyon's Button Rock Preserve. On the west side of the lot is a gate that allows residents of the area access to a broad flat road that heads east towards the Ralph Price Reservoir.  0.9 miles up the road is the turn off for the Sleepy Lion Trail, which is well marked by a sign. While the main route for Sleepy Lion continues straight up the hillside, the route to Antelope Park splits off only 0.1 miles up the Sleepy Lion Trail across from a green and white sign. This split look like a social trail and decsends down into a ditch but quickly ascends up the other side.

The segment where the trail fades.  
The initial part of the route weaves upwards through a long series of switchbacks that also take the hiker back in the general direction of the parking lot. You will realize this when you end up at a view point looking back down the road. At 1.3 miles is an unmarked trail junction. Stay right. At 1.5 miles is a small social trail to a pile of rocks. Stay right here as well.

A segment in the trees
The route then skirts to the west of two oval hills, which can be clearly seen on the topo map. These hills form the northern boundary of Antelope Park and the route stays close to the hills as it heads steadily upwards and eastwards towards pile of rocks. There are several places along this side of the meadow with views of bucolic downs suitable for garlanded maidens in diaphanous dresses or for the less imaginative, the occasional cow. At 2.4 miles you will go through a fence used by ranchers in days gone by.

Entering the wide meadow of Antelope Park
Approaching the rocks
At 2.8 miles and 6,715 ft the rocks that mark the apex of the loop appear just below the crest of the meadow slope.  They stand starkly puritan over the fairy tale frolics of Thumper, Maid Marion, and Tinkerbell whom I could sense tittering on the wind just waiting for us to leave. Around the rocks are several other trails. The Button Rock Trail, which will be part of our loop, heads back down the middle of the meadow. Someone cut down a large oak tree recently and chunks of log make for a suitable spot to lounge. 

Leaving the rocks and heading down the center of Antelope Park
Further down the meadow
Since it was not quite spring when we did this hike and a bracing breeze was blowing down from the mountains we did not linger long at the rocks but headed back down the meadow at a steady clip. The views in the meadow are even better than those from the side. The two oval hills are obvious to the north, and the trails winds in and out of meadow and forest as it heads steadily downwards. Don't assume the fairies are leading you astray when the trail switches from single track to road to single track again. Just follow the signs. The first one will appear at 3.0 miles.

The trail leaves the road and transitions back into the forest at this sign.
Standing on the Sleep Lion Trail looking back on the route towards the Button Rock Trail (sign in the distance). 
The final section of route at 4.9 miles is on the Sleep Lion Trail as it travels around rock formations, more meadows, and more Ponderosa Forest. By the time you reach the road at 5.9 miles, you'll be glad to stride out for a mile back to the car.

On an open segment of the Sleep Lion Trail
If you like the hikes around Lyons (Lion Gulch, Sleepy Lion, Rabbit Mountain, and Hall Ranch), you'll enjoy this hike as well. Just say hi to the fairies for me.


Sage Harman said...

Hi! You have a really great site! I'm glad to have stumbled upon it! I was wondering if you feature guest postings. Thanks and have a great day!

sylvia murphy said...

Hi Sage,
I am glad you are enjoying the site. Alas no, I don't feature guests.