For several years we were lucky enough to live in Salida, Colorado and managed to cross several segments of the Colorado Trail. The Colorado Trail is 446 * miles long and runs from Waterton Canyon State Park, just outside Denver, all the way through the state almost to Durango, Colorado.
Section 14 was natural for us to take our older dog Lulu Bell, as it was close to home and allowed us to choose the best window for the weather and have natural places to escape in case our old girl was left with steam.
To get there
One early morning in mid-August, we boarded the US-285 on Buena Vista (pronounced Bewna Vista by locals for some strange reason), turning off the CR-162 just before the Chalk Creek RV campsite. From there we drove along the mountain. Princeton Hot Springs (which is a great place to relax for a few days if you’re traveling on the Colorado Trail), then park our truck on the Chalk Creek trailhead before heading down the trail.
There is always the opportunity to do any section of the Colorado Trail in the opposite direction as other tourists, which simply means that you may have to work harder – or less – depending on the height gain. At this section of the CO path, the bidding height is just over 4000 ‘.
Please note that our publication and description of our hike in no way replace a route map. You need to get a map and a guidebook before embarking on any segment of the Colorado Trail.
Climb up from Chalk Creek Trailhead
Leaving the Chalk Creek Trailhead, you cross the CR-290 and then begin a steep climb that lasts about a mile.
At this point in our journey, Lulu Bell was a young 12-year-old and still walking strong. Her last veterinary examination showed that she was still in excellent condition, thanks to constant exercise, a good diet and regular glucosamine supplements. We had bought a dog backpack online and thought it might help if he brought some of his dry food for the trip. We later realized that this was a huge mistake and would never happen again.
LuluBelle slipped up the hill, practically pulled us up, and began to walk on her hind legs, as she did when she was eager to take a closer look. At the “top” we were rewarded with a wonderful view of Chalk Creek and Mt. Princeton Hot Springs far below us. From then on, the trail wound down and through an open meadow before returning to an accidental climb that led us to Little Browns Creek.
We had chosen to take a gallon of water per person and dog with us, along with an MSR water filter. The temperature was much warmer than normal that day and Lulu Belle was passing through its water at a much faster rate than we expected. At Little Browns Creek, we were able to use the filter to refill the containers and have enough water to prepare dehydrated dinners at Mountain House without running out of shops.
Very important note: Always check where there are water sources before relying on one that your guidebook or map shows will be “there”, as many times conditions change and water sources dry up. We learned the hard way not to trust water source cards.
Lulu and Melissa Hiking, Section 14 of the Colorado Trail
We camp for the night
Although we were less than halfway to the end of section 14, we decided to camp for the night and then start a fresh start early and early. I pitched our tent, filled the water bubbles from the stream, and Melissa cooked a delicious shrimp curry (always better when you’re hungry) on the hot plate. We soaked our feet a little in the cool stream (downstream, of course, where other tourists filled their bottles), and read books on our phones for a while before exploding at night.
Around midnight, I woke up to a call from nature and accidentally saw the International Space Station fly by. At this altitude, the sky was so clear that it seemed to fly several thousand feet — not hundreds of miles — overhead, as it shone brighter than any star in the sky. I fell asleep again, only to wake up to the sound of an animal around two in the morning. We had stored all our equipment on a line hanging over a limb and inaccessible to bears, but still some creature had appeared looking for food.
Cartilaginous noises in the forest
Whatever it was, leave us alone, and while the crunching sounds coming from the forest around us subsided, I fell asleep again.
Just when the sun was rising, I got up and made a pot of coffee, which is a must for us. As I was finishing my first glass, a tourist who started early was walking down the aisle a few hundred yards, and Lulu Bell, like Lulu Bell, had to talk about it.
Whenever she is unsure of a possible threat, she tends to emit a soft “wave” every half minute to be safe. I heard the tourist shout, “Shut up – insulting – dog,” and feeling that this was a little for a few innocent barks, I called, “Hey, you too, my friend,” before I just let him go. The poor soul probably just hadn’t had his morning coffee yet.
Lulu Belle at 12 years old
Our big mistake with Lulu’s backpack
We had to wake Lulu Bell, who was still napping and turning off while we made breakfast, which didn’t look much like her. As we lifted her from the corner of the tent, she struggled to get up, something we had never seen before. What we realized then – too late – is that just like people’s backpacks, dogs also need to be properly sized for their bodies.
The one we had chosen, along with how we had loaded the two pounds of food in it, was too close to her thighs – the weight and location of the load, which made her muscles tired and sore. We immediately took her backpack and hung it on one of ours, and walked down the aisle at a very slow pace.
After about a mile, Lulu’s gait returned to normal, although we made sure that from that point on, we took frequent breaks every half mile or so. If she showed any discomfort, we could call one of our neighbors in Salida to come and pick her up at Mount Peak. Shavan’s path.
The rest of our hike was very enjoyable. The trail winds through some very nice sections of aspen at the base of the mountain. Shavano, which can be especially wonderful as the trees bloom later in the year. Eventually we reached the point where the Colorado Trail crosses Highway 50, west of the small community of Maceville. From there, we drove back to our home outside of Poncha Springs, where our other car was, and headed out to pick up our truck at Chalk Creek Trailhead.
Some tips for taking your dog on the Colorado Trail
It can be a real challenge to pick up your furry friend along the entire length of the trail in Colorado and I probably wouldn’t recommend it for older dogs. However, if you can take it section by section, as we did, then it has the potential to be enjoyable for both dogs and humans. Whichever section you choose to walk, make sure you bring enough water for both you and your dog.
Try to avoid allowing them to drink from streams, as the presence of giardia bacteria is quite common in mountain streams in Colorado.
Also, eat plenty of food and don’t assume that they will eat the same rations they make at home. Like humans, the extra calories they burn along the aisle will need to be replaced.
Keep your dog on a leash
Also, releasing your dog from the leash is never a good idea on the Colorado Trail. There are horse riders, mountain bikers who ride at full throttle (and don’t expect a dog to cross their path), and many species of animals that may be disturbed by your dog. A light but strong strap with a secure clip is a really good idea, as after a few miles you will feel the extra few ounces of the heavier one.
Another good item that we should always take are the illuminated LED dog collars. They are available in both rechargeable and battery models. For camping and hiking, we prefer those that use small 3.5-volt batteries, as they usually last longer and do not rely on recharging. Leaving the lighted collar on all night, we can always see where our dogs are, as well as have a little extra ambient light in the tent to help us orient ourselves.
We hope that you and your puppies will soon be able to go out and take a walk on the Colorado trail!
Note: Dogs are allowed on the Colorado Trail, except for six miles of segment 1. The “no dogs” section begins at the north end of the trail at Waterton Canyon and extends to where the trail leaves the gravel road on the South Platte River and once again path becomes a singletrack.
* There are actually 567 miles of the Colorado Trail, as some sections diverge and alternate routes run.