Friday, August 7, 2020

Roosevelt National Forest: Waldrop Trail to Brainard Lake (Blog Hike #810)

Trails: Waldrop, South St. Vrain, and Brainard Lake Cutoff Trails
Hike Location: Roosevelt National Forest, Brainard Lake Recreation Area
Geographic Location: northwest of Boulder, CO (40.08095, -105.53491)
Length: 6.2 miles
Difficulty: 7/10 (Moderate/Difficult)
Last Hiked: July 2020
Overview: The back road to Brainard Lake.
Area Information:
Hike Route Map:
Summary Video: (coming August 14)
Photo Highlight:
Directions to the trailhead: From Boulder, take SR 119 west 16.5 miles to the town of Nederland.  At the center of Nederland, take the second exit from the traffic circle to begin heading north on SR 72.  Drive SR 72 north 11.5 miles to the signed entrance road for Brainard Lake, which is located on the left just past the town of Ward.  Turn left and drive the paved Brainard Lake entrance road 2.5 miles to the signed Gateway Trailhead parking area on the right.  Park here.

The hike: Established in 1902, Roosevelt National Forest comprises 813,799 mountainous acres east of the Continental Divide in northern Colorado's Front Range.  The forest was originally part of the Medicine Bow Forest Reserve that today comprises large sections of southeastern Wyoming, but it was renamed Colorado National Forest in 1910 and renamed again in 1932 to honor President Theodore Roosevelt, an early leader in conservation.  In some sense the forest forms a shield for adjacent Rocky Mountain National Park, but it has some interesting and scenic destinations in its own right.
            One of the forest's most popular and scenic areas is Brainard Lake.  The charming sub-alpine lake sits at the base of the Continental Divide, yet it is only 45 minutes from downtown Boulder.  Visitors can drive to Brainard Lake, but that option requires a large entrance fee, plus the lake's popularity means that the parking lots around the lake fill up quickly.  Thus, a better way to get to Brainard Lake is to hike the 6.2 mile out-and-back described here.  This hike has the additional advantage of letting you see some classic high-elevation Colorado pine forest up close and personal.
Brainard Gateway Trailhead
        From the information building at the Brainard Gateway Trailhead, pick up the Waldrop Trail (Roosevelt National Forest Trail #814) as it heads west down a gradual slope covered with pine trees.  These pine trees will be your near-constant companions on this hike.  After only a few hundred feet, you reach an intersection with the Sourdough Trail, a multi-day backpack trail that goes right and left.  Continue straight to remain on the Waldrop Trail.
Hiking through the pines
        The well-constructed and well-maintained trail climbs gradually, and a couple of wet areas are crossed via short wooden boardwalks.  The Waldrop Trail doubles as a snow-shoeing trail in the winter, and at 0.4 miles the summer and winter routes split with the summer route going left.  The winter activities explain why all of the trail signs stand well over your head: you would be standing on several feet of snow here in the winter.  At 0.7 miles, the spur trail to Red Rock Lake and the Brainard Lake Road exits left.  Angle right to keep heading for Brainard Lake.
Rough section of trail
        The next mile is the hardest part of the hike as the trail dips in and out of several ravines on a rocky, rooty, and occasionally wet course.  The overall elevation change is insignificant, but the rough trail conditions make for slow going.  1.7 miles into the hike, the trail enters a small meadow that gives your first views of 13,229-foot Mount Audubon to the northwest, and another spur trail exits left to the Brainard Lake Road.  Angle right to continue the Waldrop Trail and walk across the meadow.  I saw a large number of chipmunks scurrying around this meadow when I hiked here on a warm summer afternoon.
Mount Audubon across the meadow
        The trail descends slightly over some narrow wooden boardwalks to cross South St. Vrain Creek on a wooden footbridge at 1.9 miles.  The creek is a classic clear-flowing Rocky Mountain stream, and the sound of the abundant water cascading over rocks makes for a pleasant ambiance.  Next comes the steepest climb of the hike, but the trail only gains just over 200 vertical feet in 0.7 miles.  Nevertheless, the 10,000+ foot elevation can make this climb seem much harder than usual.
South St. Vrain Creek
        At 2.2 miles, the Waldrop Trail ends at an intersection with the South St. Vrain Trail.  Turn left to continue climbing on the South St. Vrain Trail.  This trail is named for the cascading creek that remains within earshot for most of the trail's distance.  2.5 miles into the hike, you reach the top of a pair of switchbacks where the Brainard Lake Cutoff Trail exits left.  Turn left to begin the final leg of our journey to Brainard Lake.
Starting the final leg
        One of the newest trails at Brainard Lake, the Cutoff Trail climbs a little more before leveling out and reaching the dam that forms Brainard Lake 3 miles into the hike.  To get the best lake views with the most solitude, head up the right (north) shore and rest on one of the boulders that sits on the lake shore.  The view is classic Colorado: the clear lake waters ripple in the foreground, pine trees shaped as perfect cones cover the hillside in the middle ground, and the snow-capped bare rock of Pawnee Peak and Shoshoni Peak on the Continental Divide punctuate the sky in the distance.  Unlike people who drove to Brainard Lake, you earned this view, so take some time to enjoy it.
Brainard Lake
        Several trails head further upward from Brainard Lake, and they lead to other scenic destinations such as Mount Audubon, Long Lake, Lake Isabelle, and Pawnee Pass.  These areas are worth the exploration if you have the time and energy.  When you are ready to return to the Gateway Trailhead, a ski trail provides an alternate return route, but it becomes very wet and overgrown in the summer.  Thus, the best option is to retrace your steps along the Waldrop Trail to complete the hike.

Thursday, August 6, 2020

Indian Rock Park (Blog Hike #809)

Trails: (unnamed)
Hike Location: Indian Rock Park
Geographic Location: east side of Salina, KS (38.83735, -97.58878)
Length: 0.8 miles
Difficulty: 2/10 (Easy)
Last Hiked: July 2020
Overview: A short loop featuring rock formations and a pond.
Park Information:
Hike Route Map:
Summary Video: (coming November 27)
Photo Highlight:
Directions to the trailhead: Near Salina, take I-70 to Ohio Street (exit 253).  Exit and go south on Ohio St.  Drive Ohio St. south 3.1 miles to Gypsum Avenue and turn left on Gypsum Ave.  Drive Gypsum Ave. east 0.2 miles to Indiana Avenue.  Turn right on Indiana Ave., then almost immediately turn left to enter Indian Rock Park.  Park in the first small gravel parking lot on the right.

The hike: Owned and maintained by the City of Salina, Indian Rock Park consists of roughly 60 acres on the heavily residential east side of Salina.  The park is most famous for some small waterfalls on the Smoky Hill River, which forms the park's eastern boundary, and also for its namesake rock.  The rock's name comes from the Battle of Indian Rock in 1857, where the eastern Kansa, Delaware, and Potawatomi nations successfully held the rock's high ground against the western Cheyenne and Arapahoe nations.  This battle effectively eradicated the western tribes from present-day central Kansas.  The City of Salina was founded next to Indian Rock in 1858.
            In terms of amenities, the park offers only a small lodge, 3 picnic shelters, and the small system of nature trails featured in this hike.  The trail system was in need of some maintenance when I came here, and that point leads to one warning about this park.  Due to the park's urban location and the lack of trail maintenance, I might not come here on evenings or weekends due to personal safety concerns.  I came here on a Wednesday morning, saw more rabbits than people, and had a nice hike.
Entrance Trail
        From the parking lot, head down the dirt/gravel entrance trail and then turn left to begin a clockwise journey around the trail system.  Prairie wildflowers of various kinds line the trail as it climbs to an overlook of the park's pond.  The small grass-ringed pond appears nearly 70 feet below you, and the relatively tall buildings of downtown Salina appear in the distance.  Be careful where you step up here: the soil and rocks that make up this bluff are very loose and easily eroded, so putting a foot in the wrong place could send you tumbling down the steep hill.
High above the pond
        The trail continues climbing along the bluff with the pond downhill to the right until it comes out at the park road at 0.2 miles.  The park's lodge sits just to the right of this point.  Walk south (downhill) along the road for a short distance, then look to the left for a two-track gravel road that leads to the river.  Step over the chain that blocks vehicle access to this road and head for the river.
Smoky Hill River
        Next you pass some partially obstructed views of the river, which was wide and muddy on my visit, before curving right near the park's south boundary.  The open prairie is replaced by dense shrubs in this wet area.  At 0.45 miles, the trail curves right to cross the park road again and arrive at what used to be this park's main trailhead.  Indian Rock itself stands here, and an historical interpretive sign tells about the 1857 Battle of Indian Rock.
Indian Rock

Final leg of trail
        The final leg of this hike may be the roughest one as the trail heads north around and over some large boulders with the pond you stood high above earlier now just feet to your right.  Some numbered posts indicate the existence of an interpretive guide, but none were available on my visit.  After passing the final pond view, you come out at the dirt/gravel entrance trail beside the parking lot that contains your car, thus signalling the end of the hike.