The Joy of a Strenuous Hike in the Colorado High Country

This is Colorado
This is Colorado

When you go hiking in the mountains of Colorado, you expect the hikes to be fairly strenuous. Unless you’re going on a relatively short hike, there is most likely going to be a significant change in elevation.  After all, you’re in the mountains and if you’re going to go hiking, it isn’t going to be flat.  With that said, some hikes are harder than others.  We’ve hiked to top of Pikes Peak, which is a 12 mile (19 kilometer) hike one-way to the summit and an elevation gain of over 8,000 feet (or 2,500 meters) as well as hiked on trails with ledges that were only as wide as our feet.  We’re definitely not rock climbers, but from time to time you have to do some boulder scrambling in order to reach some of the more remote locations when hiking.

View from the Trail
View from the Trail
Gorgeous Waterfall
Gorgeous Waterfall
Mountain Pond
Mountain Pond
Rugged Peaks
Rugged Peaks
Mountain Summit
Mountain Summit
Cabin on the Trail
Cabin on the Trail
There were Lots of Waterfalls
There were Lots of Waterfalls
Rushing Water
Rushing Water

The hike that we took during one of our trips to Breckenridge, Colorado, was one of those hikes.  The interesting thing about hiking when you have to scale some rocks or go on the edge of some steep cliffs is that it is usually more unnerving going down than it is going up.  When you’re going up the mountain, your focus is on the trail ahead of you and the reaching the top of whatever you’re scaling.  When you’re heading down, you tend to see how steep things really are and that makes it a little bit more scary.

Looking Down at Breckenridge
Looking Down at Breckenridge
This was the Easy Part
This was the Easy Part
Looking Down at the Trail Below
Looking Down at the Trail Below
One of the Lower Ponds
One of the Lower Ponds
Gorgeous View from the Trail
Gorgeous View from the Trail
Waterfall Down to the Pond
Waterfall Down to the Pond
The Peak Above the Pond
The Peak Above the Pond

We almost turned around a couple of times during the hike, but the payoff at the end was worth the effort.  As is often the case when you hike in Colorado, the views at the peak or the end of a trail are absolutely spectacular.  This particular hike brought us to a gorgeous pond where we sat and ate a brief lunch while we watched the mountain goats relax on the boulders above us.  It was just the two of us and nature, and it was one of the most tranquil and relaxing experiences that we’ve had hiking.  Perhaps it was due to the lack of oxygen and exhaustion, but the beauty around us was almost euphoric.

Resting by the Pond
Resting by the Pond
Mountain Goats
Mountain Goats
Another Waterfall
Another Waterfall
Tranquil Pond
Tranquil Pond
Mountain Stream
Mountain Stream
Another Summit
Another Summit
Edge of the Pond
Edge of the Pond

Unfortunately all hikes must end and eventually you have to work your way back down and back to reality and to civilization.  On our way back down, when we reached the spot where we had climbed up several boulders along a very steep cliff, we scooted ourselves down as opposed to walking, not wanting to tumble down into the ravine.  Hearts pounding, once we were down from the boulders, it was back to a normal hike and we were able to once again enjoy that beauty that surrounded us.  There truly isn’t anything like hiking in the mountains and totally immersing oneself in nature.

Normal Trail
Normal Trail
Interesting Tree Trunk
Interesting Tree Trunk
Clear Blue Sky
Clear Blue Sky
Another View of the Pond
Another View of the Pond
Trickling Waterfall
Trickling Waterfall
Steep Terrain
Steep Terrain

How to See Wildlife When Hiking

We’ve been hiking in the mountains for years and have been fortunate to see our share of wildlife. Even better, we haven’t seen any bears or mountain lions, but we’ve come across fresh tracks and have been pretty certain that they’ve seen us. They say that if you hike in the mountains of Colorado, on about one out of ten hikes, a mountain lion has seen you, even though you don’t see them. With that in mind, we thought we’d share some tips to help you see wildlife when you hike, but always put safety first.  Seasoned hikers will likely notice that most of these tips are in complete contrast to the tips for avoiding bears when hiking.  If you’re hiking in bear country, always talk to the rangers and find out where there have been recent sightings and where the bears are most likely to be active.  Never intentionally put yourself in harm’s way.

Black Bear
Black Bear in Yellowstone
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Mule Deer next to Trail

1. Be extremely observant – This is probably the most obvious, but if you’re not constantly scanning the area around, you’re likely walking by animals without even knowing it.  It is always best if you see the animals before they see you, especially if there is even a remote chance that the animal could harm you, which is almost always the case.  Almost any animal when startled or threatened has the potential to attack, so seeing them first allows you to control the situation.

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Elk
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Wild Turkeys

2. Don’t make a lot of noise, talking in quieter voices – You don’t have to be completely silent, in fact we’d recommend that you make some noise and talk, just a normal pitch. If you’re making some noise, you’re less likely to startle an animal that perhaps you didn’t see, but still be quiet enough not to spook an animal that is farther away. There was one time when we were hiking near Beaver Creek, Colorado, when we ended up startling a young doe, even though we were talking and not being overly quiet. The deer literally ran into us as she made here escape, scaring us as much as we scared her.

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Blending in with the Trees
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Deer Checking Us Out

3. Hike in smaller groups, usually three or less – Pretty much for the same reason as number two, the larger the group, the more noise that you make. Also, the more people in the group, the more motion that you make, the more reflective surfaces to catch the sun, the more noticeable that you are. Remember, the animals are watching for you as much as you might be searching for them. Just as you are more likely to notice a herd of deer versus as single deer, so is it true of them seeing you.

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Warning Sign
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Mom with Baby Ducks

4. Watch for anything that moves – Being observant and scanning the horizon isn’t always enough, you need to pay attention to any motion that see. Sure, more often than not, it will be caused by the wind, but the animals are camouflaged, making them hard to see. What at first seems like the rustling of a leaf, might just turn out to be the wiggling of an ear. And if you see one animal, be extra careful, there are probably several more just out of sight.

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Laying in the Grass
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Trying to Hide

5. Hike more remote, less frequented, trails – It doesn’t do any good to do everything possible to see wildlife if there are a hundred hikers in front of you doing the exact opposite. Getting away from roads, towns, and most importantly other hikers, will definitely increase your chances of seeing wildlife. Be smart, though, carry bear spray, phone, flashlight, compass, and extra food if you’re heading into remote areas. We always stay on well-marked trails and don’t go venturing off into the woods. The national forest system in Colorado is huge and you could easily get yourself lost for days if decide to go trailblazing.

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Big Horn Sheep Up Close
Moose
Majestic Moose in Yellowstone

6. Hike near dawn or dusk – Animals are always most active around these times, so be extra alert when hiking at these times of day. Light can be an issue as the shadows are longer and it isn’t as easy to see off into the distance. Take your time when hiking during these times so that you don’t startle an animal that you didn’t see as well as to give yourself time to truly see what is all around you.

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Birds are Wildlife Too
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Hard to See

7. Carry binoculars or camera with a telephoto lens – Obviously it makes it easier to see animals in the distance if you can zoom in and focus closer on them. It is also the safest way to observe animals without putting yourself at risk. We’re not professional photographers, but we did invest in a telephoto lens a few years ago and it was one of the best investments that we’ve made.

Grizzly Bear
Grizzly Bear Shot with Telephoto Lens
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Adorable Chipmunk

8. Spend time in locations that are likely to draw animals – Sources of water and food are the most likely places to find animals, so spending time near those locations, especially at dusk or dawn, will increase your chances of seeing them. Animals also use the trails to get through the forest as much as hikers do, simply because it is easier for them to walk on the trails, so staying on the trails will increase your chances of seeing them. Sometimes the most likely place to see animals isn’t where you might expect it. One of our funniest stories about seeing animals in the wild was when we were in Estes Park, Colorado, many years ago. We had gone hiking at dusk and waited by an open field with a stream running through it and, after much waiting, a herd of elk finally appeared. It was autumn, so the temperatures quickly dropped and we were frozen by the time we got back to the car, but we were happy to have seen the elk. We drove back to our hotel and lo and behold there were hundreds of elk walking around the property nibbling on the fresh grass. It hadn’t crossed our minds that they would be drawn to the green grass of the hotel versus foraging for food in the wild.

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Elk in the River
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Eating Grass in Town

Hopefully you will have as much luck as we’ve had seeing wildlife by using these tips.  We can’t say it enough, though, be smart about it and don’t do anything too risky.  Always respect wildlife, some animals may look cute, but they are wild animals and therefore can be unpredictable.

Going on Leisurely Hikes During the Autumn Season

We love hiking year-round, but it can be especially rewarding during autumn when the leaves are changing to their vibrant colors. We are heading to Park City, Utah this coming weekend and we are expecting to see at least pockets of Aspen tree groves turning to their golden color. Throughout the years, we have made sure to get into the mountains during September to see the beautiful leaves and although each year is very similar, each year is also unique. Depending on how much rain the mountains have gotten or whether there has been frost or snow already can certainly change how dramatic the autumn colors are when we go hiking. Generally speaking, when we go hiking during autumn, it is more about the beautiful scenery and less about going on a strenuous hike, so these hikes are some of the most enjoyable.

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Leaves on the Trail
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Looking Up at the Blue Skies
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Colorful Scenery
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Aspen Grove
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Looking Towards Pikes Peak
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Looking Across Mountains
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Rugged Hut Along the Trail

The great thing about hiking in the high country is that you get a mix of seeing the changing colors up close as well as the tapestry of colors across the skyline. The park that we usually hike in September is located on the backside of Pikes Peak and the scenery is always amazing regardless of the time of year. The colors are mostly the golds and yellows of the aspen groves surrounded by the deep greens of the pine trees, which is different than the reds and oranges that you find in most other places. If you get a chance to visit Colorado in autumn, we’d highly recommend that you get into the mountains, even if just by car.

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Stand Alone Tree
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Hiking the Trail
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More Views from the Trail
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Beautiful Scenery
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The Colorado Mountains
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Shadows on the Trail
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Some Leaves Starting to Change