Devil’s Backbone, Loveland

In response to booming growth that threatened to cover northern Colorado with houses and malls and such, Larimer County voters in 1995 decided to funnel portions of sales tax dollars to a fund dedicated to preservation. The first beneficiary was a hilly mosaic topped with a towering, rocky spine that commanded views from afar.

Just as it was the first county open space, Devil’s Backbone near Loveland is also among the most popular. The trailhead parking lot quickly fills on weekends and holidays. It is the starting point for a quick gulp of fresh air or a much longer excursion on foot, bike or horseback; the Blue Sky Trail stretches many miles north toward Fort Collins, connecting with other beloved preserves such as Coyote Ridge and Horsetooth Mountain.

On this visit to Devil’s Backbone, we decided on an enticing landmark: The Keyhole, as it is mapped.

For those familiar with the route of the same name on a certain 14,000-foot peak, think much more family-friendly. From this “keyhole,” one looks west to Longs Peak, perhaps glad to not be testing that hair-raising ascent.

At Devil’s Backbone, the trail starts through what’s known as Hidden Valley, a tranquil spread tucked between hills. The namesake trail is for bikes, runners and horses, while Wild Loop is reserved for hikers. At the start of the loop, we stayed straight, opting to reap the reward near the end of the trip.

A little more than a mile in, we continued the loop by veering left uphill for the ancient formation. A post on the well-marked trail pointed right for The Keyhole, a marvelous overlook framed by rock.

The trail spans about a mile back to the parking lot.

Trip report: 2.56 miles round trip (loop), 374 feet elevation gain

Difficulty: Easy

Getting there: Going north on Interstate 25, take exit 257B for U.S. 34, which runs west through Loveland. Turn right (north) for Hidden Valley Drive and continue to the open space.

FYI: Open sunrise to sunset. Dogs on leash. Watch for rattlesnakes.

SETH BOSTER, THE GAZETTE

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