Hike the Big Thompson this weekend

Big Thompson River
Big Thompson River (Photo credit: ScottE22)

It is official. There is snow on the mountains. But it is not time to wax up those skis or that board yet. The hiking season goes down swinging until the mounds of snow smother it. So keep on trekking.

This week, I recommend taking a trip up Round Mountain. It is a steep 4.5 miles in the big Thompson Canyon. It’s worth every step. Seriously, this trail has some spectacular sights.

The trail starts with a very steep climb through dense forest. Only a few steps and the trailhead disappears in the greenery. Also, at the start, the trail is very wide and easy to follow. But once the trail curves into a set of switchbacks that weave up the side of the canyon, it levels out a little and narrows.

When I did this hike, there was a slight dusting of snow. The trail is very easy to lose. Quick tip, follow footsteps. But if you do lose it, pay particular attention to the trees. You should see the space between them where the trail runs.

At the end of almost every switchback you’ll find a great view of the Big Thompson Canyon from above, slithering between the foothills. You’ll also see a wide panorama of the foothills, the plains and Fort Collins and Loveland.

Shortly after the rocky switchbacks start, there are a few dips. This makes for a nice break from the climb. But save the energy for the uphill on the return.

The whole time that you’re on this side of the mountain, you’ll hear the whispering rush of the Big Thompson River (It’s unreal).

Then the trail curves around to the backside of the mountain. Here, you’ll hike at the base of some stunningly golden cliffs and through some narrow rock formations. If you like to boulder, I recommend coming up here when it warms up.

The trail continues to curve around the mountain, encircling the summit. From the west side, you’ll see a sweeping view of the Front Range and Long’s Peak. With the snow, they literally glow in the distance. You’ll find some great spots for a new profile pic.

I would say that the views along the trail serve as compensation for the summit. At the top, there still is a lot of tree cover, so there are not as many views. But other hikers have built some pretty impressive carns (rocks stacked on top of one another to help other hikers know they are on the right path). Check it out!

To get here, take College Avenue, Shields Street or Taft Hill Road down into Loveland. Turn Left on Eisenhower Boulevard (Highway 34). Continue up the Big Thompson Canyon. You will pass Viestenz-Smith Picnic area on the right. Go another 50 yards and the trailhead will be on the left. If the trailhead is full, park in the picnic area. No worries about a fee — it’s free.