Bobcat Ridge: Where Not to Walk

Colorado’s Front Range has much to offer a hiker. It is important to know where to go. It’s also important to know where not to go.

When I began this year of working on the book Base Camp Denver, 101 Hikes Along Colorado’s Front Range, I set an arbitrary 2-hour driving radius from downtown. Scouring maps, I came up with a list of 264 hikes (of course I missed a few). Using armchair judgment, I weeded dozens out. Extending the boundary in some cases, I added more. Over the ensuing nine months I went out and walked or re-walked 163 trails, and wrote up 101 of them.

One hike that didn’t make the cut was Bobcat Ridge. I’d never been there when I pulled into its parking lot one morning last spring. By then I’d had a few months of research under my belt, and was learning to let the mountains speak to me and tell me where to go. And that morning they said, “Pass on this one.”

Bobcat Ridge Natural Area Trailhead
Photo by Pete KJ

Was I being fair? This bothered me. It bothered me so much I went back two weeks ago. One side effect of writing this book is that I am now more hopelessly addicted to hiking than ever. Fortunately I live here, and can channel my affliction into hiking once a week. I get to knock out many of the trails I passed on.

Off to Bobcat Ridge I went! Nine miles later I was on home stretch toward the car, grinning. I felt exhilarated by the lovely walk, and thrilled that I hadn’t wasted my time on this trail last spring. Here are some of the dings that keep Bobcat Ridge Natural Area out of the book:

Fire Burn: This area is part of 10,600 acres that were torched by a wildfire in 2000. The trees haven’t regenerated. Although hikes through burned zones can have a stark beauty to them, and several are included in the book, Bobcat Ridge is almost entirely devoid of trees. After 6 miles I finally reached some, and felt like I’d arrived at an oasis.

Starkly beautiful and yet still charred, Ginny Trail on Bobcat Ridge
Photo by Pete KJ

Sense of Destination: I like to “get somewhere” when I go hiking: to a mountain, a pass, a rock, a lake, a historical feature, a view. Something! Somewhere to stop, feel accomplishment, eat a snack, and head back from. Bobcat Ridge doesn’t really have such a destination. You climb a ridge and walk along it. From this foothill you see mostly other foothills. You get glimpses of the snowy Mummy Range, but they are fleeting.

Looping for Looping’s Sake: Some people prefer loop trips to out-and-backs. One reason, I suppose, is the ever-changing scenery. I’ve never understood this because I find scenery on out-and-back trails to be 100% different each way. I’m not averse to a loop as long as it is justified, but too often I find one portion to be about “getting somewhere,” and the rest to be about meandering for the sake of having a loop. It can start to feel contrived; like a carnival ride. Loops can also mean going down-and-up unnecessarily. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll do 7,000 feet of gain in a day, but I want it to be “getting somewhere.”

Bobcat Ridge’s main feature is a 9.5 mile loop. As I hiked the final 1.5 miles along the contours of hillside, in up-and-down fashion that felt like it went everywhere except the parking lot (which was in full view), I decided that if I ever returned, I’d just do the ridgetop as an out-and-back.

Now I feel like I’m being mean. In truth Bobcat Ridge is a fine place to hike. It’s especially good if you live nearby, and want an all-year workout spot that doesn’t involve a treadmill in a gym. The area does have lovely red hogback cliffs, and stark majestic vistas. It’s a good place to go AFTER you’ve done the 101 hikes.

I look forward to continuing this process! I am contemplating two sequels. One is called, “101 More Hikes.” The other is, “50 ½ Hikes to Not Bother Doing Along Colorado’s Front Range.”