Horsetooth Rock (7,259′) | Horsetooth Mountain Open Space
Fort Collins, CO | 03/14/20| 6.20 miles | 1,555′ gain
My friend Allie and I spent the morning making french toast and watching the season finale of The Bachelor. (Worst season ever, by the way.) After our lazy morning, we set out for Horsetooth Rock at the “early” hour of 2:15pm. I very rarely start a hike this late in the day, but the poor weather kept the fair weather folks at home.
We paid the gate attendant $9 for a day pass and parked in one of the many open parking spaces. It was strangely empty for a weekend. Horsetooth Mountain Open Space is always insanely busy. Kyle and I hiked to Horsetooth Falls and Horsetooth Rock (the two main attractions in the park) a few years prior and really enjoyed it. I was looking forward to doing this trail with Allie! We both love a good summit.
We set out on the Horsetooth Rock Trail, which heads up and up (and up) from the trailhead. We weren’t sure how long it would take us to summit, so we decided to visit the falls afterwards if we had enough daylight left.
The Horsetooth Rock Trail is one of the main trails in the park and is very well marked. As we climbed higher, it became foggier and we realized we wouldn’t have much of a view on top. A fresh blanket of snow awaited us, and we stopped often to admire ice crystals on various vegetation.
Horsetooth Rock is a rock formation at the summit of Horsetooth Mountain. It does actually look like a horse’s tooth from afar (think molar), and was apparently named as such by fur trappers and traders who passed through the area. But Native American legend states that an evil giant terrorized the region. One day, a warrior slashed out the giant’s heart, killing him. The rock is said to be the giant’s heart.
There are a number of side trails leading to various rock formations and overlooks. We stopped at most of them, though we couldn’t see much.
The trail is considered moderate but the summit is a Class 3 scramble. As we got closer to the summit block, the terrain became almost completely rock and we easily walked up these simpler sections.
The trail wraps around the back side of Horsetooth Rock and deposits you at the Class 3 section where you can then decide which route you’d like to take to the top. We picked a line that looked good and easily made our way up. There is a drop off here but we couldn’t see it due to the fog. (Probably a good thing!)
We spent quite a while on the summit trying to get pictures, but none really turned out great. It was weird not being able to see anything.
We took a closer look at our map and realized the trail we wanted to take to Horsetooth Falls was closed for nesting birds. We would have to backtrack quite a bit to see a waterfall that might be completely dry so we decided to skip it and visit next time instead. We picked a different line coming off the summit block which seemed a little harder than our ascent. But honestly, I was just glad to get some more practice scrambling!
Instead of following the main trail all the way back, we took one of the few alternate routes. The Audra Culver trail starts near the top of the Horsetooth Rock Trail and descends to the west about 3/4 of a mile before reconnecting with the main trail. This didn’t add a ton of mileage and we enjoyed a different perspective for the short distance. We then followed the main Horsetooth Rock trail all the way back to the trailhead, seeing only a few people the whole time.
A gorgeous late afternoon hike. Happy to summit even without views.