Stout Loop | Horsetooth Mountain Open Space
Fort Collins, CO | 11/14/20 | 6.91 miles | 1,303′ gain
Most people go to Horsetooth Mountain Open Space to climb Horsetooth Mountain (aka Horsetooth Rock), but with 29 miles of trails, there is plenty more to explore. This was one such day when Tori and I wanted to get out and get some exercise. We picked the Stout Loop at the base of Horsetooth Mountain. There are a couple different ways to get there, but we started from the lower Soderberg Trailhead since we’d never been there before.
I’ll admit we had low expectations going in and were more concerned with enjoying nature and getting some exercise than we were seeing anything extraordinary. But it seems that whenever I go in with this attitude, I’m always blown away by what can be found on an “ordinary” hike, and this was no exception.
The Soderberg Trailhead starts at the historic Soderberg Ranch. Many of the original buildings have been restored and preserved including the ranch house and various outbuildings.
The Horsetooth Valley was settled in the late 1800s by various families all wanting a go at ranching. The nearby town of Stout (which was flooded when Horsetooth Reservoir was dammed) was the valley’s main community. Swan Johnson was one fellow who immigrated from Sweden to the US. He eventually ended up on a neighboring ranch where his niece Wilhelmina and her husband John Soderberg came to stay with him around 1900. They had 11 children, many of whom worked at stone quarries on the ranch and later a sawmill. Their neighbors the Herrington’s were the original homesteaders of the Soderberg Ranch. Wilhelmina and a few of the children sold Swan Johnson’s ranch and moved onto the Herrington’s Ranch in the 1940s. They were the last owners before selling to Larimer County.
Many of the area’s families are memorialized in Horsetooth Mountain’s trail names. We hiked on a number of trails named after these early pioneers.
From the Soderberg Trailhead, we followed the Swan Johnson Trail north. There was apparently a race going on as there were a ton of runners everywhere and markers at each intersection. We did our best to stay out of their way.
After about 0.6 easy miles, we turned left on Towers Road and began to climb out of the valley. Towers Road leads 3 miles up to some radio towers, but we only stayed on it for about 1/2 mile. We turned right on the Stout Trail and left the racers behind for singletrack.
While I’ve titled this hike “Stout Loop”, the Stout Trail strangely doesn’t make a full loop. It creates somewhat of a 3/4 loop and then follows various other trails for the last section. We were briefly on the Sawmill, Loggers, Carey Springs, back on Towers, and then Herrington Trails before we met back up with the Stout Trail to finish the loop.
These upper trails are all forested singletrack. Since they’re pretty far into the park, they don’t see much traffic other than runners and bikers. We saw few people.
Once back on the Stout Trail, we reached an overlook of Horsetooth Rock. This is probably the best view of it I’ve ever seen and was totally unexpected. Horsetooth Rock does look like a horse’s tooth (think molar) and was fun to see. This was the highlight of the hike.
The Stout Trail looped around to the south with views of Inlet Bay. These lower sections are mostly open and not forested. We met back up with Towers Road and followed that back down to the Swan Johnson Trail and the car.
It was another great day in the mountains. We weren’t expecting much but had a great view of Horsetooth Rock and near solitude once away from the Towers Road runners.