Red Mountain Loop | Red Mountain Open Space
Wellington, CO | 04/18/21 | 7.78 miles | 899′ gain
I’ve come to enjoy my winter hikes at Red Mountain Open Space. This would be my third visit and the last one needed to have hiked every trail. Most people probably wouldn’t think to head to the Colorado/Wyoming border for a hike, but Red Mountain and the adjacent Soapstone Prairie offer miles of multi-use trails through prairie, red rock canyons, and even onto the Cheyenne Rim.
I was able to convince Diana to make the long trek north and the seemingly even longer trek down dirt roads to get to Red Mountain. (It’s quite literally in the middle of nowhere.) She had never been there before so I took the liberty of devising a loop that would give her a taste of Red Mountain and also allow me to finish up the last few trails I had remaining.
From the trailhead, we hiked west on the Bent Rock Trail. After 0.3 miles, the Bent Rock Trail splits; the right (west) fork heads into a red rock canyon and the left (south) fork loops around the canyon to the south. After a quick peek into the canyon, we returned to the intersection and followed the south fork into unknown territory.
The south fork of the Bent Rock Trail loops down and around the low mountain that forms the south wall of the canyon. Because we were bypassing the canyon, I assumed (wrongfully) that we would have a terribly boring journey. I was surprised to find more of the park’s iconic red rock formations as well as good views of Table Mountain to the south and the main part of the park to the north.
The trail looped around the west side of the mountain and met back up with the main trail after 2.0 miles. We turned left onto the Ruby Wash Trail and after just 0.3 miles, we took another left onto the K-Lynn Cameron Trail.
The K-Lynn Cameron Trail took us up into the hills west of the Big Hole. The trail marked the transition between the red rock/scrubby grassland to the east and the forested foothills to the west. The views here were the best of the day.
After 1.5 miles, we descended a series of tight switchbacks down to a small unnamed creek fringed with cottonwoods. There wasn’t much water flowing but it did provide a lovely change in scenery as we followed the creek down to the stone circles and the shepherd/cowboy cabins.
A short spur trail leaves the K-Lynn Cameron Trail to visit the stone circles and the cabins. There are interpretive signs along this spur telling of this area’s human history.
The stone circles were built by Indigenous people to anchor their tepees and structures. The rocks were used to weigh down the hides and could be moved to the side when the group moved to their summer camp. Hides and poles were cached nearby and the structures were re-pitched in the stone circles upon their return in the winter. This particular camp has a number of stone circles, only a few of which are obvious to the untrained eye. It seems that this was a good camp location due to its proximity to water, edible plants, and ridges and arroyos that provided cover from the elements.
The cabins were used by shepherds and cowboys working for the Warren Livestock Company. The company apparently pioneered some new ranching techniques here, such as running sheep and cattle on the same pastures. Francis E. Warren, the owner of Warren Livestock, was Wyoming’s first governor and later a US senator.
Shortly after leaving the cabins, we reached an intersection with the Ruby Wash and Big Hole Wash Trails. We continued straight onto the Big Hole Wash Trail for 0.8 miles and then took a right onto the Sinking Sun Trail, which took us back to the trailhead.
It was a little bittersweet to finish up the trails at Red Mountain, but I know I can always come back to do a repeat or two.
I would like to acknowledge that Red Mountain Open Space is on the ancestral land of the Očhéthi Šakówiŋ (Great Sioux Nation), Cheyenne, and Arapaho.