Mount McConnel (8,020′) | Cache la Poudre Wilderness & Roosevelt National Forest
Livermore, CO | 05/27/21 | 4.98 miles | 1,577′ gain | YDS Class 2+
Although it’s not all that far from me, I hadn’t explored very far up the Poudre Canyon (SH 14). It seems that it’s always been my friend Tori suggesting hikes up that way, and this time was no different. I’d never heard of Mount McConnel or the Cache la Poudre Wilderness that surrounded it, but I was looking forward to visiting a new area and exploring a little further into the Poudre Canyon.
The parking situation was a little confusing as there is separate parking/access for campers, hikers, and picnickers. We parked in the hiker section at the picnic area, which had five numbered spots. A day use fee ($6) is required, but they do take America the Beautiful passes. After filling out the permit slip and displaying our pass, we set out for the start of the trail, just past the campground. The camp hosts buzzed up in their golf cart to see what we were doing, but set us free after a seemingly unnecessary round of questioning. Finally, we were on the trail.
Our route began on the Kreutzer Nature Trail, a 2-mile loop named for William (Bill) Kreutzer. Kreutzer became the first official forest ranger in the US in 1898, and served in various posts all over Colorado during his 41-year career. He was the Forest Supervisor of the Roosevelt National Forest (where we were) from 1921-1939, and is known for his efforts in modernizing fire prevention and forest management.
The trail switchbacks up the north side of Mount McConnel, moving between areas of living forest and burn scars from the 2012 High Park Fire. While it’s overwhelming to witness the impact of wildfires, I did appreciate the open views. After about 0.8 miles, the Mount McConnel Trail leaves the Kreutzer Nature Trail. Mount McConnel is named for another forest ranger, R.C. McConnel, one of the first rangers in the Poudre District.
After a few more switchbacks, we crested a ridge and had a nice view of the snowcapped peaks to the southwest.
We skirted around the false summit and reached the Cache la Poudre Wilderness boundary just below the true summit. In just a few short minutes, we reached the rocky summit.
On the way down, we decided to take the “Primitive” Trail. This trail descends the east side of Mount McConnel and isn’t maintained. I felt the warnings for this trail were a bit extreme, as we didn’t seem to have any trouble. There were some rocky sections that required a bit of easy scrambling, but otherwise it was just a standard trail, though a bit steeper & narrower than the main trail.
After about 1.5 miles on the Primitive Trail, we reconnected with the Kreutzer Nature Trail. This junction was not well marked and so overgrown with vegetation that it was easy to go the wrong way. In fact, a couple attempting to hike the nature trail did just that. We found them a short ways up the Primitive Trail, where they asked us for directions. We hiked down to the junction together and after a minute or two, we figured out the correct way to go. Once on track, the Kreutzer Trail took us back down to the road and we followed that to the car.
I would like to acknowledge that Mount McConnel is on the ancestral land of the Očhéthi Šakówiŋ (Great Sioux Nation), Núu-agha-tʉvʉ-pʉ̱ (Ute), Cheyenne, Arapaho, and Eastern Shoshone.