Hiking Horsetooth Rock Trail – Fort Collins, Colorado

The Horsetooth Mountain Open Space contains 29 miles of trails that can be traveled via hiking, mountain biking, horseback riding, and nordic walking. In addition, leashed dogs can accompany hikers in the park. I recommend Horsetooth Falls Trail for hiking with kids. Finally, there are backcountry camping sites available.

The Horsetooth Mountain Open Space parking lot for hiking to Horsetooth Rock is located about 20 minutes west of Fort Collins, CO and requires a $6 day pass or $65 Larimer county resident year pass. The year pass starts and ends on January 1st so you want to buy it at the beginning of each year to maximize your investment. In addition, the year pass gives you access to other parks and open spaces in Larimer County. The subsequent Google map shows the location of the parking lot and summit (summit marked by a hiker icon). In addition, the map shows the beginnings of both the hiking and mountain bike trails along with how they diverge, converge, and overlap. The trail head parking has restrooms and water. Cell phone service is available in most of the park.

Hiking to Horsetooth Rock

The trail to Horsetooth Rock is 2.5 miles long and takes about an hour and 45 minutes to hike with a child in a child carrier. It is a moderately difficult trail with primarily smooth trail surface and an approximate elevation gain of 1,400 feet; from 5,800 to 7,200 feet. There are multiple routes to Horsetooth Rock but the following information was gathered by taking the most direct route and staying on the foot-only paths.
The 1,400 foot gain in elevation is mitigated by switchbacks and stair cases so the hike is easier than it sounds.
Our two and half year old daughter had a lot fun climbing up the steps cut into the following rock.

The closer you get to Horsetooth Rock, the harder it is to find shade and, thus, if you do find shade it will probably look something like the following picture.

In order to get on top of Horsetooth Rock, you need to hike up and on top of the ridge of rocks in the next picture. This last stretch is doable for most hikers but is worth noting because you will need to use your hands to scramble up the rocks. We took turns summiting and left our child behind because it was not worth it to bring her up.

In my opinion, from on top of Horsetooth Rock, the western view is the best view; as seen in the subsequent picture. There is something awe inspiring about looking over the edge of a rock face to a valley directly below as opposed to the eastern view which contains a long distance view of Fort Collins.
The panoramic view spans from Devil’s Backbone in Loveland all the way to the Poudre River Canyon.
Unlike other hiking trails in Fort Collins (e.g., Arthur’s Rock), the summit of Horsetooth Rock provides a clear view to the west that includes Longs Peak.

As you will see in the following Horsetooth Rock summit video, getting on top of Horsetooth Rock requires that you walk on wide but uneven rocks with sheer drop offs on all sides. Although it is not particularly dangerous, it is recommended that you take off your heavy backpack or a child in a Kelty backpack before climbing to the top. We saw several hikers using trekking poles to maintain their balance.

In sum, the popularity of this hike is well deserved because of its limited difficulty and rewarding rocky summit. What’s more, Horsetooth Rock offers the best views of any hike we have done within 45 minutes of Fort Collins. Check out our list of other hiking trails near Fort Collins.

Mountain Biking to Horsetooth Rock

You can mountain bike most of the way to Horsetooth Rock using the South Ridge multi-use trail (a.k.a service road) as seen in the following picture. The multi-use trail overlaps with the Horsetooth Rock trail in a couple of spots. It does not look like a very exciting ride since the service road is not technical in nature. However, it would be a challenging cardio workout because of the prolonged climb in elevation.

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