Maxwell to Reservoir Ridge Natural Area – Map – Fort Collins, CO

The Maxwell and Reservoir Ridge natural areas are located in the foothills about 10 minutes west of Fort Collins, Colorado. The primary activities on the trails are mountain biking, trail running, horseback riding, and leashed dog walking. There are several free parking lots that include restrooms and water with some areas including free pet waste bags. Cell phone service has been strong during our visits.

Northeast Maxwell Natural Area Trail Entrance

It is approximately 6.0 miles from the northeast Maxwell Area trailhead to the northeast Reservoir Ridge Natural Area trailhead. The Foothills trail between these two natural areas climbs the ridge three times and spans elevations from 5,200 to 5,500 feet. The following picture shows the northeast Maxwell Natural Area trail entrance that connects to Banyan drive near Prospect Road. The first stretch of trail is a long, slow incline with loose gravel.

Foothills Trail North to Reservoir Ridge Natural Area

The Foothills Trail North, as seen in the left portion of the following picture, leads to the Reservoir Ridge Natural Area. The very beginning of this trail has a steep incline with very technical spots to maneuver. Check out the Maxwell to Pineridge Natural Area blog post for an easier mountain bike ride south from this intersection.

The initial climb up the eastern ridge is 0.5 miles long with an elevation gain of 200 feet.The following picture is representative of the ruggedness and technicality of this opening climb. I have yet to mountain bike this climb without needing to stop at least once.
The subsequent picture is looking back down on the aforementioned climb and illustrates that the final stretch is less challenging because it is less rocky.
The Maxwell Area portion of the Foothills trail levels off before a short climb over the ridge.
After crossing the road the first time the trail cuts left and heads down the western side of the ridge, as is seen in the following picture. The first time I mountain biked this trail I mistakenly stayed straight on the narrower trail which took me down a very rocky trail with a big tree in the middle of it and which required me to dismount for 20 to 30 feet. Thus, I recommend turning left when on a mountain bike and be prepared for a set of drops shortly after making the turn.

The Fort Collins Foothills trail descends towards to the water front for 1.5 mile stretch that is not very rugged nor technical.
Riding along the single track trail near the Horsetooth Reservoir is both scenic and refreshing because the wind and the water can provide an ocean boardwalk-like experience.
The following stretch of trail is easy but does include a few washouts that would not be fun to fall into.
The subsequent picture shows an ambiguous section of trail where the road bears right but the trail bears left.
After climbing up the western side of the ridge, the Foothills trail crosses the road and heads towards the eastern side of the ridge. Before crossing the street, you can bear left to take a narrow trail about 0.25 miles to a parking lot (where it dead ends).
After crossing the street and heading over the top of the ridge, the trail then traverses the eastern edge of the ridge. So far, the mountain bike ride has been about 2.5 miles long. The next 0.5 mile stretch of trail is extremely rugged (by my fully rigid standards) which is fine for hikers but can be tough for trail runners and mountain bikers. Further, from this point, it is an additional 3.0 miles to the Reservoir Ridge trailhead. The first time I mountain biked on this trail, I turned around here and headed back to Maxwell Natural Area.
If you are going to turn around and head back to Maxwell then this is the place to do it because the trail becomes steeper, more technical, and rugged from this point forward, as can be seen in the following picture.

I walked my bike down most of this rocky descent. After taking the following picture, I mounted my bike, hit a rock, went over my handle bars, and landed with the top of my head hitting a flat rock. Fortunately, the impact to my head was minor since the speed of my fall was slow. My bike helmet did not crack but I think the fall caused me to break one of my toe clips. My feet got stuck in my toe clips but they would have twisted free had I been using clipless pedals. What’s more, my fall reinforces the importance of mountain biking with a bike helmet and riding with a friend (which I was not doing).

The remaining descent on the eastern side of the ridge is fast and easy.

Additionally, the descent drops all the way down to 5,200 feet before climbing back up towards Reservoir Ridge.

The climb back up the ridge required dismounting and walking my bike for a significant amount of trail because of the large steps in the following picture. After the steps, the trail is not as rugged but still technical enough to make it tough to get started and to achieve sustained momentum.

Reseroir Ridge Natural Area

Inside Reservoir Ridge Natural Area, the Foothills trail is comprised of an eclectic mix of easy and technical trail. The Reservoir Ridge Trails make my list of Best Fort Collins Hikes for Dogs so be sure to check out those blog posts too.

Throughout the ride, Plains Prickly Pear Cactus and True Mountain Mahogany can be seen along most of the trail on the eastern side of the ridge. What’s more, mule deer can be seen foraging in the mountain mahogany shrub lands.

In sum, the first half of this mountain bike ride is challenging but not overwhelming. On the other hand, the second half of the ride (i.e., closer to Reservoir Ridge) contains stretches of trail that are overwhelmingly rugged and vertically challenging; which for advanced riders is more of a consideration of time than anything. Check out my list of Colorado mountain bike trails for more fun rides along the northern front range.


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