On August 9, I (and hub, son, and dog) headed up Rist Canyon to Old Flowers Road, which for many would be a trip down memory lane as it toured through areas of forest burned by the 2012 High Park Fire.
From Fort Collins, we headed to LaPorte and then stayed on Rist Canyon Road about 15 miles, continuing through Bellvue to the intersection of Stove Prairie Rd. At that intersection, the Old Flowers Road trail is straight ahead and it’s well-marked. (Trail Damage [TD] lists Old Flowers to the left which is incorrect, so do your homework with your maps and apps before you go!).
The beginning of Old Flowers Road (Larimer County, Colorado) is through private land. We were impressed with the large and well-kept Stove Prairie Ranch, though which the trail wound. At this point, and for much of the trail actually, I didn’t need four-wheel drive.
At about 3.4 miles in, you’ll come to a seasonal gate where you may want to pull over to air down and disconnect your sway bar. However, this time I didn't do either, and I found the trail very easy. I’d noted on TD that there might be large muddy areas and I was most hopeful of having some fun, but everything was dry. (Have you noticed I seem to have a slight obsession with mud)?!
At about 5.1 miles into the trail, the woods gave way to a large, open, and very green meadow. We pulled over here to eat our packed lunch. At about 8,500 feet the early August breeze made it cool enough for jackets. We then continued on past a cabin and through woods and charred toothpicks of trees left from the High Park Fire.
The High Park Fire burned more than 87,000 acres in central Larimer County in 2012. What started as a lightning strike quickly escalated to a full blown forest fire due to an excess of dry fuel (trees that’d been killed by the Mountain Pine Beetle) as well as drought conditions. From Fort Collins, the smoke was an amazing and frightening sight at the time.
This was my first experience seeing a forest in the regrowth process after a fire. It’s one thing to read about it in textbooks, or see documentaries, but viewing this area in person was breathtaking. This is yet another reason I wheel -- for real-life experience of the wonder and unending cycle of nature.
At this point, three years post-fire, many of the burned trees still stand (but could easily fall without warning) and the typical forest bird songs were strangely absent. Nonetheless, nature is prevailing and new growth fluffy plants cover the ground, while entire stands of young aspens crowd together to populate a new forest.
After the forest around Old Flowers Road regrows, you may want to take advantage of dozens of options to dispersed camp along the trail. For now, the danger of fire-damaged tree falls is too much and I wouldn’t recommend most of the camping areas along Old Flowers until conditions improve.
The rating of this trail would be higher if conditions were wet. This may be a repeat run in the spring – then I’ll be sure to find some mud!
The Old Flowers Road trail is about 11.7 miles in length and ends at an intersection with Pingree Park Road 63E. We turned right here to head to Hwy. 14, where another right took us back on Hwy. 14 to Hwy. 287/Fort Collins.
I’d recommend Old Flowers Road to beginner wheelers, or anyone who’d like to see how a forest redevelops post-fire. It was a learning experience for us and certainly a nice way to spend an early August Sunday in Colorado. Happy Trails!