Tips to help you connect your family to nature!
Hiking with Kids: Three Beautiful Counties, Three Beautiful Hikes by Lynea Schultz-Ela
Let’s hit the trail with your “Littles” on three easy hikes close to home. Spring, early summer, and fall are glorious times to get outside and hike. Families with even the youngest of hikers can sometimes be flummoxed as to where to go to have a great experience. Appropriate distances and interesting easy terrain are needed—so, let me inspire you with three beautiful doable hikes in three counties here in Western Colorado.
Mesa County boasts a super interesting, close-to-home hike for the youngsters: The Mica Mine Trail. The round trip distance is 2.6 miles and it’s rated easy. It includes some lovely shade and minor rocks to climb over, making it enjoyable for both adults and rambunctious kids. The trailhead for Mica Mine is shared with Rough Canyon and is right on Little Park Road (for a map and route description go to GJhikes.com). Why choose this easy short hike to get out with your kids? Oh so many reasons! There are some beautiful vistas of towering cliffs, and the trail crosses the tiny Ladder Creek enough times that everyone gets to hone their stone stepping skills if the water is running; there are many wildflowers, trees, shrubs, and birds to identify; and at the end there is the holy grail of mica! Enough slivered mica crunches under-foot at the mine itself that it can become a tactile fun science opportunity. No child has been disappointed in my experience. There was recently a rock fall near the trail, but it hasn’t hampered access, and it could be a good geology conversation about the rocky hillside’s “angle of repose” and potential triggers. Jumping into imaginative scenarios with kids adds to the fun as well.
In Delta County check out the beautiful 3.2 mile (round trip) Crystal Overlook hike above the northern edge of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison (outside the actual National Park’s North Rim). Travel on Hwy 92 towards Crawford and keep going—eventually you’ll pass the turn off for the Black Canyon National Park, but stay on Hwy 92 through beautiful ranch country and finally onto the Black Mesa. Sixteen miles south of Crawford you’ll see the turn off and trailhead for Crystal Overlook. Park there and head on out on a well-traveled trail. At the trailhead there is a Curecanti National Recreation Area sign that depicts the trail as strenuous and 5 miles long. I beg to differ: it’s only 3.2 miles, and is an easy trail unless it’s very hot. There are three pitches where you will indeed feel the climb, but they are short. And, there are 3 benches for resting and viewing the San Juan Mountains along the way.
Why choose this hike? The visual rewards are just exceptional and younger hikers definitely appreciate the sensory experience. Views of the West Elk Mountains, the San Juan Mountains, and the Cimmaron Valley are inspiring—and then it’s the destination that holds the most magic. The end of the trail is a safely guard-railed overlook down 1800 feet into the Crystal Reservoir of the Black Canyon. Keep on the trail to the very end. Your only choice point will be an unmarked fork that takes you up to a dead-end lookout point bench on the left, or you can skip that and stay to the right to get directly to the Crystal Reservoir overlook. Our favorite thing is to pack a picnic lunch and head out in the morning, enjoying our repast at the high overlook before heading back. Make sure to pack sunscreen and take water bottles for everyone.
Montrose County is very special indeed. It encompasses all types of terrain, vistas, and levels of exertion for hikers. For the younger hiker we recommend the Black Canyon National Park’s aptly named Oak Flat Loop. This trail is within the park’s main south access and departs from the visitor center. Approximately 2 miles in length, it takes you to wonderful vistas of the canyon over mostly easy terrain amidst rock and gambel oak trees. Definitely take this hike counter clockwise so that the steepest part is in the downhill direction with a much easier ascent. You don’t go to the bottom of the canyon—but you do get to beautiful views, and shady areas that do not obscure the sightline, plus you are away from the large groups of visitors in other areas of the park. Why choose Oak Flat Loop? The river and rock vistas; the “below-the-rim” experience; the sense of adventure; eagle and peregrine falcon spotting across the canyon; and the shade.
Three counties, three beautiful hikes. A great way to get out there close to home and introduce the younger generation to the experience of Mother Nature’s rewards. Take a hike, and take the kids!
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