Pine Lake >Buck Gulch>Skipper Trail> Strawberry Jack Trail> Park VIew Trail
Lowest Elevation: 6800Ft
Highest Elevation: 7900 Ft( although total elevation gain was closer to 1300+ Ft)
Trail Length: 7-8 miles, it took us under 3 hours to complete
Trail Uses: Hiker, Biker & Horses
Degree of difficulty: Easy to moderate
Bathrooms: At the parking lot only
Pets: Yes on Leash only
There is so much to see still of Colorado and for a while I wasn’t challenging myself to find that more but Staunton Park renewed that discovery lust in me again. I also wanted to make sure that whatever trail we did left us with enough energy to hike again on Sunday. Pine Valley Ranch seemed perfect! It is a small park mileage wise but right on the edge of the Pike National Forest, which makes the possibilities very expansive.
When I got there, I was pretty amazed by the 3 huge parking lots on the way to all the trailheads and main park. It also made me wonder how crazy busy this place might be in spring, summer & fall. On this morning it was freaky cold and so we had it mostly to ourselves. It was in fact colder then expected and we almost shy of enough clothing to stay warm.
Once we crossed over the river we had the option of walking along the shaded side of the Lake or the sunny side of the lake, given we were crazy cold it was the sunny side for us.
We didn’t walk along Pine Lake long before we hit the trail break for Buck Gulch Trail.
From here we started climbing and went into shade and I will admit I was thankful for the climbing just to warm up everything. Normally we are over prepared, but since I broke my day pack we have been cutting it close this was the hardest hike of them all with so little back up available. But the day itself was just lovely and as it warmed up we were dressed perfectly. This part of the trail had the most climbing of the entire hike but it wasn’t that steep.
It wasn’t long before we left the Jefferson County open space and entered Pike National Forest. With that change over we also came upon an old burn area from the High Meadows Fire in 2000. I am becoming to really enjoy these areas, not for the devastation the fire causes but for the beauty it leaves behind. It is a different kind of beauty for sure, but it tells a story of struggle, desperation, loss and triumph. It forced me to reflect and identify that feeling while I hiked through and along the remains, it reminded me of how an old battleground would feel or a cemetery. For the record, I am totally one of those people that loves to walk through cemeteries, the older the better and more majestic. I guess it is no surprise I am falling in love with recovering burn areas.
We were on the Buck Gulch trail for just over 2 miles, I understand it is a popular biking route that takes you into the Lost Creek Wilderness for a 11-13 mile route with lots of elevation gain. I have to tell you I totally want to hike it some time. In fact the only other people we saw that day was a huge group of bikers doing that route. The downside of the whole day…. there were some people shooting the whole time we were in the National forest and it felt like they were a little too close and/or moving in our direction. It was disconcerting and made me paranoid my colors weren’t bright or unnatural enough to point to a human AKA not a target.
From here we took the Skipper trail to the Strawberry Jack Trail. This was the one of the easier parts of the hike, with slight ups and downs but nothing too aggressive. The views were lovely, if not breath taking and made me want to come and explore more.
Outside of the lake in the beginning, there isn’t a ton of water on the hike but there was this one crossing and I am afraid I forgot if it was on Skipper or Strawberry Jack but somewhere along those trails.
We made a good loop hike by taking the Park View Trail back to Pine Lake, it was incredibly beautiful coming down with the lake in view.
The lower half of this section is mostly stairs back to the lake.
Overall, this is a nice easy hike with lots of options to make it harder or not depending on your mood. On this particular day for me, a new issue had decided to present itself- interesting joint pain in my hips. It has forced me to slow down a little, which in turn has effected everything. Regardless, for this hike I was glad that it was a shorter and easier hike when the end came along. As my second hike in 3 days, I was feeling better than I thought I might but a little worried about my hip action. I cannot wait to get out here again, likely in the summer and challenge myself by doing the full Buck Gulch route for a tough day hike. I hope if you find yourself out this way that you check this one out, it is so worth it! After the directions a few favorites pictures from the day.
From U.S. Highway 285, turn south on Pine Valley Road (County Road 126) to Crystal Lake Road. Turn right one mile into the park.