Mount McConnel
excerpts from the book
Colorado's
Incredible Backcountry Trails 
by David Day

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Incredible Backcountry Trails
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    Distance: 4.2 miles (loop)

    Walking time: 3 hours
        
    Elevations
    : 1,350 ft. gain/loss
         Kreutzer Trailhead (start): 6,660 ft.
         Kreutzer Trail Junction: 7,320 ft.
         Mount McConnel: 8,010 ft.

    Trail: Excellent, well-marked trail

    Season: Summer, Spring, and Fall. There is usually snow on Mount McConnel from late November through March, but this hike is often attempted in spite of the snow.

    Vicinity: Near Fort Collins

    Mount McConnelMount McConnel

     

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    By Colorado standards Mount McConnel is scarcely a mountain at all but rather an 8,000-foot hill of the northeast side of the Front Range. Nevertheless its location, just west of Fort Collins and high above the beautiful Poudre River Valley, has made it a popular hike. Like many of the trails in Colorado, the trail to the top of Mount McConnel was built in the mid-1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps. More recently the lower part of the trail has been made into a nature walk with interpretive plaques at key points along the way that provide information about the history and ecology of the area.

    The nature walk portion of the Mount McConnel Trail is called the Kreutzer Trail in recognition of William R. Kreutzer, a Colorado resident who in 1898 became the first official forest ranger in the United States. Kreutzer worked for the Forest Service for 41 years, finally serving as the Supervisor of Roosevelt National Forest before his retirement in 1939. Mount McConnel itself was named after another early forest ranger, R. C. McConnel, who served in the Poudre District of Roosevelt National Forest in the early 1900s. The mountain became part of the Cache La Poudre Wilderness Area in 1980.

    From the lower parking area the trail first climbs a short distance to cross the upper Mountain Park Road, and then continues a long gradual assent through an open forest of ponderosa pine and Douglas fir. One thing you may notice is that there are no very old trees. The reason is that from 1868 until the turn of the century the hills in this area were essentially stripped of all their timber. The trees were initially cut to provide ties for the Union Pacific and Denver Pacific Railroads, and later to satisfy the demand for lumber in Fort Collins and other nearby settlements. The Logging activities were completely unregulated until 1905, when President Roosevelt placed the area under the jurisdiction of what is today the National Forest Service. Today great progress has been made in the reforestation of the area, especially on the north-facing slopes of the mountains. But none of the trees you will see are over 100 years old.

    After 0.7 miles you will come to a junction where the Kreutzer Trail departs to begin a relatively flat traverse across the northern flank of the mountain. The Kreutzer Trail again intersects the Mount McConnel summit trail after 0.8 miles, so if you are interested in a shorter hike you can turn left here and continue along the nature trail. The total length of Kreutzer loop is 2.2 miles. To continue the assent of Mount McConnel you must bear right at the junction, but whatever you decide this is a fine place to stop and enjoy the view of the Cache la Poudre River 720 feet below the trail. A nearby plaque describes the geologic history of how the canyon was formed.

    Upon leaving the junction the summit trail levels out for about 0.2 mile but then turns north to continue its long climb to the top. Finally, 1.0 mile from the junction the route crosses the rocky summit of the mountain. The peak is rather nondescript. At 8,010 feet, it is well below timberline and the view is not particularly notable. There is, however, a nice view of the Mummy Range along the northern boundary of Rocky Mountain National Park.

    As you begin your descent down the east side of the mountain you will soon notice that the trail has become more primitive. The route down is very rocky and steep in places, but it passes by some fine views of the Poudre Canyon below. In my opinion, this is the most enjoyable part of the hike. 1.8 miles from the peak and 1000 feet lower in elevation, the trail suddenly drops into a cool, moist canyon to rejoin the Kreutzer Trail. The canyon contains a small spring, and for a brief time the addition of water causes a dramatic change to take place in the character of the trail. A lush green cover of vegetation makes this area much cooler and shadier than any other part of the trail. The path follows the bottom of the drainage for 0.2 mile and then turns west, away from the small canyon, to begin a long gradual descent back to the Poudre River. The trail finally ends at the road into Mountain Park 200 yards east of the trailhead.

     
    The book includes more text, more photographs, and trail maps.

    If you are interested in a supplemental map of the Mount McConnel area
    we recommend:
    Cache La Poudre, Big Thompson (Trails Illustrated, map #101)

    Click here for MAP ORDERS

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