Path of the Month: This trail shines like a crazy diamond | MyWindsorNow.com

Path of the Month: This trail shines like a crazy diamond

There are a few out-of-the-way favorite hiking spots that aren't really out of the way any longer. This is what it means to get older.

It's not my age, really. It's just the years I've been alive. It's the fact that there's a lot more people around, both because of biology and because Colorado is a really cool place to live, and more and more people are figuring that out.

I figured that out nearly 20 years ago, when I left Kansas, my beloved home state, to live in the only place I knew I would love more.

The 4th of July trailhead, just outside the town of Eldora, holds a lot of memories for me. When I was much younger and Dad and I were discovering the mountains around Rocky Mountain National Park, it was a remote location, one of the places where we wouldn't see many people on our way to North and South Arapaho peaks, or the traverse from Neva to Jasper peaks, or many other adventures we shared together.

It's still remote, but it's also busy, just like many of my favorite areas now. That's a part of living life and seeing the world change around you. It's also a reason I wanted to take my kids up there. They needed to see the areas that inspired me to get out and experience Colorado.

The area, at least for me, is one of two main ways you can access the Indian Peaks Wilderness Area. The other is the Brainard Lake Recreation Area, another remote but busy spot. Both are wonderful, worst-kept secrets in our area. The trails that lead from the 4th of July are known for wildflowers: I've never seen a display such as the one I've seen on my way to South Arapaho in late July and August.

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Even though the 4th of July trailhead feels close, it's not, really, especially when you consider the long stretch of road that leads to the trailhead. It's 5 miles, and it's basically 4WD, even though hardy passenger cars can do it. My old girl, my 2001 CRV, had no trouble with it, but it can handle some of the worst roads in the San Juans. Your sedan may have other ideas.

Once you get there, if you're not there early, you're in trouble.

We were there just before 8 a.m. on a Sunday, and both the lower and upper lots were full. Getting the kids up before dawn paid off, however, because we were able to find a spot alongside the road near the trailhead. It took us more than two hours to reach it from Greeley, and that was with light traffic.

We were there to do the Diamond Lake trail. The Indian Peaks Wilderness typically offers up gorgeous scenery that doesn't require a lot of effort to earn it. This is another reason why hikes in that area tend to be so popular: They are a good, easy alternative to the overcrowded national park, and they're prettier and easier than 14ers.

Allie wasn't in the mood to go after she bravely climbed a 14er a few weeks ago, but Jayden and Allie's twin, Andie, were up for it as well as my golden retriever, KC, who is basically up for anything, including trying to say hi to every hiker.

You start on the Arapaho Pass Trail, and it's a steady uphill climb all the way to the lake, but it never gets too steep. The kids had no problem with it, especially after clambering up the 14er.

About halfway through, just before the trail forks left from the Arapaho Pass trail, we had to cross a stream. It was a bit precarious, even if the only real danger is getting wet. I would expect it to be a bit scarier in the spring, when the runoff would be highest, but we had no issue walking from one rock to the next this time of year.

I hate to admit this, but I did let KC roam free for a bit, until an old man, probably a veteran hiker, scolded me. KC is so friendly that I forget that most areas allow dogs but only if they're leashed. I guess the rangers have had a real issue with this and will hand out fines if they see a dog off its leash.

The Diamond Lake trail passes a beautiful waterfall before the last half-mile walk to the end. The lake, as most lakes are, is a beautiful spot for lunch. It is 5 miles total, and most anyone can do it if they are even remotely used to physical activity.

We passed many, many hikers on the way down, but the lake itself offers enough space for a little seclusion. The drive down was chaotic as well, but probably not as bad as a Sunday afternoon on Interstate 70 after a day in the mountains.

I know winter has hit the mountains, and the trailhead alone is above 10,000 feet. The lake is just less than 11,000. So you may run into some snow. I think this would be a fun trail to snowshoe, although you won't be able to drive the road that leads to it in heavy snow, and that would add a lot of miles. I'd also be a little worried about crossing that big creek in the winter.

Our state is full of people, and there's not much we can do about that. These favorite spots from my childhood offer me and now my kids some solace that as the world changes, some places stay the same, even if you have to share them with crowds seeking the same thing.

— Dan England has climbed more than 150 peaks, including all of the state's 54 14ers, and logged thousands of miles on Colorado's great trails. He is the Adventure and NextNC editor for the Tribune. He also occasionally guides hikes and snowshoes, mostly 14ers. He can be reached at dengland@greeleytribune.com or 392-4418. Follow him on Twitter @ DanEngland.

Path of the Month

WHAT IS IT? Diamond Lake (10,940 feet) from the 4th of July trailhead.

WHERE IS IT? The road to the trailhead leads from the town of Eldora.

HOW LONG IS IT? It is five miles round-trip. You gain about 1,000 feet.

IS THERE A FEE? No.

FOR MORE INFORMATION ON CONDITIONS: http://bit.ly/2fRw5MC. Click on the “seasonal information” link.

HIKING TIP OF THE MONTH: Leaving early, before dawn even, is the best way to avoid headaches for popular areas such as this one. Kids can generally sleep in the car, and coffee solves a lot of problems caused by getting up so early.

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