Mt McConnel

Location: Cache la Poudre Wilderness, west of Fort Collins, Colorado
Maps: USGS 1:24K Big Narrows
Access: From Ted's Place at Hwy 287 x Hwy 14, drive west on Hwy 14 for 22.7 miles to Mountain Park. Look for the bridge on the south side of the road. 
Trail:There are two trails one can take from the Mountain Park campground, the Kreutzer Interpretive Trail and the longer Mt McConnel Trail. The Mt McConnel Trail is a semi-loop trail that begins and ends at different points along the Kreutzer Trail, which itself begins and ends along different points of the campground road spaced about 300 yards apart. It's a little difficult to predict where the trail will go since the USGS quad doesn't show it at all. The good news is that the trail is well marked and easy to follow with just one exception on the steep easternmost portion of the Mt McConnel trail. Therefore, the exact location of the trail on the map is not critical, as long as you have a general idea of where it is. 
Distance is hard to judge since it's hard to find on a map, but I estimate it's about 4 miles for the larger loop. The campground road is closed most of the year, but you can park along Hwy 14 near the gate and cross the bridge on foot. The east TH is just across the bridge on the left, while the right trailhead is well marked on the left just before the campground check-in hut.Elevation starts at 6640 and the summit is at 8000', for gain of 1360'
Dogs: Leash control
Weather: Current and recent conditions    Local Forecast

April 5, 2008
After a late start, Andra and I, plus our two dogs, Frank and Makenzie, arrived at the locked gate at Mountain Park. We parked next to 3 other vehicles on the side of the highway, grabbed the daypack, and crossed the bridge. At that point in time, I had no idea we had just walked past the first TH since it is not marked at all. Be aware that you can start on the trail right here. We walked up the pavement a couple hundred yards, enjoying the sunshine but not enjoying the ferocious spring wind, and turned off south onto the Kreutzer Trail. The trail headed up the north face of the mountain, and was slushy with wet snow. I was glad the air was warm or the surface would have been treacherous. We cornered 4 or 5 switchbacks with the snow getting deeper with every stretch, and gradually we rose up out of the canyon and began seeing the surrounding terrain. Moreso than any other Poudre Canyon hike, this one gave me the sense of how deep and wide the Poudre Canyon is. The trail stays within view of the river for hundreds of feet of elevation, so you constantly see the river getting farther and farther away. The trail branched, with the left fork staying low and looping back to the TH, and the right fork going up to the summit before looping back to the TH. We took the right fork. 

A few open spots on the west side allowed views of the Mummy Range and Stormy Peaks, all cloaked in downy snow. The wind blasted us in these spots, and I was cold in my t-shirt until we got back in the trees, where the sweating commenced. We passed a sign that advised we had just entered the Cache la Poudre Wilderness. This is the only official trail I know of that enters this wilderness area, though the terrain is open and easy to navigate without a trail. Still, that makes it one of the least developed wilderness areas I've ever encountered. In about an hour, we reached the summit, which is spread out and peppered with limber pine. Wherever the absolute summit is, I didn't find it. We lounged on the rocks, snacking, enjoying the mostly-unencumbered view of the mountains around us. Dark skies to both the east and west made us appreciate the clear blue sky overhead that did nothing to impede the bright, warm sunshine. I tossed rocks for Makenzie to sniff out, and threw peanuts for Frank to find in the undergrowth: they each have their own motivation. For the most part, the trees on the summit blocked all but the strongest gusts of wind and it was very pleasant. Nevertheless, after 30 minutes, we were ready to walk, so off we went, down the trail. 

On previous attempts at hiking this area, I lost the trail attempting to take the loop leg back to the car. I was hesitant, therefore, to try it on this occasion, but felt compelled to give it another shot. Thus, we descended the southwest side of the mountain, with a trail almost completely free of snow and wind. Below us ran the channel of the South Fork of the Poudre River with pine-covered mountains beyond. By degrees, the trail curved around to the north, and we were soon descending the north face again, with thick snow and a steep trail pitch that kept us alert. There was one tricky spot where the trail was so ill-marked that we backtracked to ensure we hadn't missed anything. Then, after an extremely steep section that bore little resemblance to an established route, we found ourselves back on the path and heading down. We intercepted the Kreutzer Trail, and from there it was only a short walk back to the pavement. The end of the trail spit us out right at the bridge, which surprised me. Ended up taking us about 3 hours for the round trip.

We watered the dogs in the free-flowing river, then hopped in the car and drove to Fort Fun for a burrito. 

View to the south from near the McConnel summit
Andra on the trail down
Poudre Canyon & Highway 14


Slushy snow in the first mile
Douglas fir along the trail
View upcanyon
View down the Poudre Canyon
Poudre Canyon and Highway 14
Bald knob along the trail
View from the summit towards West and East Pine Mts
Frank chills out up top
Frank watches nature
Trees, trees and more trees
Poudre River
Unmarked east TH for Mt McConnel

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