Located south of Fountain, Colorado, Clear Springs Ranch extends over 940-acres along Fountain Creek. A beautiful mixture of farmland and cottonwood groves, Clear Springs Ranch is home to an abundant array of wildlife. It is predominantly traversed by the Colorado Front Range Trail. Mostly level, the Front Range Trail follows the boundaries between Fountain Creek’s riparian environs & adjacent agricultural fields, sometimes crossing what Wendell Berry referred to as the Margins.
A walk in the park is generally like a Volksmarsch in Germany, set in the country, often a mix of farmland and wild, but never far from the sights & sounds of humanity. The park’s serenity can certainly reduce the roar of the interstate to an innocuous level. The hike described here begins at Clear Springs Ranch’s parking and picnic area, located directly off of I-25 at Exit 123. For approximately three miles, the hike follows the Front Range Trail heading north before turning around and mostly retracing the route back to the start point.
A short distance from the picnic area, the trail comes to an intersection. A left turn takes you through an open field occasionally interrupted by large cottonwood trees. Go right into the forested area and follow Fountain Creek. Near Fountain Creek, the dirt path comes to an intersection with a large sign annotating the Front Range Trail and distances to the next key landmarks. Turn left to head in the direction of the Fish Passage, which is marked by the sign as being three miles away. A quarter-mile short of the Fish Passage, the hike ends at an intersection. Similarly, there is a sign at that intersection that looks similar to the one mentioned above.
Shortly after turning left onto the Front Range Trail, a side trail leads down to Fountain Creek. Enjoy the view of the creek before going right back on Front Range Trail as it takes you through open fields and forests before coming to an intersection with the soft-surface Ray Nixon Road. Taking the left turn leads back to the picnic area and is the trail not taken at the beginning. Here, turn right onto the path and not the road, passing through brambles and cottonwoods, and you will see a sign warning of flood damage. A little further on is the only stream crossing on the hike.
In most cases, this crossing can be done without getting boots wet, but depending on the amount of rain or snowmelt recently, this crossing might be quite dangerous, as evidenced by the signs on the trail and the remains of a washed-out bridge nearby. After crossing the stream, the Front Range Trail winds through woodland, passing an informative sign about finding owl nests, then arriving at another intersection. Turning right leads to a view of Fountain Creek’s floodplain and the likely mad cackle of a nearby Belted Kingfisher, whose nest may be close by.
After returning to the Front Range Trail from the short diversion, turn right passing by a farmer’s field and a sign requesting respect for private property by sticking to the designated path. Another intersection with Ray Nixon Road is quickly reached. This time turn right, joining the road. From here, Front Range Trail follows Ray Nixon Road for most of the remainder of the hike. The route passes by an old sod house and another view of Fountain Creek, before turning right, away from the road and initially through a dense sand patch.
This is the turnaround point for the hike described above. The way back is the way you came, except upon reaching the intersection after the stream crossing, instead of turning left, stay straight continuing through the open field and back to the park’s picnic and parking area. The distance for the hike is described as approximately six miles total, but just be aware that the approximation is very much a rough estimate based solely on the trail signs.
The trail itself is well-marked with the white Front Range Trail Sign and informative signs on the park’s ecology. At times, the trail’s surface is more sand than dirt, the kind of sand boots like to sink into. Otherwise, given the flatness of the trail and ease of navigation, this hike is rated as easy. Just remember the trails out on the plains get hotter quicker with the coming of summer. They also have toilets located near the parking and picnic area. Horseback Riders and bicyclists are also welcome at Clear Springs Ranch in Fountain.