Just west of U.S. 36, up Lefthand Canyon Drive headed toward Jamestown waits the turn off for Heil Valley Ranch. Part of Boulder County Open Space, the system of trails stretches north and west past Lyons. Summer days often find the trail full of mountain bikes, but near the main parking lot is a gem of pedestrian-only trail.
The Lichen Loop is a gentle 1.3-mile knot of trail that circles through wildflower-dotted meadows and ponderosa pine forest, studded with large boulders and the remains of a limestone kiln. The trail takes its name from the green lichen that covers the rocks in the valley, and also the soft sedimentary rocks known as Lykins Formations that make up the ridge running through the land, according to Boulder County Open Space’s website.
My daughter, Freya, loves exploring outdoors but isn’t usually game for the lengthy and difficult hikes I like to take. With minimal elevation change, the Lichen Loop was a perfect place to let my 8-year-old take the lead on a Saturday morning adventure. The young lady set the pace, with my mother-in-law and myself in tow. She picked the rocks to climb, and took quite a few photos while ambling along.
The young adventurer said, “The hike was a perfect length. The weather was cold, but not too cold, and had just enough sun to be nice.”
Freya took her time on the hike, only occasionally needing encouragement to keep moving. When asked what was missing from the hike, she said, “I wished I could have seen one of the cute squirrels, and I wish I could climb more rocks.”
The cute squirrels she referred to are Abert’s Squirrels, the adorable tassel-eared squirrels native to the southern Rocky Mountains. “They have cute tufty ears like a bobcat and I like their big bushy tails.”
Her curiosity was boundless, with only a little prompting from me. Looking at flowers, stands of trees and the rocks, asking questions and getting hands-on. She found the experience to be educational: “I learned that cacti can grow on top of big rocks, they are very tough. I also liked learning how the camera worked, and how I could zoom in on things.”
“My dad chitter chatted with my grandma a lot, which was kind of boring, but it was OK I guess,” Freya said. “But there were some really cool looking rocks, including one that looked like a bear’s face or weird pug dog.”
Freya was excited about more adventures. “I want to go back to that trail and explore, and maybe hike longer. On our next adventure I want to climb rocks and see cute animals.”
A transcription of her notes from after the hike, edited for grammar and spelling, put an exclamation point on her enthusiasm: “I really like the hike! The rocks were pretty and the trees were awesome! The sky was pretty cool but it was cold to me. All together it was a really, really, really awesome hike but my legs hurt.”
Hiking with kids is all about balance. I like to find trails that are gentle but can still provide a little excitement and challenge, and not so long that you have to carry them back to the car. Letting kids set the pace is an excellent opportunity to give them some freedom, but my daughter will break trail to climb any rock she can find. Helping them to understand conservation and why it is important to stay on trail is just as important as climbing all the best rocks.
Boulder County has some excellent day hikes for kids and adults of all ages. The Enchanted Mesa trail that runs from the National Center for Atmospheric Research to Chautauqua has a good mix of rugged terrain and interesting scenery. Closer to Longmont, Pella Crossing is mostly flat loops of trail around ponds full of birds, with some excellent views of the Front Range and Longs Peak.
What are some of your favorite kid-friendly hikes in the area? Let us know in the comments.