Biking The Colorado Trail, segment 3??

Funrover

Expedition Leader
Not right now, but come the warmer months a friend and I are gonna do a quick overnighter. Start @ waterton and go to the Wilderness line on Seg 3. Stop and camp there. Having never been there how is the tree cover, can I bring my hammock, or should I stay with my tent?
 

Christophe Noel

Expedition Leader
There's plenty of tree cover for hammocks. Even in the expansive Hayman fire scar, which is vast, there are clumps of trees you can use.

It's a pretty good hump from Waterton to Bailey. At full race tempo it's a 6-7 hour push.
 

Funrover

Expedition Leader
Didn't figure I would make it all the way to Bailey. Just want to get out of the scar area and into some trees/forest area.
 

Christophe Noel

Expedition Leader
The ride out of Waterton Canyon and along the first section of singletrack is a rude start. Once you duck into the singletrack, it gets steep in spots with tons of overgrowth and lots of root-strewn sections. It is pretty. The ascent to the high point on that section before the drop down to the river is a solid hour. The drop down to the river crossing is nice. Once you get over the bridge, you're immediately in the kitty litter of the burn. I went through there when it was pushing into the mid 90s and it was brutal. Getting through the burn will take another couple hours. The top end of the scar isn't so bad, kinda grassy, but it begins to weave in and around a couple ranges and homes. Once you're genuinely through the burn, you're in some very fun riding. I wouldn't say you have to go all the way to Baily, but that is, to me, where the most attractive riding is, and plenty of water and trees to be found.
 

Funrover

Expedition Leader
I am completely novice in the world of bikepacking. I ride often and year round. With a few stops for food/rest could I do it in a day?
 

Christophe Noel

Expedition Leader
From the Waterton trailhead to the other side of the burn puts you right where the trail crosses 285, and coincidentally, where the best riding in that section starts. You could do it in a mellow day. I think it would be better to start at the bridge at the S.Platte, ride the burn, and finish in Bailey. Maybe camp somewhere just outside the burn towards Bailey by just a couple miles. It's purdy in there. It's a big hump!
 

Funrover

Expedition Leader
It's my understanding that bikes are not allow 16 miles shy of 285. Did I mis read that? If I did I can start where I live in conifer and ride to the start of seg 2 and go that route. Nothing is carved in stone. I would shave miles off on that route, but would spend time on the road with traffic.
 

DaveInDenver

Expedition Leader
Segment 3 is the part from FS550 to the Wilderness boundary at Wellington Lake. What you are considering is linking segments 1, 2 and 3. Waterton to the South Platte River is segment 1 and segment 2 is the river up through the Buffalo Creek burn (this is not the Hayman scar, that's farther to the south near Kelsey and Deckers) to Little Scraggy TH.

I've done this section several times over the years, as a complete knob with a huge backpack, then overloaded with a trailer and now with bags. When we still lived in Denver I would start at home (we lived close to the South Platte greenway near Broadway and Evans) and do it as an out-and-back over a weekend. It's roughly 28 miles from the Waterton parking lot the Little Scraggy parking lot at CO126. Then within the Buff Creek area it's technically about 12 miles from the parking lot to the boundary on the CT. From my house to Wellington Lake and back was almost exactly a century.

You've probably done the flat spin up Waterton, a few miles of warm up. Stop at the dam to eat and shed a layer. Start up the climb, bear right at the caretaker's house, left points you towards Indian Creek. You'd eventually loop around but you have plenty of miles ahead no need to do additional. When you top out at Lenny's Rest, which is a bench honoring Leonard Southwell, a deceased Eagle Scout, go right. Left is the other side of the Indian Creek and Roxborough Loop. The trail then climbs for a few miles through a couple of drainages (Bear Creek) before finally descending to the river for a couple of miles. If we were starting after work on a Friday (from the Waterton parking lot in that case) we'd camp somewhere between Lenny's and the descent, there are lots of opportunities.

Segment 2 is pretty sparse, still not much shade and no opportunity for water. Fill up at the South Platte if there is any question. The next chance for water isn't until Buffalo Creek. Before the fire (which was 1996) there were all kinds of 4x4 and motorcycle trails up here and a nice campground called Top of the World. There are a couple of trailheads still but it's a lot less busy now than back then. You climb for a few miles from the river, past a couple of old mines (they are getting hard to spot), but it's not super steep and the last few miles is mostly flat. It's really pretty up there especially in the spring when the flowers are growing but by mid summer it gets really hot and dry. I would not plan on camping personally.

For segment 3 when you cross over highway 126 you'll be close to the main recreation area parking lot. If you want to stay on the CT go up onto Green Mountain to camp, this is located between the Buffalo CG and Meadows group campground, or all the way out to the end on Rolling Creek. These are going to be a lot more peaceful than camping along the CT itself. I don't get too hung up riding on the trade route because there are so many more fun trails we've built in Buffalo Creek. But for touring the CT is probably best, more options to fill up your water and not much technical.

Segment 1 with a trailer takes me about 4~5 hours of cycling, segments 2 & 3 each about 2.5~3 hours. The whole thing out and back to Waterton can be done in a day if you really get after it (I've been able to almost do it just once, I usually hit my turn around time at the end of segment 2 though) and if you go lighter with your gear you can shave a lot of time on segment 1 (the 7ish miles between the dam and the start of the South Platte descent get to be a drag with a trailer) and make it a quick overnight. But we always end up with a couple of beers, a little flask, some real food and make it a weekend and stop too much. We're not competitive ultra endurance racers or anything so we tend to bring creature comforts to relax with, like a book and maybe mess with a little ham radio.
 

DaveInDenver

Expedition Leader
The other side of the Buffalo Creek burn is highway 126 between Deckers and Pine Junction. The CT doesn't get close to US285 until the other side of Lost Creek Wilderness. The Hi Meadow fire in 2000 is between Buffalo Creek and Bailey, which is north of the CT. The road from South Platte to Pine is county road 96 through Foxton. This is the road you cross between segments 1 and 2. The long way to access this is from Sedalia, but most people will drive up 126 from one end or the other (it's very popular with motorcycles and flyfishermen).

Bikes are not allowed on parts of segments 4 and 5, which is between Kenosha Pass and Wellington Lake, since it travels through the wilderness. This is probably the reference to being off limits you are seeing. It's not technically all within the wilderness but you can't access the parts that are not without going through the wilderness, so the whole length is off limits therefore.

There are two ways around it. The quick way is to ride up county road 68 from Miller (FS549) or Buck (FS552) Gulch trailheads to Bailey, which is where you pick up 285 to climb Kenosha and get onto segment 6. Road 68 is dirt mostly but 285 sucks.

The 'right' way is to take FS560 over Stoney Pass and around the south edge of the wilderness up to Tarryall Rez. This is the Hayman burn as Christophe mentions. You eventually end up on county road 17 and Kenosha and never go anywhere near Bailey. We've done parts of this on 'cross bikes.

For an overnight sort of thing it depends on how far you want to drive. Just realized you live in Conifer (didn't you used to live in the Springs?). Anyway, yeah, from Conifer, I would park at the South Platte TH and loop around. Out the CT, camp someplace around Buffalo Creek, down 543 to Pine, and back along 96. That could be done in a long day.

I'd avoid 285 at all costs personally. If you wanted to link it without driving you'd ride through Reynold's Park to get to Foxton on highway 97. This might make it more than an overnight if you want to ride any significant amount of the CT, although I don't have any personal experience starting in Conifer.

Jeffco has disallowed bikes at Reynold's Park Open Space, but AFAIK you could ride 97 through since it is afterall a county road.

Other than it being a segment of the CT, I don't know that starting in Waterton really gets you much. The trail is fun, though. You can do segments 1 and 2 overnight, that wouldn't be difficult.
 
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Christophe Noel

Expedition Leader
Well, how 'bout that?! Great info, Dave. I did goof and type 285 and not 126.

I would whole heartedly agree with Dave's advice not to ride 285. As part of the CTR, that section was SKETCH, and I'm a roadie as well.
 

DaveInDenver

Expedition Leader
I know you've done the CTR and have a ton of good beta, but figured having a few years and miles under my belt around there (I was a patroller for the Front Range MTB patrol & Pike NF at Buffalo Creek since right after the fire) the additional info (and couple of corrections) would be good. :) I'm not sure why they don't make you guys do the right detour, although it's a way long way around. Like 70 miles to get 20 miles further west. I've never personally linked segment 3 to 6 properly. Done most of 4 & 5 on foot and a part here and there on knobbies. Every time we start planning a real, straight thru CT trip something comes up.
 
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Funrover

Expedition Leader
WOW, thanks for the excellent info. I am gonna try to hammock camp. So I will want trees. Thanks for all of the information!

@Dave - It's been 4 -5 years, but I was in the Springs, good memory!
 
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Christophe Noel

Expedition Leader
I really enjoyed the trail just beyond 126 and the Buffalo burn. Could have a lot to do with the fact I nearly fried in the fire scar and ducking into the trees was bliss. The trail as it rolls by Wellington Lake is really fun. I think that was the only time on my first day of the CTR that I was't miserable. That and rolling off Kenosha.
 
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