Birthplace of the Colorado River
Overview: This is a hike from the Colorado River Trailhead to the birthplace of the Colorado river and onwards to La Poudre Pass, a point on the continental divide. To pronounce "Poudre", say "powder", but replace the "ow" with the "oo" from the word "food". At least, that's what the locals call it!
Warning: Freak snow and rainstorms are common in the rockies, bring a warm hat and a waterproof jacket. Moose can be tempermental and bull moose, especially should not be harrassed. During mating season, by all means attempt to get out of the way of bull moose, make use of thick groves of trees they could not enter because of their antlers if you have to. Do not taunt moose or you could have a very bad day.
History: Lulu City was a settlement in the late 1700s and early 1800s. It was likely a small farming and fishing village nestled in a scenic valley in the Rockies. On this hike we will take a brief tour of the location of this town. There is very little left in the area.
The Colorado River is the river of life to Arizona and much of the southwest. Just about every drop of water is used for consumption or irrigation. This hike will take you to the origins of the Colorado River, at the junction of Skeleton Gulch and Little Yellowstone creek. Even at its humble origins, the Colorado River is impressive in its power. From its serene origins in Colorado, stop a bit and think about the journey the water must take in order to reach our kitchen sinks in Phoenix.
Hike: From the Colo. River Trailhead. Park your car and look at the park map. Trails around Lulu City are numerous and confusing. Also, the signed distance to Poudre Pass is marked as 7.5 miles one way. Let's get started!
You will begin on the Colorado River Trail and immediately climb a hundred feet. The trail turns north and has intermittent views of the Colorado River and the large meadows that allow for expansive views of this beautiful area. If you are quiet and lucky, you may encounter moose grazing. I was lucky to see 4 on this wonderful day in early June.
Continue heading north, going along the east side of the river. You will cross many tiny streams that flow into the Colorado, increasing its water volume with each additional trickle. The trail goes through mostly a pine and aspen forest and begins to climb slightly after about 1.5 miles. You will find a cabin that has fallen into disrepair after this short distance. The trail will dips back down again, and then up, following a few rolling hills.
At 3.6 miles you will pass a fork in the trail headed towards Lulu City. Continue right at the fork, staying on the Colorado River Trail. In another half a mile you will see yet another turn off for Lulu City going southwest. Continue North on the Colorado River Trail.
After approximately 4.7 miles, the colorado Trail ends. The park refers to this as "Little Yellowstone", the name of the canyon on your right. You are now at the origins of the Colorado River. Ahead of you lies Skeleton Gulch, to your right, Little Yellowstone. Where the two mix, the Colorado River is born! This surging stream will grow to become the mighty force that has carved out the Colorado and has been dammed, controlled, and metered out to give life to the urban oases in the deserts of the Southwest.
To your left is a sign for a road in 0.1 miles. In front of you, if you go anytime soon, is a massive tree that has fallen over, making you think the trail to the road is your only path. However, if you are observant, you will notice a bridge only a hundred yards ahead. The bridge is your ticket to Poudre Pass. I could find no signs in the area indicating this, but the place was littered with hundreds of trees/logs strewn about and the whole area looked like it had taken a beating and scouring from some pretty big floods. The bridge did appear solid.
Cross the bridge and begin climbing almost immediately. As far as I can determine, the latest path the trail takes to Poudre Pass is different than only 10 years ago. Most maps indicate different routes than the path I took, however the trail was quite good and well-maintained. After climbing 800 feet and another 2 miles later, you will begin to notice the immense gorge of Little Yellowstone to your east. The entire east side was covered in great grey scree fields, reinforcing my thoughts that there were recent major landslides that resulted in the massive amounts of tree debris at the lower elevations.
After about 2.5 hours of total hiking, I began up a few switchbacks and dead ended on the trail into a gigantic steep snowbank. I could not determine if this was the official end of the trail as there was no sign, so I found some higher, firmer ground (the whole area was swampy due to areas of partial snow melt) and continued uphill cross-country until I was convinced I was formally at Poudre Pass, because I could see that the other side of the pass was sloping back downhill, away from me into the Poudre Canyon Wilderness.
The way home begins with a 3.7 mile trek back the way you came. On the way back I noticed an impressive waterfall I had scampered across, but had failed to notice it drop off 20 feet away from the trail a hundred feet or more. It was beautiful and I stood there for awhile admiring it.
Further on, I found an old, abandoned trail that headed west from the point 40.463, 105.842. I followed it for awhile but could not tell where it was headed. It is an obvious path but appears to have fallen into disuse for at least 5 years as fresh saplings had sprouted up right in the trail.
Back at the junction with the end of the Colorado River Trail, I checked out where the spiderweb of trails lead, but will write up the trip as follows. Continue back along the Colorado River trail until you reach the second sign for Lulu City you passed coming in, which is approximately located at 40.4515, -105.847.
Take the trail into Lulu City. In a half mile you will find a sign letting you know the town was occupied in the late 1700s and 1800s. I wandered the site for a bit and could only find a few places where there were once foundations and a small pile of logs part of some long abandoned wall to something. The Colorado River is wide, slow-moving, and pleasant in this section of valley. It is easy to imagine families living and farming here two hundred years ago.
Continue along past the sign and you will rejoin the trail at the first junction with the Colorado River trail (taking a left at any forks will ensure you get back here.) Follow the trail back to your car.
Water sources: plenty with a filter
Camping: Camping is permitted in the park with a backcountry camping permit from the park service.
WARNING! Hiking and outdoor related sports can be dangerous. Be responsible and prepare for the trip. Study the area you are entering and plan accordingly. Dress for the current and unexpected weather changes. Take plenty of water. Never go alone. Make an itinerary with your plan(s), route(s), destination(s) and expected return time. Give your itinerary to trusted family and/or friends.