Gateway to spring
If you’re looking for a quick spring escape check out Gateway Natural Area. It’s found at the start of Poudre canyon where the river makes a crazy bend, a horseshoe turn as if it wants to go back up to the high country from which it came. But the waters accept fate, tired and ready to slow down, flowing through one last narrows into the ever widening open.
Right in the eye of the big bend are grassy lawns and trees overlooked by a central hill and ringed by towering cliffs, crags of sharp granite. This is Gateway Natural Area, an hour away from Cheyenne, northwest of Fort Collins.
It really is a gateway, a gateway to three levels of outdoor action.
Level one: Enjoy the park. Throw a Frisbee or play catch. Sprawl on a blanket on the grass, cook some brats and watch the tots play at the all-natural playground. Read a novel. Take a little walk up the hill. There are fine picnic tables, shelters, drinking water and cooking grills.
The setting is splendid. The canyon walls are cut sharp, unpolished by glaciers, dark yet painted in the abstract with lime green lichens. They lift your eyes to the sky and frame it.
Check out the attractions of historical interest–red brick buildings and concrete settling basins of the old Fort Collins water treatment plant, the first from 1904 with additions in 1927 and 1955. The plant closed in the 1980’s.
Level two: Hike out to secluded Seaman Reservoir. From the far end of the park cross the twin footbridges and follow the North Fork of the Poudre a mile to the reservoir’s spillway, a broad spray of falling water plunging level-by-level down shelves of concrete. There are enough negative ions kicked out here to lift anyone’s mood.
At the dam’s base the trail gets steep and narrow as hikers climb into the spell of the big lake. Deep blue waters lap against the tawny hills, hills spotted by random pines. While Gateway park can be cool in the shade of the canyon walls, the open hills of Seaman are toasty in the afternoon sun. Warnings note that they are pleasant for rattlesnakes as well.
With no vehicle or boat access you’ll find quiet, deep quiet. Sit a spell or continue your walk. A narrow but well-worn trail will take you at least a couple of rolling miles along the west side. It leads to a sandy beach newly crafted by last year’s floods. The end is on a high, scrambling rock perch overlooking the winding reservoir.
While hidden away these waters are no secret to area teens and college students. Rock outcrops make it famous for cliff jumping. Try a “Seaman Reservoir” search on YouTube to preview the action.
For a different kind of hike there is the Black Powder trail, a ¾ mile hike to the top of the hill overlooking Gateway. It is just beyond the twin bridges, turning off at the sign and bench on the right. It’s worth the 400 foot elevation gain.
Level 3: Locate and climb the abandoned Wintersteen Trail. Those adventurous fools who pore over old maps have been lured by a mysterious dotted line connecting Seaman to the Greyrock Mountain trail some miles to the west. This is the Wintersteen Pack Trail. Along it are the remains of the Brinkhoff mine and cabin. The trail receives no maintenance and is unsigned.
The start of the trail can be found. After going up the Seaman Trail along the side of the dam continue until you see a fork going to the left. Take this left fork watching carefully for a 90 degree turn uphill, also on the left. The beginning of the trail has been heavily eroded by runoff. (Cairns once marked these junctions but on a November, 2015 trip, we found that they have been removed.)
As the trail reaches a more level area it is marked by cairns leading to the right in the trees. Here is becomes more difficult to follow. This area was burned in the High Park Fire of 2012. The grasses have grown back and the walk is not sooty but most shrubs and pines are charred.
If you attempt this wild trek I would urge to you have a topo map marking the trail and a GPS unit way-marked with the trailhead so that no matter what you can find your way back. I would also suggest that if you reach a point where you can’t find the trail go back to the last place you know you were on it and try again. People have spent a whole day of daylight trying to find their way across, searching for eroded tread, cairns and ancient blazes cut on pines. There is no water on this route so carry plenty.
Take I-25 south from Cheyenne to the Wellington, Colorado exit, going through Wellington on Colorado 1. Continue until CO 1 ends at College Drive, then turn right on CO 14/US 287. Turn left on CO14 when it separates from US 287 at Ted’s Place, going 5.2 miles into the Cache la Poudre Canyon. Gateway Natural area is marked with a sign. Make a very sharp right into the park.
There is a $6 fee per vehicle to be paid at the fee station. Cars are not allowed to stay in the park overnight so if you are planning to backpack into Seaman you will need to park just off the highway and walk in.
If you go….
Gateway Natural Area is well maintained and equipped by Fort Collins’ Natural Areas Program. Dogs are allowed but on leash only. Seaman Reservoir is controlled by the City of Greeley. Land ownership is varied and no recreation maintenance is provided. Dogs are allowed under voice control. There is a rough old-timey outhouse below the dam.
More information is available at: www.fcgov.com/naturalareas/finder/gateway.
Seaman Map: www.greeleygov.com/Water/Documents/SeamanReservoirHikingMap.pdf. 1962 topo maps of Wintersteen Trail: www.AwayFromTheGrind.com under “Gateway.”