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Round Mountain Hike
This challenging hike begins on the Foothills Nature Trail, an interpretive trail that is part of the Round Mountain National Recreation Trail. From the parking area, walk past the restroom, sign in at the hiking register, and continue up a wide gravel road. Do not be deceived by the undemanding start! The first 0.25 miles overlap with the easy interpretive trail but the majority of this hike is the Summit Adventure Trail, which takes hikers up the side of the Big Thompson Canyon, over the Continental Divide, and to the top of Sheep Mountain. The Summit Adventure Trail also serves as an interpretive trail with several information plaques. When I hiked with my friends Sarah and Shannon, we found that the plaques were spaced just right, giving us time to stop and catch our breath if we needed to, while learning about the natural history of the area.
The two trails split at a well-marked fork. Take a left onto the Summit Trail and begin an immediate climb on a dirt and rock trail that runs parallel to the Big Thompson River and the highway below. As the trail climbs, it narrows and produces steep drop-offs and exposed tree roots. Continue climbing and climbing and climbing. Instead of cutting directly across the ridge of the canyon, the trail begins a series of unforgiving switchbacks that route hikers up the mountainside. This steep incline, in addition to being a lung-buster, is heavily eroded in places. Natural erosion has even carved magnificent rock sculptures out of boulders along the trail.