Escape to the outdoors

A "Colorado little" rock scrambling and exploring on one of our local trails.

Want to get your kids out for some fresh air, exercise, and most importantly an escape to the outdoors? We have all been waiting, and it’s finally here — hiking season! Here are three easy spring hikes close to home. Go ahead, take the littlest of your family hikers and explore a new trail.

A super engaging hike for kids in Mesa County is the Mica Mine Trail. This easy round trip hike is 2.6 miles. It includes some welcome shade and minor rocks for scrambling, making it enjoyable for both adults and energetic kids. The trailhead for Mica Mine is shared with Rough Canyon and is located on Little Park Road (for a map and route description go to GJhikes.com). Why choose this hike to get out with your kids? Oh, so many reasons! There are some outstanding vistas of towering cliffs, and the trail crosses the tiny Ladder Creek enough times that everyone gets to hone their stone stepping skills if the creek is running; there are wildflowers, trees, shrubs, and birds to identify; and at the end, there is the holy grail of mica! Enough slivered mica crunches under-foot at the mine to prompt a fun, tactile science opportunity. No child has been disappointed in my experience. There was recently a rock fall near the trail, but it hasn’t hampered access, and it could be a good geology conversation about the rocky hillside’s “angle of repose” or slope and potential slide triggers. Jumping into imaginative scenarios with kids adds to the fun.

Near Delta, check out the 3.1 mile (round trip) Crystal Overlook hike above the northern edge of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison (just outside the National Park’s North Rim). Travel on Highway 92 through Crawford towards Black Mesa, past the turn off for the Black Canyon National Park. Sixteen miles south of Crawford you’ll see the turn off and trailhead for Crystal Overlook. Park there and head on a lightly trafficked out and back trail. Although a Curecanti National Recreation Area sign at the trailhead depicts the trail as strenuous and 5 miles long, it is actually only 3.1 miles, and considered an easy-to-moderate hike. There are three short pitches where you will indeed feel the climb, but there are well placed benches for resting and enjoying the sweeping views along the way. Why choose this hike? The visual rewards are exceptional! Views of the west Elk Mountains, the San Juan Mountains, and the Cimarron Valley are inspiring. And, for the younger hikers, the destination holds the magic. The trail ends at the (safely guard-railed) overlook allowing you to gaze down 1,800 feet into the Crystal Reservoir of the Black Canyon. The trail forks along the way. An unmarked fork on the left will take you to a dead end lookout point with a bench. Stay on the main trail to the overlook. Consider packing a picnic lunch and heading out in the morning to escape the heat of the day. Make sure to pack sunscreen and enough water for everyone. For more information on Crystal Creek Trail visit: All Trails.

Near Montrose, young hikers will enjoy the Black Canyon National Park’s aptly named Oak Flat Loop. This trail departs from the main visitor center of the south rim. Approximately two miles in length, it takes you to outstanding vistas of the canyon over mostly easy terrain through rock and gambel oak trees. Definitely take this hike counter clockwise so that the steepest part is in the downhill direction with a much easier ascent. You don’t go to the bottom of the canyon, but you do get inspiring views interspersed with inviting shady areas. Why choose Oak Flat Loop? The river and rock vistas; the “below-the-rim” experience; the sense of adventure; and the occasional fly-overs of eagles or peregrine falcons. As of Memorial Day weekend, the park will be open for day use activities. The East Portal Road is closed. Please check the Black Canyon of the Gunnison NP website for updates.

You don’t have to go far to enjoy these three easy hikes. Explore a new area with your kids and enjoy the local “sweet” rewards brought to you by Mother Nature.

Friends of Youth and Nature is a non-profit that promotes opportunities for youth and families to get outside, experience outdoor activities, and explore nature. To learn more, visit: www.friendsofyouthandnature.org

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