Misty Mountain Hop: A Foggy Day Hike on Lincoln Mountain Trail

text and photography by Ryan Stikeleather

Mighty Mouse

Day Hikes have kind of become my staple outdoor fix. And if I look back over the past few years, short day hikes have been my bread-and-butter. Short and sweet...sometimes that’s all you need. Lincoln Mountain Trail offers a fresh air trek, but keeps it short at the same time.

Just The Facts

Trail: Lincoln Mountain Trail/Lincoln Mountain Trail Top Loop
Difficulty: Easy
Elevation Gain: 348 ft
Distance: 4.2 mi. (loop)
Trail Use: Hiking, Trail Running, Mountain Biking, Horseback Riding
Trail Condition: Maintained, and clearly marked
Bring Your Dog: Yes (but must be on a leash)
Access: All year long
Trail Map: www.Douglas.co.us
Entrance fee: Free!

Play The Hand You’re Dealt

The featureless, predawn fog swirled above the highway. A fine mist collecting into a steady drizzle. Even though Siri had been telling me I was nearly at my destination, I couldn’t see the turn. I could barely see 50 yards in front of my truck let alone an upcoming side road.

“Arrived!” Siri proclaimed with her normal artificial enthusiasm. Where? I don’t see anything!

I continued along HWY 83 for another half a mile looking for a place to turn around. Once off the Highway, I pulled over, grabbed my phone, and open up the maps app. Lincoln Mountain Open Space was right where it should be...I just missed the turn.

If you’ve spent any amount of time outdoors in Colorado you’ll know it’s hard to pinpoint what weather to expect.

“Man, I should have worn shorts!” one day…”Wait, is that snow?” the next.

Colorado seasons like to “stay in touch” with each other, and spring is very fond of winter. I knew it was supposed to be cooler, and a good chance for rain, but I hadn’t counted on fog.

As I pulled into the Lincoln Mountain Open Space, I was greeted with a completely empty lot. I guess I’m the only one today willing to hike in the elements today.

Yup! It’s Spring

Lincoln Mountain Open Space is new to me. I’d never known it was even out here until I found it on the recently updated Colorado Trail Explorer (COTREX) website. I’ve got a blog post about COTREX here. The Palmer Divide Ranch was purchased by Douglas County back in 2010, after planned subdivision developments fell through. Luckily for us, it’s now a protected open space for the local flora and fauna, as well as a public playground for horseback riding, mountain biking, hiking, etc.

Just outside the parking lot you’ll find the trailhead. About half a mile into the trail you’ll find the first trail junction marker. I kept to the left, and continued on to Lincoln Mountain Trail.

The first half mile or so, the trail meanders through open meadow, gently curving towards the base of the flat topped Lincoln Mountain mesa. While not exactly next door, but within driving distance, Spruce Mountain Open Space also features a hike along the top of a mesa. So if you like this one, go check that one out too.

I wish I could say how amazing the scenery is, but the fog was so thick, that there wasn’t much to see. What I did get in exchange was solitude, and serenades from the local meadowlarks.

Even though I was the only one hiking today, the trail has seen a lot of use. Horse hooves have gouged deep holes into the sandy soil, which are now filled with muddy pools. It made it difficult to keep your footing in a few spots, but not too bad.

Circle Back Around

At about the 1.5 mile point, the trail finishes its rise to the top, and meets the junction for Lincoln Mountain Trail Top Loop. It’s all wide open spaces from this point on. I’m sure if there wasn’t dense fog, I could see something (Pikes Peak, the Front Range, the sky) but I’ll just have to use my imagination. It’s beautiful...I’m positive.

You’ll be exposed to all the elements up here on the mountain top. So if it’s going to be a sunny day, be sure to bring lots of water, and wear your sunscreen. Or, if you’re hiking in the mist and fog like I am, bring your warmer weather gear. My stocking hat, and thin gloves were much appreciated.

Rest, Enjoy, Appreciate

Along the loop you’ll find a stone bench with the words Rest, Enjoy, Appreciate etched into it. Definitely words to live by, even if you’re not on a trail.

The clouds did start to lift every so slightly on the way back down. The rolling hills to the east would appear for a few seconds, and then vanish again under the grey curtain of mist and fog.

Weather is an enjoyable, and often unpredictable, part of any hike. Your day might start out with crystal clear skies, and end with wind and Thunderstorms. Don’t be afraid to get out there and enjoy the best, and maybe the not-so-nice times every season has to offer. Don’t be risky...safety first, but enjoy the challenges.

Lay of the Land

Lincoln Mountain Open Space sits comfortably within the Palmer Divide Region. What’s the Palmer Divide, you ask? Well, without getting all sciency and stuff, it’s a ridge extending east from the foothills towards the eastern plains.

The Palmer Divide will be tossed about during a lot of weather forecasts, especially when inclement weather is expected. But, where is the Palmer Divide. Have you ever driven over Monument Hill while traveling along I-25? Then you’ve been crossing over the Palmer Divide. It’s highest point is located in the Black Forest area, and pretty much levels out around the town of Limon. It extends north towards Denver, and south towards Colorado Springs. It’s geologically a physical divide between the South Platte River basin in the northeast, and the Arkansas River Basin in the southeast.

There are all kinds of interesting geological reasons why the Palmer Divide is important to this area—don’t worry, I won’t bore you anymore with all that—but I will say it alters our weather. The Palmer Divide has a direct impact on how much snowfall we get along the front range, and why some snowy weather affects Denver or Colorado Springs differently.

So if Denver is getting hammered with snow, and poor little Colorado Springs gets nothing, it is probably because of a the Palmer Divide. Now you can impress your friends with your savvy weather knowledge!