Hike on December 1, 2008
Trailhead: 39º31’8”N, 105º30’14”W, 8,936 feet
Highest point: 39º31’54”N, 105º29’46”W, 9,366 feet
Hiking distance: 2.9 miles
Harris Park borders on Pike National Forest, and there are a few roads leading north into the forest. I checked my topographic map for the area, and found several roads and trails that could be followed as loops. Two of those loops would be about three miles long, with modest elevation gains, and making for good half-day hikes. I headed up that way on a Monday morning.
To get to Harris Park, take Park County Road 43A from US285 just north of mile marker 225. The road connects to PCR43 in about a quarter mile and continues up Deer Creek Valley. At 7.1 miles from US285, take the right fork onto PCR47. At about 10.2 miles, you’ll find the Harris Park Community Center in beautiful “downtown” Harris Park. Just past the Community Center, and before the long row of mailboxes, turn right onto Neal Road. Go by the pond on your left, and take the left turn just after the pond. At 10.5 miles from US285, go through the gate and into the National Forest; you will then be on Forest Service Road 108. Go another quarter mile, and you will find plenty of room to park.
It had snowed lightly for the last couple of days, and there were about 2 inches of powder on the ground. I left my snowshoes in the car, but decided to carry my ski poles. I’d be walking roads for the most part, and they’d been driven on and the snow packed down, and so might be slick. I thought I might need the extra purchase that the poles would provide.
Being so close to Harris Park, this is a much-used public forest. Near my trailhead is a fenced-off area that apparently is muddy at times, and has been driven on and turned into a mudhole. The forest service is trying to restore the natural vegetation.
I headed up the road, going north. It was a windy day, but the trees kept the wind off the ground. Most of these trees were ponderosa pine, with spruce and other pines mixed in. The stream in the valley bottom was hidden by tall bushes and aspen. Several cars and at least one ATV had been up the road since the snow began two days before, leaving the road well-packed but not too slick. Far ahead, I got a glimpse of Meridian Hill, but it soon was obscured by the trees.
Two-tenths of a mile up, the creek ran across the road. It was no more that a foot wide, an easy step across. In another two-tenths mile, the road moved away from the creek, giving me a view of the ridgeline to the northeast. Then came an intersection, with FSR107. I stayed on the more heavily traveled FSR 108, which went to the right, continuing up the valley. Above the intersection was a swampy meadow and a clearing, which allowed for a better view of the hillside. There was a treeless patch on the ridge, perhaps the result of a small fire.
At nearly a mile from my start, I found two more roads. I continued on FSR108, turning right at each intersection. After the second, I crossed the creek again, and began to climb the ridge to the east. The road wasn’t much steeper than that behind me. The mix of trees in the forest caught my eye. All species, ponderosa, aspen, fir and spruce, were mixed together, rather than keeping in their own separate areas as they sometimes do.
For a half mile, the trail rolled up then down, then finally turned south and started down in earnest. Most vehicle tracks had ended, but one ATV, probably just the day before, had gone over the top as I had. As I continued, more vehicle tracks appeared. Animal tracks appeared in the road, too, squirrels and an occasional rabbit, and some elk, one of which kicked up some dirt from under the snow. Perhaps he was in a hurry. Lower I found the meandering tracks of a small dog, or maybe a fox looking for a meal.
The road reached another creek, and followed it down. This valley was a little more open that the one I had gone up, and I got views of nearby Crooked Top Mountain, and Windy Peak farther away.
When I was within a quarter mile of the forest boundary, the road split again. I turned northwest, to go over the ridge and back to my trailhead. The ridge was low and easy, and on its far side I got good views of Mount Logan, Rosalie and Rosedale Peaks, and Meridian Hill. The clouds above them made an unusual pattern: There was a band of clouds behind Mount Logan, then a strip of blue sky, and another band of clouds, flowing like a river east of Meridian Hill. The trees again hid the peaks from view as I walked down the ridge, back to FSR108, and back to the car.
The folks in Harris Park are lucky to live with easy forest access in their back yard. I’m glad I was there on a weekday morning, though. The vehicle tracks tell me it could be busy there on a weekend.