Roosevelt National Forest – Ralph Price Reservoir via Coulson Gulch Trail

Hiking to Ralph Price Reservoir via Coulson Gulch Trail

We’ve been on a kick of trying to find interesting new trails relatively close to home. While searching on AllTrails and COTrex, I found this hike.

Coulson Gulch Trail is located within Roosevelt National Forest. Backpacking and dispersed camping here is free and does not require a permit. There are plenty of spots for dispersed camping near the trailhead, as well as along Coulson Gulch Trail. However, note that you cannot camp within the limits of the City of Longmont’s Button Rock Preserve.

The Hike

The Coulson Gulch Trail to Ralph Price Reservoir hike is 6.5 miles out-and-back. It features shady forest by a creek, meadows with mountain views, and a view of a large reservoir at the end. The hike goes downhill on the way out, and uphill on the way back.

Coulson Gulch Trail

The hike starts out going downhill on Coulson Gulch Trail.

After passing through a short meadow, the trail winds through forest next to a creek.

Coulson Gulch Trail

After a bit, the trail comes out to an open area with a view of the surrounding mountains and meadow below.

Coulson Gulch Trail

Closeup of the meadow and mountains, the distinctive peak to the right is North Sheep Mountain –

Coulson Gulch Trail North Sheep Mountain

Abandoned Cabin

The trail passes by an abandoned cabin about 1.5 miles in, soon before you reach the meadow. There is an area behind it with some rocks that could be a good spot for resting/snacking.

Coulson Gulch Trail abandoned cabin

The stuff inside looked relatively modern. I wonder when the cabin was abandoned. Even with a bit of research online, there is no information about it.

Coulson Gulch Trail abandoned cabin

The Meadow

At about Mile 1.6, the trail reaches an expansive meadow. There are several campsite locations on the meadow. We thought this would be a great spot for backpacking. The wide open meadow would be perfect for stargazing.

Coulson Gulch Trail meadow

Johnny Park Shortcut Trail

While Coulson Gulch Trail continues beyond the meadow, we wanted to visit Ralph Price Reservoir, so we turned left at the end of the meadow to cross a dried out river. The other side is Button Rock Preserve territory, and the start of the Johnny Park Shortcut Trail.

There is a fork in the road 0.2 miles after crossing the dried out river. The right fork trail is narrower and allows for a shorter journey to the reservoir than the one on the left (0.7 miles vs. 1.1 miles). We took the right fork.

The meadow here is nice, with some lovely wildflowers, including Wild Iris.

Johnny Park Shortcut Trail Wild Iris

After 0.7 miles on the shortcut trail, the path links up with Longmont Dam Road going down to the reservoir.

Longmont Dam Road

It is 0.3 miles from the junction with Longmont Dam Road to get down to a trail junction, where you can see Ralph Price Reservoir.

Longmont Dam Road

Ralph Price Reservoir

Although the reservoir is visible from the junction, we wanted a a better view, so we turned left at the junction and walked along the North Shore Trail.

The view –

Ralph Price Reservoir

If you’re interested in what Ralph Price Reservoir looks like from the opposite side, you can check out my post on the Button Rock Preserve Sleepy Lion Loop hike.

Button Rock Mountain

Another interesting view on the North Shore Trail is Button Rock Mountain, after which the park is named. It’s possible to hike this mountain, although AllTrails reviews suggest the trail can be difficult to follow at times.

Button Rock Mountain

The Journey Back

On the way back it started to get cloudy. With rain scheduled for later in the day, we tried to pick up our pace. That was easier said than done, though, since the trail is all uphill on the return journey. This added a bit of challenge to the hike, but we were glad for the training it provided.

Johnny Park Shortcut Trail

Recommended as a Moderate Hike

The Coulson Gulch Trail to Ralph Price Reservoir hike had a pleasant variety of scenery to enjoy. The exercise we got through both the mileage and the fact that you have to go uphill on the way back felt like just the right amount for a moderate hike. This area has such different scenery from the mountains around Boulder, but is only a 45 minute drive away. It’s definitely worth a trip to hike.

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